Mozambique: present critical questions

Introduction and Context

Mozambique is back again in dire straits. More than two decades since the end of the Civil-War between Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo) and the Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo), the country has now fallen into a situation that is reminiscent of the violent conflict that ravaged the country for 16 years.

In power since independence from Portugal, Frelimo began governing the country under a one-party system, during which it endured a fierce civil-war with Renamo, when the Rome Peace Accords were signed. The peace agreement paved the way to the first multi-party elections in 1994, from which Frelimo emerged as the winner, managing to maintain hold of political power by democratic means until today – Frelimo won the five multiparty electoral processes held since 1994. The peace process and democratic transition led many observers to regard Mozambique as a post-war success story (Louw-Vaudran, 2016).

However, 2013 marked the beginning of that success story’s demystification and strengthened the perception that Mozambique’s hard-won peace and stability had been fragile all along and that it was, in fact, under threat. Apart from undermining peace and stability, the current context also places in jeopardy the political and economic order that has characterised the country for decades, i.e., Frelimo’s dominant position.

Following years of discretion and low-profile, Renamo’s historical leader, Afonso Dhlakama, made a comeback to political life in 2012 and, in April 2013, the party announced the resumption of the armed insurgency, prompting military responses by the government.

The wave of violence initiated in 2013 emerged from a variety of demands and claims by Renamo, including over electoral law reform, the disarmament process and integration of its armed branch into national security and defence forces. Additionally, since 2014 that Renamo has been demanding to control the six northern and central provinces in which it claims to have won most of the votes in the 2014 general elections – Sofala, Manica, Tete, Nampula, Zambézia and Niassa provinces.

Nevertheless, rather than solely investing on an armed approach, Renamo has focused efforts on political activity, notably in the country’s parliament (the National Assembly). This mixed approach has sought to take advantage of the Frelimo-led government’s weakened domestic and international position, mostly driven by low commodity prices and the suspension of budget support by traditional donors – due to the discovery of 1.3 billion dollars in undisclosed state-backed debts.

Renamo’s military activity and the government’s fragility led both parties to initiate negotiations towards solving the politico-military crisis, with political decentralisation at its core. Negotiations have, nonetheless, fallen into a standstill, as both parties are mutually suspicious of each other’s intentions and weary of losing leverage over one another.

This paper will explore the reasons why the government and Renamo have failed to attain a stable and enduring peace since 2013, and implications for Mozambique’s present and future.

Renamo’s re-emergence

Maurice Duverger (1966: 284) argues that political competition – or struggle – has two fundamental distinctions: between playing by the rules or against the rules. Contrary to what is generally perceived, Renamo’s armed insurgency is not aimed at playing against the rules. In fact, despite the spate of attacks, kidnappings and targeted killings, a closer look at what is happening on the ground allows us to argue that the party does not intend to topple the political regime, nor replace the institutional order and threaten territorial integrity. In fact, Renamo’s rhetoric suggests that it aims at having a greater say over the country’s fortunes and counterbalance Frelimo, which has dominated the national political and economic sphere since independence. All of that within the existing democratic and institutional framework.

Moreover, in line with Duverger’s line of thought, Renamo has been claiming for itself the task of attaining a new social order and a more just society, something which aims at capitalizing from antagonisms and disgruntlements among the peoples of the northern and central parts of the country, the likes of which have benefited the less in the post-independence period. In other words, Renamo is vying to deepen its integration into the political, social and economic order through the expression of its antagonisms and those of the people that have been less favoured by socioeconomic development.

In fact, it is worth noting that the central and northern regions have been given less focus by the government than the south and Maputo province. A clear example of these regional disparities is provided by a study conducted by the Economy and Finance Ministry in October 2016. The report states that the northern provinces recorded an increase in poverty rates from 45% to 55% between 2008/09 and 2014/15, while poverty in the southern and central provinces decreased 10 and 18 percentage points, respectively, in the same period. Maputo, the capital city, as well as the province of the same name, recorded a decrease in poverty rates from 55.9% to 18.9%, and 29.9% to 11.6%, respectively.

These regional asymmetries and the fact that Renamo’s rhetoric has somewhat been based on upholding the duty to integrate the northern and central peoples into the political and economic order – dominated by Frelimo and the South, where the capital city, Maputo, is located – have played a major factor in the party’s assertive comeback in the 2014 elections. Afonso Dhlakama obtained 36.61% of the votes in the presidential race, while Renamo got 32.46% in parliament – 20 percentage points more in comparison to 2009 – resulting in 38 additional seats in parliament. Conversely, Frelimo lost 47 seats, but still managed to retain majority in parliament, while its victorious presidential candidate, Filipe Nyusi, won 57.03% of the ballot. Surprisingly, the Mozambican Democratic Party (MDM) won 9 seats in its first electoral process, despite not so positive results for its presidential candidate Daviz Simango.

In regional terms, Nyusi obtained more than two thirds of the votes in the southern provinces and the northern-most province of Cabo Delgado – his native region. Opposition parties won more than 60 per cent of the votes in Zambézia and Sofala provinces, with Renamo surpassing Frelimo’s votes in those provinces, with 46.71% and 47.37%, respectively. In Manica, Tete and Nampula provinces, margins were relatively small between the two largest parties.4 Considering this, it is safe to assume that electoral and socio-economic divisions at the regional level represent a major supportive argument for Renamo’s calls to assume control over the six provinces.

Moreover, Renamo’s recent assertion into the national political sphere has also capitalised from the suspension of aid and budget support by the G14 – Group of 14 countries and institutions that finance the state budget, including the IMF and the World Bank – following the discovery of USD1.4mn in undisclosed state-backed loans made to three public companies – Empresa Moçambicana de Atum (EMATUM), Mozambique Asset management (MAM) and ProIndicus. The debts were contracted without parliament approval and, notably, the government admitted that the loan made to EMATUM had been used to buy military equipment, and not to invest in tuna fishing as originally claimed (Matias, 2016; Wirz and Wernau, 2016).

An inevitable outcome is the government’s weakened ability to honour debt commitments, beyond the loans made to the three companies, as reckoned by national authorities (Anónimo, 2016). Making things worse, this discovery and the resulting perception of increased default risk led to a series of downgrades of the country’s credit rating (Livesey and Nhamire, 2016), making it more difficult for the state to tap new loans and, therefore, giving a serious blow to the state’s ability to fund projects and infrastructures, conduct basic state functions and pay salaries.

All in all, regional asymmetries, economic mismanagement and shadowy deals have contributed to deepen popular grievances towards the Frelimo-led government and are likely to foment more frequent and vociferous street demonstrations. Considering this context, it is hardly surprising that Renamo has become more politically active. By doing so, Renamo aims at posing itself as a viable and credible political alternative to Frelimo in the eyes of the population.

Frelimo’s internal quagmire

The G14, particularly the IMF, have increased scrutiny over state finances, particularly by demanding the state to allow for an international and independent audit on the debts as a condition for aid resumption (Nhamire, 2016). In practice, that means that the government would have to provide full disclosure of the state of public finances and debt portfolio. In fact, following months of hesitation and the establishment of a parliamentary commission of inquiry to investigate the debts, the government ceded to the IMF and ordered the Attorney General’s Office to hire an international company to conduct the audit (Anónimo, 2016b).

Although an international audit is key for Mozambique to overcome current difficulties, it is not without risks in terms of political stability. Coupled with the potential impact that limited access to external financing is likely to have in the interests of the elite – including Frelimo’s weakened ability to finance patronage networks –, disclosure of state finances could turn out to reveal shadowy deals and business interests. As a result, it could raise the risk of promoting divisions within Frelimo, as it will expose and affect the interests of powerful political figures who benefited from the accumulated debts that have led the economy to unravel.

Among those figures it is worth highlighting former President Armando Guebuza and his close circle, many of whom still hold considerable influence and power to destabilize the government and Frelimo in case their interests are negatively affected or if authorities decide to make them accountable. In addition, initiating inquiries into the debts could also potentially affect state institutions and even President Filipe Nyusi himself, since evidence strongly suggests that he was directly involved in the undisclosed state-backed loans (Correia da Silva, 2013; Caldeira, 2016; Caldeira, 2016b; Plácido dos Santos, 2016: 4).

Half of ProIndicus is owned by Monte Binga, a company that has the State’s Intelligence and Security Services as shareholder and was established by the Defence Ministry. Interestingly, ProIndicus’ formation occurred during Nyusi’s mandate as Defence Minister. Furthermore, EMATUM was also established under Nyusi as Defence Minister and is owned by SISE and the Institute for the Management of State Participation. Regarding MAM, it was created less than two months after Nyusi’s election as President of the Republic and has SISE as majority shareholder, with 98%, while the remaining shares are split between EMATUM and ProIndicus.

The interconnection and mutual interests amongst the elites and state institutions explains the reason why the government refuses to make former Prime-Minister Guebuza and members of its government accountable. Considering that Guebuza and his allies – who have dominated the economic and political scene over the last decades – will certainly seek to protect their interests, it is likely that doing so could create divisions within Frelimo and government, therefore undermining Nyusi’s still ongoing assertion as party leader. Furthermore, another potential source of friction is Nyusi’s perceived inclination towards negotiating with Renamo, something which is unlikely to please Frelimo’s hardliners, including Guebuza, who has traditionally been reluctant to negotiate with Afonso Dhlakama (Plácido dos Santos, 2016).

These factors present an unparalleled opportunity for Renamo and the opposition in general, since never was Frelimo so weakened and seemingly divided in Mozambique’s post-independence history.

Power politics and national resources

In this favourable context, Renamo has used armed actions as a complementary tool to political action, aimed at advancing its objectives and interests. As a matter of fact, Renamo’s experience in guerrilla operations, as well as proven ability to disrupt the country’s economy and deliberately weak national armed forces, has given the party considerable political leverage (Plácido dos Santos, 2015), to the extent that the Frelimo-led government agreed to initiate peace talks and, reluctantly, accept the inclusion of foreign mediators.

Within the framework of the negotiations, a controversial issue has been placed at the top of the agenda: political decentralisation – a joint commission was established to study and analyse a package of legal reforms aimed at enabling decentralisation under the constitution. This issue is a crucial part of Renamo’s efforts to control the six provinces and name Renamo-appointed governors and administrators to govern those provinces. The agenda also includes, among other topic, the integration of Renamo’s armed men in the national armed forces, but under conditions the party considers to be compatible with its ambitions and objectives. Dhlakama and Renamo are weary of being disarmed and therefore lose what constitutes a key leverage factor in advancing their demands.

Unsurprisingly, negotiations have lacked progress, mostly due to the nature of Renamo’s demands, mutual suspicion and Frelimo’s unwillingness to lose its dominant position in the country’s economic and political conjuncture. International mediators, for their part, have faced difficulties in helping to find a compromise solution and were repeatedly forced to suspend negotiations. President Nyusi, in turn, keeps insisting on the need to create an independent negotiation group solely comprised of national agents, against Renamo’s will. Nevertheless, a truce was agreed and ongoing at the time of writing this paper, which was intended to alleviate the population and the economy, while creating the conditions for negotiations to resume.

At the core of this deadlock, however, is power politics and access to national resources. In other words, Frelimo is reluctant to lose what Greene (2007: 7-8) describes as hyper-incumbency advantages, i.e. the use of “public resources that they [dominant party] can use for partisan purposes”, aimed at creating “strikingly high rates of re-election”. As a matter of fact, the Frelimo-led government have made constant use of national resources to maintain power and control over national politics and economy. In this context, the recently discovered large gas reserves off the coast of Cabo Delgado province, in an area called Rovuma Basin, could represent a major boost to those advantages.

Apart from having the potential to transform Mozambique into a major player in liquefied natural gas (LNG) international markets, the reserves represent a potential game-changer for the government as well as the socio-economic and developmental landscape, namely due to the revenue-generating and economic growth potential: the IMF (2016) estimates that natural gas projects could generate around USD500 billion in revenues until 2045 and lead to an average real GDP growth rate of 24% between 2021 and 2025.

Moreover, natural gas revenues and tax proceedings would likely improve Mozambique’s credit rating and therefore its ability to tap loans in international markets, while creating the conditions to promote social and economic development, and ensuring the funding of patronage networks. That, in turn, would change the fortunes of the Frelimo-led government in the current adverse context. Nonetheless, all of this is first and foremost contingent on oil and gas majors taking their Final Investment Decisions (FID), which is something that has not happened at the time of writing this paper.

Having said this, the government and Frelimo are certainly weary of the threat posed by a scenario in which Renamo assumes control over the six provinces. Although it is not part of the demands, Cabo Delgado province – where the Rovuma Basin is located – has between itself and Maputo those provinces that Renamo wants to govern. By ceding to Dhlakama’s demand for control over the six provinces, the transportation of natural gas explored in the Rovuma Basin would have to cross territories under Renamo’s rule, placing the government and Frelimo’s discretionary access to the resource and revenues at risk. Moreover, the provinces claimed by Renamo are rich in several other natural resources, especially coal, in Tete province, and comprise the railways the enable those resources to reach seaports and thus shipped to international markets.

In this context, one can assuredly argue that Renamo has its eyes set on the country’s natural gas. Dhlakama’s return to the hills of Gorongosa and the resumption of the armed insurgency coincided with the period of the discovery of large natural gas reserves in the Rovuma Basin. That said, Mozambique is a paradigmatic case of natural resources “motivating conflict” and increasing “the vulnerability of countries to armed conflict by weakening the ability of political institutions to peacefully resolve conflicts (Le Billon, 2001: 562).

Looking towards the future

Renamo’s insurgency has given rise to a low-intensity conflict, characterised by attacks on villages, targeted killings and kidnappings of provincial and national level government officials, and ambushes on armed forces and attacks on military escorts along some of the main roads, mostly in northern and central regions. In return, national authorities have replied with military operations and alleged government-sponsored targeted kidnappings and killings of Renamo members and influential individuals deemed favourable to political decentralisation. This was exemplified by the murder of Gilles Cistac, a known constitutionalist who supported decentralisation, in 2015, and Jeremias Podenca, Renamo senior official and member of the Joint Commission tasked with finding solutions in the standoff between the government and Renamo, in 2016.

Apart from fostering a climate of mutual distrust, making it harder to achieve a political compromise, these violent events have severely damaged the country’s economy and medium to long-term growth prospects, as the movement of goods and peoples is frequently disrupted and investment – national and foreign – discouraged. In this context, Mozambique will not be able to overcome current difficulties and improve its record of socio-economic development – 180th position in the Human Development Index, out of 188 countries – without a stable and enduring agreement between the two major political forces. National interest should, in fact, be at the top of both parties’ respective agendas and private goals.

Nevertheless, and despite all this, a cost-benefit analysis leads us to conclude that protracted armed clashes are beneficial for both parties in the short-term. The government knows that attacks by Renamo armed men do not represent a direct threat to natural gas projects – and its enormous revenues –, as these are mostly located offshore. Moreover, there are indications that Italian oil and gas major Eni may take its FID in the first quarter of 2016, suggesting that politico-military instability and the effects of the debt crisis are lesser preoccupations for prospective investors in this industry.

Additionally, Renamo realises that unless the Frelimo-led government concede to their demands – as impossible as they are to meet –, the armed insurgency is the party’s best insurance policy to keep the Frelimo and the government in check and force it to sit at the negotiating table.

Having said this, a stable and enduring compromise is unlikely be reached in the short to medium term. However, although immediate interests seem to be guaranteed for both parties, the country’s prospects are far from being positive.

Peace and stability requires an economy capable of generating jobs and opportunities for a population that is estimated by the United Nations to grow to 41,437 in 2030, from 27,978 in 2015. Moreover, considering that in 2015 around 45.3% of the population was less than 14 years-old, it is possible to conclude that by 2030 the majority of the population will be of working age (United Nations, 2015: 20, 29). Therefore, to build and sustain peace and stability, national authorities need to promote sustainable and inclusive economic growth, job creation, poverty-alleviation strategies and a social security system, among many other mechanisms.

Achieving these milestones requires a diversified the economy. That, however, does not mean that natural resources – coal, timber, precious stones, oil, gas, etc. – should be de-prioritised, since they offer the financial conditions to promote diversification and thus create an environment able to foster socio-economic development. In other words, national authorities should use natural resources to alleviate state finances, invest in key infrastructures and create the conditions for investment, both domestic and foreign, while acting strategically towards escaping the Natural Resource Curse and the Dutch Disease phenomena (Onder, 2014).

Failing to follow a similar path would mean the continuation of the status quo in the foreseeable future, i.e., fragile economy, widespread poverty, domestic grievances, polarised politics and politico-military tensions. This negative scenario worsens when considering the demographics in the coming decades, as exposed above.

Renamo, for its part, is likely to seek to take advantage of the situation, promoting protests, conducting armed operations and stepping up parliamentary activity, in view of counterbalancing Frelimo’s dominance, asserting itself as a viable political alternative, and benefit from the abundant natural resource wealth. Ultimately, the country and its people are the ones who will suffer the most.



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Sobre Gustavo Plácido

An independent political and security risk analyst focused on Lusophone Sub-Saharan Africa. He covers Angola and Mozambique for Horizon Client Access.
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