On Tuesday, a comprehensive peace agreement was signed by Mozambican President and Frelimo boss Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Ossufo Momade. It is the third such agreement between the two parties, designed to bring an end to 42 years of violent competition between them. At the lengthy signing ceremony at Maputo’s Praa da Paz (Peace Square), I wondered if this agreement would finally end the long-running conflict?
Witnessed by the chair of the African Union and four presidents including South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, this new Maputo peace accord was regionally and continentally significant. President Nyusi reminded the large crowd that that the road to peace has had past setbacks.
Mozambique’s first president Samora Machel (whose bones lie in the nearby in the Monument for National Heroes), signed the Nkomati non-aggression pact on March 16 1984 at the border town of Komatipoort with apartheid-era Prime Minister, PW Botha. That deal failed due to South Africa’s continued covert support of Renamo and its own growing confidence.
It was in October 1992 that a lasting General Peace Agreement was signed in Rome, ushering in a peace agreement that lasted over twenty years. At the time both sides were exhausted and had reached a stalemate that was hurting both of them — they needed an agreement. This was an elite bargain between both parties, cemented by Renamo’s unexpectedly strong performance in the first ever democratic elections in 1994 (the situation contrasts with Angola, whose peace deal was precipitated by the Angolan government’s all-out military victory).
The Rome agreement lasted until 2013, when Renamo returned to targeted armed conflict, ambushing vehicles, buses and trains and attacking government facilities. The violence was concentrated in the central Mozambican provinces of Manica and Sofala. Including government counter-measures, this resumed conflict in its two phases between 2013 and 2016 resulted in at least 150 killed and 500 injured.
So why did Renamo return to armed conflict in 2013 after 20 years of peace, and what can be done to avoid a resumption of hostilities this time? Frelimo’s strategy towards Renamo is the prime culprit. Renamo gave Frelimo and existential fright during the 1999 national elections — when Renamo’s former leader, the late Afonso Dhlakama, nearly won the presidency with 47.7% of the vote (some believe he actually did win). This convinced Armando Guebuza to seek total dominance when he became president in 2004, in an effort to guarantee Frelimo control. This backfired spectacularly, instead convincing Dhlakama that he needed to return to armed conflict.
When I met Dhlakama in Nampula in 2010, he warned me: “When you are in mortal danger, on life-support, you consider all options to save yourself.” At the time, I believed he was dangerously marginalised but did not understand what he was warning me about.
Reaching this new peace accord has taken six years, with three different efforts, first by faith leaders, then multiple international mediators and finally an elite process driven initially by President Nyusi and Dhlakama (and then his successor Momade), supported by the Swiss Ambassador to Mozambique Mirko Manzoni and mediators Neha Sanghrajka and Jonathan Powell.
This new Maputo peace accord built on these past processes, and past mediators were present at the ceremony such as Dom Matteo Maria Zuppi from the Sant’Egidio community in Rome and ex-president Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania. What is promising about the new accord is that it is a home-grown initiative. It is also signed at a time when many in Frelimo accept that the party can no longer expect to fully dominate national politics and must accept greater political pluralism.
This new elite bargain is based on increased decentralisation with the opportunity for Renamo to win governorships in ten Mozambican provinces in exchange for meaningful disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration for Renamo’s armed militia. Some 5 200 Renamo fighters have been earmarked for this process, which started in central Mozambique at the end of July.
A year ago, this deal was ripe for agreement, but the death of Dhlakama last year resulted in a power struggle in Renamo and delayed the process. Gradually Momade has asserted his authority, resulting in a pivot inside the party away from central Mozambique towards Zambézia and Nampula provinces.
This makes electoral sense, but has upset Dhlakama loyalists in central Mozambique and created some splintering. Over recent months a self-styled Renamo military junta has challenged Momade’s authority and says it will elect its own Renamo leader on August 17. This group is small (just six people according to Momade) and does not seem to enjoy the support of Renamo’s politicians from central Mozambique. However, two armed attacks on traffic in central Mozambique on August 1 are a reminder that a few armed men can be disruptive.
Dismantling Renamo’s armed militia will take time. It will require international development assistance for central Mozambique and Frelimo will need to allow Renamo to claim credit for better roads and other investments. This is an election year, and the conduct and results of the October 15 national elections will be the first major test of this deal. Renamo expects to win governorships and will need to show electoral success beyond increasing its seats in parliament. Momade told me that his biggest immediate concern is for clean elections, and asked for serious international observation efforts from the Southern African Development Community, the African Union, the European Union and the Commonwealth.
Frelimo will also need to be patient over Renamo’s disarmament, which currently is mostly symbolic. In late July, only a handful of firearms were surrendered and many catapults. This is normal behaviour as guns carry value and many will never be surrendered but cached as an insurance policy. The numbers of Renamo’s armed militia are also greatly exaggerated: the 5 200 planned for in the disarmament process allows for party patronage for its supporters. The real hard-core, controlled by Renamo’s key military strategist General T Maquinze, is probably closer to 1 000 fighters, many of whom are now middle-aged and fatigued from decades of poverty. This fatigue makes it more likely that this new peace deal will last.
Renamo’s armed men are looking for a lasting accommodation and Frelimo’s elite also want political stability to attract international investment. The benefits of the elite bargain for Renamo include elected governorships, payment for disarmament and employment, and development opportunities. If this deal sticks on the third attempt, the domestic focus should then move onto poverty reduction, combating inequality, education and solving the new security crisis with Islamic militants in Cabo Delgado province.
Dr Alex Vines OBE is the head of the Africa Programme at Chatham House and author of Prospects for a Sustainable Elite Bargain in Mozambique: Third Time Lucky?