Beyond Violence 

Elections Amidst Localized Conflict and Rising Political Tensions in Mozambique

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In 2014, the people of the Southern African countries of South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique will go to the polls. The general elections in Mozambique will be of particular interest, as they will most likely take place amidst rising political tension between the 39-year ruling party of FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique, or Mozambique Liberation Front) and the militarized rebel group turned major opposition party RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana, or Mozambican National Resistance), which has led to localized violence in the country.

In October 2013, after 21 years of peace, the General Peace Agreement (GPA) which had been signed between the FRELIMO-led government of Mozambique and militarized opposition party RENAMO was unanimously ended by RENAMO. The direct cause of this was the government raid on RENAMO’s leader Afonso Dhlakama’s base in central Mozambique in October 2013 after a series of violent attacks, which were blamed on RENAMO. Political tensions had been rising since the beginning of 2012, when surveys confirmed that the country possessed immense gas resources. FRELIMO demands the immediate demilitarization of RENAMO. In turn, RENAMO accuses FRELIMA of unfair elections and illicit enrichment of FRELIMO’s elite. According to Prime Minister Vaquina, over 6,000 people have been internally displaced as a result of RENAMO attacks. With their eyes on Syria, Sudan and Central African Republic, international media outlets and conflict research organisations, hardly pay attention to the conflict or its implications for the 2014 elections.

In 1975, Mozambique was one of the last African countries to gain independence. After a three year war of independence with Portugal and a hasty handover, the country fell straight into a lengthy Cold War-infused conflict that would last until the mid-1990s. The originally Marxist resistance movement FRELIMO – which stands for Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Mozambique Liberation Front) – fought and negotiated independence, after which its leader, Samora Machel, was formally put in charge of the country through the 1975 Constitution. Independent Mozambique, now a one-party Marxist state led by FRELIMO, featured central economic planning and collective state farms.

In 1976, RENAMO, a resistance movement created by Rhodesia and backed by South Africa, started challenging FRELIMO’s rule. War crimes and crimes against humanity followed suit on both sides, including the use of child soldiers by RENAMO. Backed by Rhodesia and South Africa, RENAMO quickly attained control over the majority of the country in the mid-1980s. Starting in 1984, talks between FRELIMO and South Africa set a series of conflict resolution endeavors in motion that would eventually end South African and Rhodesian support for RENAMO, the end of one-party rule of FRELIMO and a subsequent GPA between FRELIMO and RENAMO in 1992. By this time, the conflict between the two parties, combined with Marxist central economic planning, had led to about a million deaths and left the country in chaos.

The 1994 elections were won by FRELIMO, while a disarmed and demobilized RENAMO gained close to half of the seats of parliament. Since then, FRELIMO has won all subsequent elections and has gained power in all branches of government. Despite dwindling political support, RENAMO remains the biggest opposition power and disputes the election wins, accusing FRELIMO of having failed to create conditions for fair elections. The last general elections in 2009 were deemed questionable by the international community due to concerns over the independence of the national election commission, incidents of voter fraud, disqualification of candidates and FRELIMO’s use of government resources for their party’s campaign. Consequently, Freedom House dropped Mozambique from their list of “electoral democracies”. Nationwide demonstrations were cancelled as the Mozambican voters largely accepted the elections’ outcome. Under the threat of boycotting the 2013 local elections, RENAMO demanded greater representation in state institutions, electoral reform including the composition of the National Election Commission and a share of the country’s coal and gas deposits, claiming that FRELIMO’s elites had squandered the country’s money. The demands were not met by the government and the elections were – as promised – boycotted by RENAMO.

Since the October 2013 raid on the RENAMO base in central Mozambique, localized conflict in the central Sofala province, which started in early 2013, has intensified. According to the few media reports, dozens of people have been killed, including many civilians. RENAMO denied their involvement in the attacks while FRELIMO continued raiding more RENAMO bases. With only about 1.000 fighters and no international allies, RENAMO is thought to lack the support and human and financial resources to wage another full-scale conflict against FRELIMO. In the meantime, Dhlakama is in hiding and the FADM (the Mozambican army forces), deployed in Sofala, have sporadic clashes with RENAMO fighters. In 2014, hostilities between the parties continue as the 56th round of ceasefire talks failed on the 28th of April. Since then, RENAMO has threatened to plunge Mozambique back into civil war.

Given the current political situation, Mozambique needs an inclusive national dialogue to establish a ceasefire, overcome the current crisis and to ensure peaceful elections. Moreover, it would be advisable for the FRELIMO government to admit an international election observation mission, such as SADC’s Electoral Advisory Commission, to avoid accusations of election fraud. For RENAMO to be considered a serious contender in Mozambique and beyond, it will need to disarm and demobilize once again, suppressing aspirations to gain senior positions in the army and the police force before it can gain widespread support amongst the Mozambican people. The FRELIMO government should create the conditions for RENAMO insurgents to be able to disarm, demobilize and reintegrate.

Mozambique is due to hold general elections on 15 October 2014.

Written by Suzanne van Hooff. Suzanne works at an international NGO in Lilongwe, Malawi. Her professional interests include international security, conflict and post-conflict politics, transitional justice, international human rights and gender.

Written by Suzanne Van Hooff and published on 16-May-2014

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