What are Mozambique’s prospects for peace?

Photo © Will Henley/ Commonwealth
Observers from the Commonwealth arrive for the National and Provincial Elections in Mozambique on 15 October.

On 15 October 2014 Mozambicans go to the polls to vote in the fifth round of democratic elections to be held in the country since they first took place in 1994. Twenty years after this watershed event, concerns about the sustainability of peace are more urgent than ever.

In the past two years tensions between RENAMO and FRELIMO have periodically erupted into violent outbursts, catalysing concerns about the country’s potential for a relapse into civil war. However, to those who have been following the Mozambican story more closely, it is apparent that the root cause for concern is not to be found in the war-mongering rhetoric of politicians, but rather in the effective and optimal management of resources and much-needed political reform.

Ineffective government

Mozambique’s resource boom that was still nascent at the time of the previous elections in 2009 has since had a profound material impact on the country. The economy has been growing at a phenomenal pace of over 7% over the past decade, yet the government’s capacity to address the severe socio-economic challenges endemic to the country remains anaemic. In September 2010, the government’s inability to absorb the impact of food inflation on consumers resulted in violent protests in city centres across the country— acutely affecting the capital, Maputo.

Increasingly issues like the elite-capture of the state, graft as well as the government’s perceived ineffectiveness in addressing socio-economic conditions that keep ordinary Mozambicans in the bottom-most echelons of various global human development indices, have become prominent in the civic discourse.

Changes brought about by an influx of foreign direct investment (FDI) in the resource sector have also altered the country’s geo-political standing. This means that peace and stability in Mozambique is now much more important to other players in the world than ever before; and concomitantly, external players have a stronger vested interest in the country than ever before – all of whom seek to optimise their own dividends.

In addressing the issue of ‘sustainable peace’, it therefore becomes important for the government to consider how it will balance these competing interests. For example, one of the most persistent grievances emanating from the rural areas of Mozambique (particularly in resource-rich provinces like Tete) is that communities are forced to resettle to infertile tracts of land and sometimes to homes of substandard quality, to allow  extraction activities by foreign multinationals. Communities living in these sub-optimal conditions have resorted to protests which have disrupted mining operations.

On the one hand, community-based grievances if left unaddressed have the potential to flourish thereby undermining government authority; but on the other hand, multinational corporations need secure access to resources, otherwise they have no reason to continue investing in the country. It is evident that unless the interests of communities and multinational corporations are managed properly, these tensions are likely to grow, further destabilising the country.

The government’s failure to adequately and comprehensively address the socio-economic challenges of its people has already led to significant political losses. The 2013 municipal elections saw significant gains by the other opposition party, the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (known by its Portuguese acronym, MDM).

The spectre of RENAMO

One of the pillars of Afonso Dlakhama’s threatened bush campaign against the FRELIMO government when he retired to his hideaway in Gorongosa in 2012, was that he would not back down unless the government addressed the misappropriation of state resources. Although the details of this statement have always remained opaque, one gets the distinct impression from his presidential election campaign over the past month that the former rebel leader intends to capitalise on the government’s inability to translate the economic gains of the country into socio-economic gains for the Mozambican people.

Dlakhama has used the fortuitous opportunity of the signing of the peace accord in August 2014 to illustrate to disgruntled Mozambicans that he stands on the side of democracy and justice. This is no doubt likely to win him some support, however, whether or not it will be enough to sway votes overwhelmingly in his favour is yet to be seen.

Possibly the most direct influence RENAMO will have in these elections is how its supporters might react to potential electoral defeat. Despite appearances of reinvigoured support for the party, even at the height of its popularity, RENAMO was never as strong as FRELIMO.

While Dlakhama and his supporters have the propensity to act out violently, they will in all likelihood do so with the censure of the region and the world at large. Unlike the Cold War period, RENAMO no longer has an external support base, in the form of Malawi, Rhodesia or Apartheid South Africa. Even if its hidden caches of arms are taken into account, it is still under-equipped and its combatants are old. As such, it is unlikely that an outbreak of violence would result in a swift and complete relapse into civil war. With the weight of the international community firmly vested in a peaceful, post-war Mozambique, any serious threats to the status quo would rally support for the government. This is not necessarily the best outcome. Rather, it is important for peace in Mozambique that the elections are conducted in a peaceful, fair and transparent manner resulting in a credible outcome that is accepted by all parties.

Mozambique’s real threats to peace

More importantly, as the world remains transfixed over the election results emanating from the 15 October polls and as analysts attempt to decipher how a perplexing character like Afonso Dlakhama might react to an electoral defeat, it is equally important to look beyond the constraints of immediacy that the occasion demands.

Instead of asking whether a leader like Dlakhama will catalyse a relapse into civil war if he loses, we should be asking what are the conditions on the ground that could lead to widespread support of a violent backlash?

In seeking to answer this question, it becomes evident that for a self-sustaining peace to truly take root in Mozambique, a shift in approach by all of the country’s leaders is required. If nothing else, these elections highlight a growing dissatisfaction with the country’s growth trajectory. Inclusive growth is now becoming a necessity and therefore any future government must move beyond the realm of rhetoric.

If real peace is to be guaranteed in Mozambique, a new government must also ensure that it works for all the people of the country.  This necessitates a greater commitment to transparency, accountability and political representation. Apart from taking a firm and public stance on combatting corruption and nepotism a new government should also open up the long overdue constitutional and electoral reform debate in Mozambique.

Most importantly, for real peace to flourish in Mozambique, it requires a real and concerted effort to ensure that the lives of ordinary Mozambicans are transformed for the better.

14 Oct 2014