RENAMO lost in the bush, MDM takes over

Mozambique has just undergone its fourth municipal elections. With the Resistência Nacional de Moçambique (RENAMO) reiterating its strategy of non-participation and Dhlakama retreating to the bush, the November 20 election preliminary results have so far given enormous advantage to the ruling party – Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) – and shown a notable expansion of the influence of the Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (

Prisoners belonging to former Mozambican rebel movement Renamo guarded by government soldiers in Gorongosa.
Prisoners belonging to former Mozambican rebel movement Renamo guarded by government soldiers in Gorongosa.

Out of the 52 local municipalities under dispute, FRELIMO is leading in 49. Apart from Beira, under its control since 2008, MDM has so far confirmed its expansion to Quelimane and Gúruè and secured its presence in all municipal assemblies.

Interestingly, the difference between FRELIMO and MDM votes in urban municipalities is negligible, while MDM has secured the highest number of votes ever recorded.

Due to anomalies in Nampula, the counting process for the municipal assembly has been cancelled. Elections for the mayoral elections are to resume on December 1. These results are yet to be confirmed by the National Electoral Commission (CNE).

After 21 years, Mozambique’s peace agreement was widely considered to be robust and a positive example of post-war reconciliation in Africa. However, against all expectations and apparent stability, RENAMO guerrillas have regrouped and taken up arms against their old rival. This raises the following question: “What made the transformation of RENAMO from a guerrilla movement into a bona fide political party so difficult?”

Political enemies

Despite a formal multiparty system and democratic constitution, FRELIMO seems increasingly to view opposition parties as political enemies and not normal competitors. Most recently, the MDM was restricted from putting up its flag and setting up offices in Gaza province – a FRELIMO stronghold. FRELIMO dominates the state apparatus in Mozambique, causing some to speak of the ‘Frelimisation’ of the state.

The judiciary and the electoral committee have always rejected outright the numerous RENAMO allegations of fraud and unconstitutionalities by FRELIMO. Appointments to government and state positions are heavily dependent on political affiliation to the party and life is made very difficult for public servants who side with, or who are members of, opposition parties.

FRELIMO’s control over the public media plays a major role in restricting information about opposing views and in discrediting opposition parties. It recently made considerable efforts to further tighten its grip on the media. These efforts included the acquisition of important shares in independent media and replacing editors of the public media who were critical of the party.

Further restriction of freedom of expression took the form of a recent directive sent by government to its ministries and the media that stipulates that they should only make use of the 43 commentators approved by government and listed in the directive (SAVANA 2013). Suffice to say that all these people are staunch FRELIMO apologists.

The Guebuza clan and FRELIMO officials are progressively expanding their control over the country’s economy, especially with the mining boom.

This coincides with the discovery of large commercial quantities of coal and gas with the potential to contribute billions of dollars to the economy and turn Mozambique into the world’s third largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (Gqada 2013).

The new resource bonanza, coupled with considerable inflows of foreign direct investment and reduction of foreign dependency, might lead to an increase in FRELIMO’s arrogance over its people, political parties and financial partners.

RENAMO threats

Despite demobilising and integrating part of its troops into the national army under the General Peace Agreement, RENAMO still maintained some of its military bases. This might have been a deliberate tactic by Dhlakama, as every time he lost an election he threatened to go back to the bush. RENAMO’s ultimate goal has never been to gain political mileage, but merely to benefit from the existing financial and material resources. RENAMO demanded direct financial benefit for its leadership, as a prerequisite to the signing of the General Peace Agreement in 1992.

In the 1999 elections, RENAMO was again accused of demanding payment before recognising FRELIMO’s victory. The same year, RENAMO demanded the right to appoint some of its members as board directors of public enterprises. Interestingly, it is in these public enterprises where, by far, the highest salaries and benefits are paid. RENAMO’s political strategy is less than impressive. In 1998 (and now again), the party boycotted the first municipal elections, which saw its influence at municipal level disappear for the next five years. In the 2003 municipal elections, RENAMO won the city of Beira and other minor municipalities. Dhlakama, fearing Simango’s increasing popularity, decided to appoint another candidate for the 2008 elections. Simango left RENAMO, ran as an independent, overwhelmingly defeated RENAMO’s candidate and finally formed MDM.

Poor internal preparation and overconfidence led to RENAMO losing all other smaller municipalities it previously controlled to FRELIMO. Some of Dhlakama’s other ruinous tactics include impeding any potential successor and the centralisation of decision-making. This is reflected by the defection and dismissal of some of the party’s senior and dynamic officials.

During the constitutional review (1994-2004), and after having been able to secure FRELIMO’s support to establish a semi-presidential system, RENAMO suddenly changed its mind and decided to leave the presidential system unchanged. This about-face was decided upon by Dhlakama as he expected to clinch the next elections and thereby ensure he did not limit his presidential power (Brito 2008).

The transformation of RENAMO into a political party and its integration into a broader national political spectrum has neither been treated as a pressing issue by RENAMO nor, more importantly, by the ruling party. Prolonging an uneasy status quo was something both parties tolerated.

Seemingly, the arrangement suited RENAMO provided it could maintain part of its troops and was able to use the threat of violence as a bargaining chip to further its own interests, while FRELIMO was comfortable as long as these threats failed to materialise and it could still retain power.

However, in light of recent developments it appears that this ticking time bomb has become increasingly difficult to defuse. – The full article (including sources) can be downloaded from:

Post published in: Africa News

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