Dialogue with RENAMO runs into the sand

The current dialogue between the Mozambican government and the former rebel movement Renamo had its beginnings in a letter sent to President Armando Guebuza on 15 April by Augusto Mateus, head of the office of Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama.

The letter was headed by the words: “Re: need for urgent negotiation between the Government of Mozambique and Renamo” – yet the following events showed no sense of urgency at all on the part of Renamo.

The ensuing correspondence, a copy of which is in AIM’s possession, shows that the Secretariat of the Council of Ministers (Cabinet) wrote back to Renamo on 17 April, declaring that the government “is, as always, available for dialogue with Renamo”, and inviting Renamo for a meeting to be held the following Monday (22 April) at the Indy Village Hotel.

This is a hotel often used for political gatherings, and where government and Renamo delegations had met previously. Hence the government could not have envisaged that the venue could cause any problems.

Two days later, however, Mateus rejected Indy village, or any other hotel, as a venue. “The place indicated, which is a tourist establishment is not a dignified site, as far as we are concerned”, he said. He asked the government to indicate “state installations that offer conditions for holding negotiations in the name of the national interest”.

The government responded at once, and said its delegation would be waiting for Renamo, not at the hotel, but in the Ministry of Agriculture. A week had already been lost, since the meeting could now only be held on 29 April.

The Ministry seemed to fit Renamo’s requirements, and from the government’s viewpoint it was certainly convenient, since it was the workplace of the head of the government delegation, Agriculture Minister Jose Pacheco.

However, Renamo declared, in a further letter from Mateus, on 26 April, that, precisely because Pacheco works there, the Ministry of Agriculture “is not neutral”. Now Renamo demanded that the government find “other premises which guarantee neutrality, suitability, transparency and symbolism of state sovereignty”.

The government replied, suggesting that Maputo’s Joaquim Chissano Conference Centre should be the venue. By now the date of the meeting had slipped to 2 May. This time Renamo accepted – although it is hard to see why a conference centre should be regarded as more symbolic of state sovereignty than a ministry,

The first two meetings went ahead, on 2 and 13 May, but Renamo then demanded responses to three “prior questions” it raised – the release of 15 Renamo members accused of crimes in the area of Muxungue, in the central province of Sofala, where members of the riot police had been murdered in a Renamo raid; the removal of the police from several places in Gorongosa district, also in Sofala; and the presence of “national facilitators” and “international observers” at future rounds of the dialogue.

The government responded promptly, on 15 May. It could not release the Renamo prisoners since “bearing in mind the principle of the separation of the legislative, executive and judicial powers, and particularly the independence of the organs of the administration of justice, the government cannot interfere in the operation of these bodies”.

As for removing the police, the government said the police “has the mission of guaranteeing public order, security and tranquility throughout the national territory, through defending the rights and freedoms of citizens and protecting public and private property”. It was up to the police command to establish “strategic positions in any part of the country”.

As for facilitators and observers, a point never mentioned in the original letter from Mateus, the government saw no need to involve third parties in the dialogue. “The self-esteem and capacities of Mozambicans confirm legitimacy for the government and Renamo to continue with the dialogue in its current shape”, it said.

It was thus not until a round of dialogue held on 20 May, that Renamo finally introduced the first point on the agenda of matters it wanted discussed – the electoral legislation. There were three other agenda points – defence and security, the separation of political parties from the state, and “economic questions” (these were unspecified although, judging from the first letter from Mateus, Renamo’s complaints were that it had been allegedly excluded from “the fruits of peace”, and its members were being discriminated against in terms of employment, shareholdings and bank credit.

There was certainly a great deal to discuss in this agenda – but it never got beyond the first point. Throughout May and June, the only matter Renamo wanted to discuss was overturning the electoral law which had been approved by majority vote in the country’s parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, in December 2012.

On 1 July, the government attempted to add a point of its own – the disarmament of Renamo – but Renamo would not consider the matter and returned yet again to the electoral legislation. Renamo put forward a document with 12 points, divided into 24 separate proposals.

Perhaps it expected the government to reject everything. Instead the government sent a prompt response on 18 July, accepting the great majority of the Renamo proposals. The government agreed in full with 16 of the Renamo proposals, agreed partially with six others, and only rejected two.

But among those two was the Renamo demand for “parity” between itself and the ruling Frelimo Party on the National Elections Commission (CNE). Renamo could have presented all its other points as amendments to the electoral legislation in the extraordinary sitting of the Assembly held in early August, and there is no reason to doubt that they would have passed. Instead it insisted on a “political agreement” with the government that would thrust “parity” down the throat of the Assembly, and the government would not give it that agreement.

By this time, Renamo was not even signing the minutes of the dialogue meetings. Repeatedly, the government sent Renamo the unsigned minutes, and just as repeatedly Renamo refused to sign them. To date, 24 rounds of dialogue have been held, and Renamo has only signed the minutes for the first six.

The minutes merely transcribe who said what. They do not bind either side to agree to anything said by the other side. Yet Renamo still refused to sign.

By October the dialogue had ground to a complete standstill. Renamo now insisted, not only on “facilitators and observers”, but also on “mediators”, both national and foreign. The government made one concession – it was prepared to allow two men who had already carried messages between Dhlakama and Guebuza, Anglican bishop Dinis Sengulane, and prominent academic Lourenco do Rosario, to act as observers.

But for Renamo it was once again a case of all or nothing. Unless the government accepted foreign mediators and observers, Renamo would attend no further meetings. Renamo has not said, in so many words, that it has broken off the dialogue – and so the government regularly invites Renamo to the conference centre, and Renamo simply does not show up.

The dialogue has been under way since mid-April, and there has been nothing whatever to show for it. Although Renamo declared that the talks were “urgent”, it first stalled over the venue, then demanded that “prior questions” be solved. When Renamo’s own agenda was broached, Renamo refused to go beyond the first point. Then the talking stopped altogether over the demand for foreign mediators and observers – a demand which had not even been mentioned in the initial letter from Augusto Mateus calling for the talks.

The whole correspondence indicates no willingness on the part of Renamo to make any compromises. Instead it issues ultimatums and declares that its positions are non-negotiable. But people who go into talks demanding all or nothing usually end up with nothing.

Post published in: Africa News

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