A year ago at the signing ceremony of the latest peace accord between the government of Mozambique and opposition group Renamo, I wondered whether, on the third try, this peace deal would hold. (It may even be the fourth try if you count the 1984 Nkomati non-aggression pact with apartheid South Africa.)
I have attended two peace agreements: the Rome General Peace Accord (GPA) of October 1992 and the Maputo Accord of August 6 2019. My father was a diplomatic observer at the Nkomati Accord.
In all these agreements, implementation is always the test of sincerity. The UN peacekeeping mission that arrived in Mozambique in 1993 after the Rome GPA was mandated to monitor the cantonment, disarmament and demobilisation of nearly 110 000 combatants from both sides, as well as the creation of the new army and the resettlement of five to six million refugees and displaced people. It was also tasked to prepare and oversee the first ever multi-party elections in 1994, and I was part of the electoral team.
The Rome peace process and its associated UN operation should be remembered mostly for their successes. By 1996, 87% of demobilised soldiers had been integrated into society, and most had secured a food supply or small guaranteed income. In all, some 92 000 soldiers benefited, about 71 000 from the government forces and 21 000 from Renamo. The weakness was disarmament, which was implicit in the UN’s peacekeeping mandate as part of demobilisation, but many combatants had hidden better weapons elsewhere for personal gain or for collective security.
Consequently, not every soldier in 1993-94 (as I observed) arrived in the assembly areas with a weapon. The number of weapons collected from paramilitary troops was also low, and the munitions submitted of poor quality for similar reasons. By the end of the UN peacekeeping mandate, 180 000 weapons went to the new army and 24 000 were destroyed. But a great deal of the arms and ammunition recovered were never registered in the first place, and many that were registered could not be destroyed.
The UN assessed various options for destroying additional weapons in metal foundries but decided it was too expensive: the weapons identified for destruction were stored in three regional warehouses, and by 1996 were “unaccounted for”. The UN offered to maintain a small unit in Mozambique after the end of its mandate to complete its weapons verification work, but the government declined the offer.
So it should not have been such a surprise that in 2013, on the resumption of armed conflict between Renamo and the government, Renamo was armed. According to the Mozambican Force for Crime Investigation and Social Reinsertion (Fomicres), between three and four million weapons were circulating at the end of the war in 1992. During the 1992–94 peace process, the priority of the UN mission had been to help Renamo transform itself into a political party, contest national elections, dismantle its military command and control structures and disperse ex-combatants through a pay-and-scatter programme. These worked well but disarmament was not a priority, and the UN’s special representative Aldo Ajello admitted to me twenty years later that he considered that muscular disarmament would have undermined the peace process.
Ajello was probably right: the Rome GPA brought more than 20 years of peace but it could never have lasted indefinitely without more inclusive politics. Renamo’s renewed targeted armed conflict from 2013 was about gaining further political concessions – the guns themselves were not the key driver for renewed conflict. Various efforts to restore the spirit of the Rome GPA were attempted from 2013 to December 2016 with moderate success, such as a new peace agreement in September 2014 to allow for elections, but hostilities resumed early the following year because of flawed politics. The second peace agreement failed.
The latest breakthrough came in late 2016, when President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama concluded that they would drive the peace process themselves supported by a tight mediation collective of Mirko Manzoni (then the Swiss ambassador), Kenyan Neha Sanghrajka, Jonathan Powell and ex-Renamo parliamentarian and intellectual Eduardo Namburete. Both Nyusi and Dhlakama showed political bravery and built up mutual respect and trust: a lasting agreement would have been signed a year earlier if Dhlakama had not died unexpectedly of natural causes in May 2018.
The deal was finally signed in August 2019 between Dhlakama’s successor, Ossufo Momade, and President Nyusi. Key to this deal was the changing of the Constitution to allow for elected provincial governors in exchange for serious disarmament and reintegration of Renamo’s armed personnel.
Most of us expected that in the October 2019 national elections, Renamo would win the majority of seats in two or three provinces, and thereby return governors and seal the deal in that manner. Unfortunately, as I observed first-hand as a member of the Commonwealth Observer Group, Renamo failed to win any provincial majorities and lost badly overall in the parliamentary elections. Weakened already by internal dissent over his leadership style and the creation of a splinter group, the self-proclaimed Junta Militar, led by Major General Mariano Nhongo, Momade’s political options greatly narrowed.
This is not a result I believe President Nyusi or his ruling Frelimo party anticipated. Their landslide victory was assisted by Renamo complacency that provincial power would be handed to them on a plate, amid widespread political disorganisation – the party was run as a cottage industry versus a formidable Frelimo industrial complex. In the past, such a Renamo electoral result would have resulted in a return to targeted armed conflict. Momade concluded his best course was to become leader of a peaceful opposition party and encourage his party to support the completion of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process that he signed up for a year ago.
Mariano Nhongo rejects Momade’s leadership and claims his group is the authentic Renamo and that he should be the sole interlocutor with the mediators. His Junta Militar is several hundred strong and he has tried to strengthen his negotiating position by encouraging targeted armed violence from its central Mozambique hiding places, aimed mostly at disrupting traffic and resulting in 27 deaths. Nhongo’s actions have been encouraged by a number of disgruntled Renamo politicians as he is a tactical guerrilla fighter, not a strategist — earning himself the nickname “Pineapple” inside Renamo.
This partly explains why the majority of 5 221 Renamo combatants that have been validated for DDR wish to continue to do so. The majority are middle-aged and fatigued from abject poverty and conflict. No longer led by Afonso Dhlakama, they have decided that pensions and some dignity is a better path to follow than armed banditry and uncertainty with Nhongo.
Over the last month two Renamo bases have closed, at Dondo and Muxungue, resulting in 554 combatants demobilised and moving back to their homes, mainly in the Sofala and Manica provinces and a few from Zambézia. As we saw during the United Nations demilitarisation process, 26 years ago, few firearms are handed in.
My hope is that as the benefits of DDR become apparent, confidence in handing over weapons will grow and faith groups and others can replicate the successful weapons into ploughshares programme from the Christian Council of Mozambique in the 1990s by focusing on key districts and gradually draining weapons from them.
Demonstrating sustainable developmental improvements through this DDR process will slowly drain support from Nhongo’s militia. Involving local communities in game park tourism benefits in Gorongosa and Nespresso investing in coffee production in these Renamo stronghold areas will encourage progress, and there is already a trickle of defections: six Nhongo defectors have been through the DDR process and more are expected in coming months.
The quiet mediation work of Neha Sanghrajka and her team, fronted by the personal representative of the UN secretary general, Mirko Manzoni, and the continued commitment of Renamo leader Momade and President Nyusi to make this work has resulted in more than 10 percent of eligible Renamo combatants being demobilised despite a shock election result, spoiling efforts by the Junta Militar and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Can it be third time lucky? It just might be.
Alex Vines is the head of the Africa programme at Chatham House