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Peace in Mozambique: Third time lucky?

Cristina Krippahl
August 5, 2020

A year after the Mozambican government signed a peace agreement with the opposition party RENAMO, the country has yet to achieve its main goal: putting an end to armed violence and ensuring lasting peace and prosperity.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and RENAMO leader Ossufo Momade embracing after signing a peace agreement on August 6th, 2019.
Image: Getty Images/AFP/Stringer

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and RENAMO leader Ossufo Momade joyfully embracing amid loud cheering after signing a peace treaty on August 6, 2019, was a sight for sore eyes. The agreement put an end to a resurgence of the armed conflict between the FRELIMO led government and the largest opposition party and former guerrilla movement RENAMO, based in central Mozambique.

It was the third attempt at silencing the weapons after the peace agreement of 1992 — which put an end to 16 years of brutal civil war — another deal for the cessation of hostilities was agreed in 2014. The year before, a new round of confrontations had started — albeit at a low level — and gained some momentum when RENAMO rejected results of the October 2014 election.

Read more:'No peace, no election in Mozambique': RENAMO junta leader tells DW

Hopes were high that this time all parties involved would stick to the treaty, which followed closely on the official end of hostilities signed five days earlier, on August 1, 2014, in the Gorongosa, where RENAMO has its headquarters.

"On the very same day the truce was signed, an attack occurred," Mozambican journalist Edwin Hounnou recalls. "RENAMO, led by Ossufo Momade, was satisfied with the deal. But there was a dissident faction inside the party, which did not agree with the terms and made a point of showing it," Hounnou explained. "It's not unusual to have splinter groups when you have this sort of peace process," says Alex Vines of the London-based think tank Chatham House. 

Reintegrating the guerrilla

In 2018, shortly before the final agreement was signed, RENAMO's historical and unquestioned leader Afonso Dhlakama died. His successor, Momade, was not contested within the party. In the end, a group around Mariano Nhongo formed the so-called RENAMO Military Junta and took up arms again.

A year into the peace accord, Nhongo vowed to keep on fighting: "Nyusi and Ossufo fooled the people, they fooled RENAMO," he told DW. "The war did not end, because President Dhlakama wanted to start by integrating [RENAMO's men] into the police and the army, before an agreement was signed. Ossufo and the FRELIMO deceived the people and said 'we already signed, the war is over." At least 24 people have died in the Junta's attacks.

Mariano Nhongo
RENAMO military junta leader Mariano Nhongo has rejected the peace treaty Image: DW/A. Sebastião

"We'll see how long this group survives," says researcher Vines. "If the integration process continues to move forward, we may find more desertions from the Nhongo Military Junta," Vines told DW. 

So far, only a small group of between 500 and 600 dissidents have abandoned the group. But Nhongo's acolytes are middle-aged men, recruited by RENAMO in the seventies and by now tired of living a combatant's life. "The deal that they are being offered in terms of support is a much better one than staying in the bush", Vines pointed out.

More than 500 RENAMO combatants have laid down their weapons as part of the Demobilization, Disarmament and Reintegration program (DDR) under the peace agreement. Two military camps were closed down. After a symbolic start last year, DDR was paralyzed for several months. It resumed in June, with an ambitious plan to reintegrate around 5,000 members of RENAMO's armed fighters into society. 

RENAMO fighters in Gorongosa, Mozambique
The average RENAMO fighter is middle aged and tired of living in the bush Image: DW/A. Sebastiao

The Islamist threat

RENAMO, which distances itself from Nhongo, says that "so far" the DDR is being well run. The party's spokesman, José Manteigas, recalled that one of the reasons for the failure of the process in 1992 was the lack of conditions then offered to the fighters: "They were given a machete, a hoe and a bucket and told to go home. Now efforts are being made for demobilized fighters to get zinc sheets, subsidies and later, a pension," Manteigas told DW.

Refugees in Cabo Delgado sit in front of their tents (DW/D. Anacleto )
Violence in Cabo Delgado has forced hundreds to flee their homes Image: DW

President Nyusi left no room for doubt that he is intent on peace. Considering the problems his country is facing, he has little choice. "It's a good thing to resolve the RENAMO problem because of the crisis in the far North, in Cabo Delgado province, with the emerging really nasty insurgency that is taking place there," Alex Vines says. Hundreds have been killed or displaced in the violence. Vines agrees that there is a religious, Islamist component to the revolt, but the problem goes far deeper. "The way of turning this is more with development, better governance and accountability. My own view is that Cabo Delgado does not need to be like the Sahel, or even Eastern Congo," Vines told DW.

Extreme poverty

Cabo Delgado is home to Africa's three largest liquid natural gas projects. Production was due to begin in 2024, but progress has been slowed down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Still, revenue from the projects could be used to develop the remote region traditionally neglected by the central government.

Analyst Vines thinks multinationals will not abandon their projects because of the violence. "Oil and gas companies have been able to work in zones that are equally or more dangerous than Cabo Delgado." 

Read more: Mozambique Islamist insurgency intensifies

The danger is that companies will increase their own security in the compounds, while outside insecurity grows. "That might exacerbate the way the local population feels about things even further and create more attraction to be recruited and radicalized."

Coronavirus hit Mozambique as it was struggling to recover fromthe hidden debt crisis — which undermined confidence in the country and negatively affected donations — as well from the devastating effects of two major cyclones in 2019. All of this worsened the situation in a country where 19 million out of a population of 32 million live in extreme poverty. Solving even one of the country's many problems could be a first step to a brighter future for Mozambicans.

World Stories - Gas boom dream under threat

Arcenio Sebastiao and Romeu da Silva contributed to this article.