/ 16 January 2015

Renamo boycotts Assembly opening

Afonso Dhlakama
Afonso Dhlakama

The left side of the Mozambique Assembly was empty on Monday, because not a single MP for the opposition Renamo showed up at the inaugural siting of the newly elected Assembly.

Afonso Dhlakama, the leader of former rebel movement Renamo that became an opposition party, ordered the boycott of the ceremony, saying they were still disputing the elections held in October last year.

Ruling party Frelimo, which turns 40 this year, won that poll but with a lower share of the votes than in 2009.

Dhlakama (62) made an impressive comeback, commanding huge crowds when most had thought his time in politics was over. He had disappeared in the Gorongosa mountains for two years and, from there, launched a low insurgency warfare. The government gave in to most of Renamo’s demands during negotiations to end the attacks. The ruling party granted changes to the electoral law and agreed to the reintegration of Renamo’s armed forces into the military and the police.

Dhlakama is now demanding that a caretaker government be put in place to reform the electoral institutions and the police, before calling a new election.

Renamo is upping the stakes by threatening renewed violence, announcing secession of the country’s upper half. The opposition’s latest action is its boycott of the Assembly.In 2009 Dhlakama ordered a similar Assembly boycott, but 16 MPs went rogue and the others ended up regaining their seats discreetly.

Frelimo is showing no enthusiasm for the idea of a union government. Outgoing President Armando Guebuza said the idea of a caretaker government was “anarchic”.

Frelimo would risk a serious lack of credibility if it was only to hope that Dhlakama will run out of steam, given the growing discontent Guebuza has faced. Renamo specialist Michel Cahen said Dhlakama commanded strong support among the youth and in the central and northern areas of the country.

Last year Dhlakama won 36.6% of the votes, more than double his 2009 score, and was first in five provinces out of 11.

Frelimo has gone to some lengths to appease Renamo. In November the Assembly voted for a “leader of the opposition” statute that grants Dhlakama a generous salary and staff, among other perks reserved for high-profile officials.

But Dhlakama said this was an attempt to buy him off. “I wasn’t born to be leader of the opposition.”

Last Saturday in Beira, Dhlakama threatened to set up a “Republic of Central and Northern Mozambique”, of which he would be president. He said his intention was to not to divide the country but to form an autonomous province within Mozambique.

On Thursday president-elect Filipe Nyusi will announce his government after taking office. Frelimo’s views on Renamo will become more certain after the inauguration but analysts say it’s unlikely to change.

“Within Frelimo, the more radicalised branch has the stronger voice, which makes any settlement with Dhlakama unlikely in the near future,” said analyst João Mosca.