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Afonso Dhlakama

Ludger Schadomsky/imOctober 28, 2013

Mozambique has been plunged into political uncertainty after the leader of the former rebel movement Renamo, Afonso Dhlakama, announced the end of the peace treaty signed with the Frelimo-led government in 1992.

Rebel leader of former Mozambican rebel movement Renamo turned opposition party chief, Afonso Dhlakama. Photo:JINTY JACKSON /AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Jinty Jackson/AFP/Getty Images

The turning point in the life of 60-year-old Afonso Dhlakama was probably the second round of the presidential elections in 1999.

Official results showed that the Renamo leader had managed to attain 47.7 percent of the vote and was narrowly defeated by the then leader of the Frelimo party, Joaquim Chissano, who had scored 52.3 percent.

But many observers are convinced that Dhlakama would have won the election and become President of Mozambique, had they been more transparent.

"There was massive manipulation of the election results and hundreds of thousands of votes in Renamo strongholds were declared invalid", said Rainer Trump, an independent consultant on development matters. He was among those cross-checking the votes at the time.

Aftermath of the results

Dhlakama conceded defeat but from then on his party went downhill. In the presidential election in 2004, Dhlakama garned just below 32 percent of the vote. Armando Guebuza, Frelimo's flag bearer, became the next head of state. The margin of victory was too big for there to be any significant doubt about the result.

Mozambiques President Joaquim Chissano (left) and the Renamo leader Afosno Dhlakama shake hands
Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano (left) and the Renamo leader Afosno Dhlakama at the signing of the Rome peace deal in 1992Image: picture-alliance/dpa

The "National Resistance Movement of Mozambique“ known by its Portuguese acronym RENAMO, was led by its founder, André Matsangaissa, during the civil war until his death in 1979.

Dhlakama then commanded Renamo troops until the end of the civil war in 1992. He had the support of the former apartheid state of Rhodesia (now known as Zimbabwe) and later South Africa in the fight against the Marxist Frelimo.

Peace following external pressure

The war in southeast Africa was one of the most brutal on the continent. Renamo was notorious for burning down schools and health centers, mining roads and recruiting child soldiers.

Approximately 900,000 people were killed in the violence and millions were displaced.

After the end of the Cold War and the lifiting of racial segregation in South Africa, Renamo and Frelimo signed the Rome peace treaty in 1992.

As Frelimo had abandoned the one-party state, Dhlakama boasted that he was the “father of democracy" in Mozambique. But Renamo's share of the vote continued to decline.

"I think the very important reason is that the Renamo party has never managed to build real inner-party democracy," says development consultant Rainer Trump.

Renamo was more focused on eliminating its competitor, a new party, Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM ). Another problem was that Renamo had repeatedly lost important political figures.

opposition leader Afosno Dhlakama addresses a press conference. Photo:Jinty Jackson /AFP/Getty Images)
Opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama is in hiding, whereabouts unknownImage: Jinty Jackson/AFP/Getty Images

"They had no desire to engage in maneuvering in which at the end of the day Afonso Dhlakama always made ​​the decisions, often without consulting others," Trump said.

Struggle against Frelimo dominance

One of the main criticisms lodged by Dhlakama in recent years was the dominance of Frelimo and its President Armando Guebuza in government and business.

“If you ask me what I would do if I were president of this country, then I would reform state institutions," said Dhlakama. "We must separate institutions from the ruling party. You cannot call it a democratic country if the state institutions are intertwined with the ruling party. "

Although the Rome treaty provided for the complete disarmament of Renamo, Dhlakama maintained a military base in Gorongosa forest.

Fighters of former Mozambican rebel movement "Renamo" at their military training camp in Gorongosa's mountains. Photo: Jinty Jackson/AFP/Getty Images)
Former Renamo fighters had begun hit-and-run attacks on government installations like police stationsImage: Jinty Jackson/AFP/Getty Images

The Mozambican writer Mia Couto criticized Dhlakama for his militaristic style of politics in an interview with the television station, STV: "We have become hostage to fear, hostages of a person who announces repeatedly a return to war," he said in an apparent reference to the Renamo leader.

Declining support for Renamo

In recent years, support for Dhlakama at the polls has dropped. However, in an interview with DW prior to the 2009 elections, he downplayed this, even claiming that support for his party was growing.

"Five or ten years ago we had no support here in Maputo but if you were to conduct a poll today among universities, rectors or intellectuals, then they would say ' I'm for Dhlakama and Renamo,” he said.

But with a little over 16 percent of the vote, Dhlakama landed far behind President Guebuza in 2009. Even at municipal level, he lost all elections and his once powerful grouping in parliament contracted severely..

Afonso Dhlakama Photo:PEDRO SA DA BENDEIRA( dpa
Afonso Dhlakama's political influence has steadily declined in recent years.Image: picture-alliance/dpa

There was yet another blow when a key Renamo figure, the mayor of Beira, Daviz Simango, left to found his own party in 2009. The MDM party quickly established itself as a new political force.

Armed attacks

Dhlakama's reaction was to withdraw, to retreat into isolation. He left his villa in Maputo, and moved to Nampula in the north of the country. On the 17 October 2012, he moved again to the Gorongosa mountains.

On that day exactly 33 years ago, government soldiers had killed his predecessor André Matsangaissa.

Beginning in April 2013, Dhlakama intensified his confrontation with the Frelimo government. There were armed attacks on police stations, buses and military depots.

On 21 October 2013 government soldiers captured the Renamo base in the Gorongosa region of Sofala province, which Dhlakama and his soldiers had abandoned.

Subsequently Renamo announced the end of the Rome peace treaty. Dhlakama and nearly all his men were able to escape and have gone underground.