In response to sporadic attacks on public transportation system in Mozambique by unknown assailants in the past year, the FRELIMO led government of Mozambique raided a base housing the headquarters of the opposition RENAMO in October. The government blamed RENAMO for the attacks even though RENAMO publicly denied perpetrating the attacks. The attack on the RENAMO base was viewed by RENAMO as an act of war and resulted in the opposition remobilising and training of fighters.
In addition RENAMO announced this past October that it would no longer honour the 1992 Rome accord that ended 16 long years of civil war. RENAMO is a former rebel group that transitioned into an opposition party after the civil war. FRELIMO is ruling party that has been in power since Mozambique’s independence from Portugal in 1975.
Since its transition from rebel group to opposition, RENAMO has largely been marginalised in the political arena for many reasons including an unfair electoral process, political patronage and RENAMOs failure to reinvent itself into a functioning opposition. Despite having contested in over 5 election cycles since the accord RENAMO has not won enough seats to make inroads in the political arena and was beginning to feel irrelevant. Some are quick to dismiss RENAMO as a bunch of old disgruntled failed former rebels however their recent remobilisation indicates deeper underlying legitimate concerns such as the electoral process that is allegedly biased in the ruling party’s favour.
RENAMO wants the government to change the configuration of the (CNE) Comissão Nacional de Eleições or National Electoral Commission, a body that allocates representation to political parties based on the number of parliamentary seats. RENAMO wants equal representation of commissioners on CNE. RENAMO believes the unfair allocation of parliamentarians in RENAMO voter strongholds is designed to minimise Remamo’s political influence. In addition to the CNE, all state institutions, are currently dominated by ruling FRELIMO party members making it impossible to distinguish between the party and state institutions, allowing the government repressive powers without checks & balances and unfettered access to the countries natural resources.
Recent skirmishes between government forces and RENAMO have put the country on edge. The question on many minds is whether break out war? The general consensus from political analysts is that a full scale war is unlikely because neither the government forces nor RENAMO have the capacity to wage a full blown war. The State army has been semi-retired since the end of the civil war in the early 1990s.
RENAMO army has aged and has been dispersed around their base, lacks the outside financial backing it previously enjoyed and has not carried sufficient military training/ manoeuvres to carry out a long term offensive. For Mozambique, a disturbance would affect its tourism industry. Currently at least two million tourists visit Mozambique annually. In 2011 natural gas fields were discovered off the Mozambican shore and combined with coal fields the country has experienced a boom as characterised by the 7% economic growth in 2012. Any instability will reverse this much needed growth.
Not just Mozambicans but all in the region and beyond are anxiously watching the events unfolding. For Mozambique’s neighbours and regional partners there are serious social and economic implications of a full scale confrontation.
For Zimbabwe, instability in Mozambique would seriously hurt the already struggling economy. Landlocked Zimbabwe depends on the Beira oil pipeline and the rail system to transport goods from the port city of Beira. Disruption of the pipeline and rail system would mean immediate prices hikes and shortages as the South African Ports and Namibia’s Walvis Bay are costly alternatives. Socially and culturally, both countries share a porous border with families on either side; war would disrupt families and see large volumes of refuges into refugee camps.
Similarly, Mozambique is also Malawi’s shortest outlet to the sea and one of the large trading partners. The northern parts of Mozambique conduct more business with Blantyre and Lilongwe than with its own capital Maputo located over 1200 miles away in the south. Malawi also shares a cultural and linguistic background with families on either side of the boarder.
South Africa is currently Mozambique’s biggest African trade partner. In 2012 South Africa imported R10billion (US$100m) worth of goods from Mozambique and exported R18b (US$176m) to Mozambique. South Africa also has much more than just trade at stake, especially, as it relies on Mozambique for some of its power supply. Cabora Bassa hydroelectric sells almost all the power it produces to South Africa.
Not everyone is against the war, although the country has attracted foreign investment seen growth in GDP not everyone has benefited. Ordinary civilians and those who fought in the civil war feel they have not gained anything, while the leaders have enriched themselves. Prosperity has not made it down to the ordinary people and the gap between the rich and poor has widened causing tension.
In addition both FRELIMO and RENAMO need to address issue of jobless youth. Currently jobs and the economy are dominated by older people who enjoy patronage through party links. There is much talk of youth, empowerment and tomorrow’s leaders but no one actually listens to them. This new generation of youth who were too young to remember the war is disgruntled with the lack of educational opportunities, the high levels of unemployment and working in the informal sector. These youths and other marginalized masses are willing to try a different party in power when they see no hope of improvement in their lives they may be willing to go in a different direction.
How this situation ends remains to be seen however it is clear that RENAMO is tired of standing by the sidelines and wants a piece of the action hence the saber rattling. And so whether or not the situation deteriorates to a full scale war, RENAMO can cause disturbances by disrupting peace, instil fear in the populace and still emerge as the victor in this skirmish. It is also clear that FRELIMO is failing to meet the needs of the majority of its people and need to re-chart its course into the future