by Garth Cilliers

Mozambican dream in danger

Armed exploits by Renamo could shatter expectations

Alfonso Dhaklama admitted he ordered attack on a police station
Alfonso Dhaklama.jpg

For some time now Mozambique has been a source of good news in Southern Africa. In recent years expectations have been high that the country is on the brink of a bright and prosperous future. But these dreams have lately been shattered by a number of deadly attacks, allegedly committed by members of Renamo.

Recent years have seen regular reports emerge about large natural gas finds worth billions of US dollars off the Mozambican coast. The Rovuma field is believed to hold enough gas to supply Germany, Britain, France and Italy for 15 years.

Equally impressive are the coal deposits in the interior said to be among the biggest in the world.

Mozambique emerged as one of the brightest stars in the "Africa Rising" narrative. Enjoying a growth rate of more than 7%, brought high expectations that the once impoverished country, ravaged by a brutal civil war in which one million people died. 

But reports of a series of deadly armed attacks, allegedly committed by members of Renamo, the ex-guerrilla movement and the official opposition since the first democratic election in 1994, dramatically changed this rosy picture.

In the most recent of a spate of incidents over the past three months, during which a dozen soldiers, police and civilians were killed, two people were shot dead on 21 June when suspected Renamo gunmen attacked a truck in central Mozambique.

The latest attack was preceded by an attack early in April when Renamo fighters killed four policemen in a raid on a police station in Sofala province followed by an ambush -- a common Renamo tactic during the civil war -- a few days later on the main north-south highway in which three civilians died.


Main grievances

Renamo claims the government is not paying attention to its grievances which forced it to adopt a more militant approach.

Renamo demands “a share of the country's wealth”, arguing it “has a right to a reward” for signing the 1992 peace accord and a redress of the perceived marginalisation of Renamo soldiers who laid down their arms to join the new defence force.

Renamo also threatens to disrupt local elections later this year and 2014’s presidential poll if the government fails to change the electoral law to create "parity" between Renamo and Frelimo in the National Elections Commission.  

Renamo leader Alfonse Dhaklama, describing himself recently as “the best political-military leader in the world", claims that large-scale election rigging by Frelimo  in the past cost him the Mozambican presidency and that this injustice will only be rectified if the electoral law is amended.

Renamo’s fallback on its old and tested tactics of creating fear through low-level armed attacks and intimidation is the result of its inability to arrest declining support and a last-ditch attempt to force the Frelimo government into concessions. It is also a confirmation that the more militant elements are currently holding sway within the movement.

At a press conference Dhlakama admitted that he ordered the attack on the police station under duress because some of his colleagues threatened to kill him if he did not. This statement adds weight to assertions  that he is losing control and is under threat himself from former senior Renamo officials who are increasingly angry at not receiving any rewards for their support of him and the 1992 peace accord while their Frelimo counterparts are living the high life.

The shootings came only two days after Renamo threatened to disrupt road and rail routes, particularly the Sena railway line connecting the northwest coal-rich region of Tete to the Indian Ocean port of Beira.The line is used predominantly by the two biggest foreign mining companies operating in Mozambique, Brazil's Vale and London-listed Rio Tinto.

The line runs close to Renamo's stronghold in the Gorongosa mountains where it established its military headquarters during the civil war. 

Late last year, as tension and hostilities between Renamo and the government escalated, Dhaklama ordered his followers and ex-Renamo combatants to assemble at their former base and prepare for a return to armed conflict. In October 2012 he relocated to the Gorongosa stronghold, where he still hides out under strict surveillance from the Mozambican military.

Renamo justified the threat to disrupt traffic as a precautionary measure to prevent the security forces from sending troops and equipment to the Gorongosa region to carry out an alleged plan to assassinate Dhlakama, allegedly orchestrated by President Guebuza.

Except for the detention of Renamo information chief, Jeronimo Malagueta, after he announced Renamo’s plans to paralyse key transport routes, the Frelimo government’s reaction thus far has been remarkably restrained.

The government recommitted itself to continue with talks in June to discuss grievances after six rounds of talks ended in stalemate.

Frelimo’s apparent tolerance of Renamo’s latest actions suggests that the government is convinced that the situation is under control with Renamo holding no political or military threat.

There is consensus that Renamo, with an estimated 1 000 aging ex-fighters under arms,does not have the military capacity to conduct even low-intensity guerrilla warfare for any sustained period of time. Without a proper arsenal, lacking in logistical organisation and a secure communications system and particularly in the absence of any significant external support, Renamo finds itself in the proverbial cul se sac.

With the people of Mozambique showing zero tolerance towards any return to conflict, Renamo’s current actions will in the longer run cause irreparable damage to its already rapidly dwindling support. Frelimo is aware of this and feels comfortable it has the situation under control.

While the Mozambican government is showing tolerance and political maturity, although it must admit its military capacity is also limited, it is important for the government to record progress in the negotiations with Renamo soon, even if it requires some concessions.

The Renamo armed threat might be temporary but the consequences could be costly in the longer run. The present campaign is not only disruptive but is causing panic among the locals forcing scores to leave their homes to seek safety, creating an internal refugee problem.

It could also result in an unnecessary and unwelcome strain on the Mozambican economy as programmes address the country’s infrastructural deficiencies slow down and foreign investments are affected.

On a wider regional level Renamo’s destabilising tactics might also have negative repercussions for Mozambique’s neighbours, particularly South Africa.

There are disconcerting signs that the Zimbabwean elections, due to take place soon, might again degenerate into a season of intimidation, harassment and violence that will once again unleash a new stream of refugees to neighbouring countries. With Renamo still operational by the time the people of Zimbabwe go to the poll, the stream of refugees from both countries could become a torrent which none of the neighbours can afford or accommodate.

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