Mozambique Q&A: why have ex-rebels ended peace deal?

Tensions between the government and the main opposition party in Mozambique have raised the prospect of the country returning to the ‘dark days of civil war’. As fears of violence rise, we examine how the present conflict developed and how it may play out.

Who are the two sides?

Frelimo (also known as the Mozambique Liberation Front) was originally a Marxist-Leninist organisation and has been in power since winning the battle for independence from Portugal in 1975. The party has been lead by President Armando Guebuza since 2005.

Renamo are now Mozambique’s official opposition party and hold almost 20 per cent of all parliamentary seats. The former rebel group was initially set up as a conservative, anti-communist political group in 1975. In the past, they received economic and military support from the white minority governments of neighbouring Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and apartheid South Africa.

Why are they at odds?

The two groups fought against each other in a bloody 15-year civil war which killed over a million people. A peace treaty was ratified in 1992 and paved the way to multi-party democracy. Despite this, tensions between the two groups have been simmering for years.

Frelimo has consistently won an outright majority during the two decades since independence, but the results of several elections have been disputed by Renamo. The group accuses Frelimo of monopolising power and wealth, and has demanded more political and military representation.

Last year Afonso Dhlakama, the leader of Renamo, told AFP that he was “willing to destroy Mozambique if Renamo did not get a bigger slice of the country’s growing wealth”.

According to the Mail and Guardian, a South African newspaper, several recent rounds of negotiations between the two groups have failed.

Why has their relationship broken down now and who is to blame?

The catalyst for Renamo’s denouncement of the peace treaty was an attack by government forces on their base in the remote Gorongosa Mountains, which resulted in several casualties and forced their leader to flee. The attack was allegedly a reprisal for an earlier rebel ambush of government soldiers.

According to Reuters, a Renamo spokesperson blamed the end of the treaty on the Frelimo government “because they didn't want to listen to Renamo's grievances”.

The group claims that the government used troops and heavy artillery to attack their base and kill their leader “in cold blood”. “Peace is over in this country”, he told Reuters.

In further retaliation, Renamo launched an attack on a police station in the central town of Maringue. Police officers were able to flee in time and no casualties were reported.

According to Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at Chatham House, “Renamo is increasingly marginalised, and I think Dhlakama concluded that only through targeted violence can he strengthen his negotiating hand”.

How serious is the threat and what could the consequences be?

Attacks from both sides are fuelling fears across the region of a “return to the dark days of civil war”, according to AFP.

There are growing concerns that the fighting could destroy the development achievements Mozambique has made in the last two decades. Despite currently having one of the fastest growing economies in Africa, Mozambique is still “a country where most of the population remains desperately poor,” says the Daily Maverick.

The annulment of the peace accord is also “certain to alarm foreign donors, governments and investors” who are backing economic development in the country. Billions of dollars have been invested in the country since the discovery of large coal and offshore gas reserves.

Despite the fears surrounding these recent attacks, commentators in the region “doubt that the [Renamo] movement has the [economic and military] resources to relaunch full-scale hostilities” that could lead to another civil war, says the Mail and Guardian.

An independent negotiator, Lourenco do Rosario has told the South African Broadcasting Corporation that both sides “are determined to avoid a return to civil war.” However, few are willing to rule out the possibility of isolated attacks. · 

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