Mozambique: Two Day Funeral for Dhlakama; Ossufo Momade Named Renamo Acting Leader

Ossufo Momade, a former secretary-general of Renamo, member of parliament since 1999, and a general in Renamo’s army, was named Friday as coordinator of the party’s political commission, effectively temporary leader of the party. This follows the death Thursday 3 May of Renamo head Afonso Dhlakama. Momade was named at a meeting of the political commission in Beira on Friday 4 May, and he will hold this position until the next meeting of the Renamo national council, or until Renamo holds a congress.

CanalMoz, normally well informed on Renamo, reported (4 May) that Dhlakama had health problems which worsened over the preceding 10 days, exacerbated by the conditions of the rural base near the Gorongosa mountain to which Dhlakama moved in September 2015 after two attacks in Manica on his motorcade.

There was also a delay in deciding to summon a helicopter to evacuate Dhlakama to South Africa. Ivone Soares, head of the Renamo bench in parliament and niece of Dhlakama, told O Pais (6 May) that when she spoke to him on Monday 30 April he only complained of a cold and did not seem seriously ill. But President Filipe Nyusi said that he has been sick for a week. “I feel depressed because I could not help. I had little time. I was able to send a helicopter but it did not go in time to solve my brother’s problem,” he said, adding “I feel a lot of pain because I had information that he was in agony.” (O Pais, Radio Mocambique, 4 May)

The funeral of Renamo head Afonso Dhlakama will take place Wednesday and Thursday, 9-10 May. On Wednesday there will be an official funeral for Dhlakama, as dictated by the 2014 law on the status of the leader of the second most voted party in the Mozambican parliament. It is not yet clear whether President Filipe Nyusi will attend the funeral – but he has cleared his diary for next week, postponing state visits that he was to have made to Norway and Finland. On Wednesday morning Renamo will be holding a public funeral for Dhlakama at the Ferroviario da Beira football ground.

The family funeral will take place Thursday afternoon in Mangunde, Chibabava district, Sofala, where he was born in 1953 and will be buried. Dhlakama’s father, aged 92, is the regulo (traditional chief) of Mangunde.

Tight personal control complicates transition

The son of a chief and then commander of a guerrilla army, Afonso Dhlakama maintained very tight personal control over Renamo. At the lowest level, when travelling by road, he personally paid for the fuel when the motorcade stopped at a petrol station. Before he retreated to his Gorongosa base camp, he sometimes watched parliament on television and the Renamo member of the presidium could be seen taking mobile phone calls from Dhlakama with instructions. Renamo members of the election commission had to phone him before votes. And Dhlakama was personally conducting telephone negotiations with President Filipe Nyusi.

Dhlakama was very careful to move and marginalise anyone who might challenge his leadership, and there is no nominated successor. The boycott of the 2013 municipal elections was in part to prevent the election of Renamo mayors who could build an independent power base, following the success of Daviz Simango as mayor of Beira. (Some in Frelimo agreed with Dhlakama and supported his attempt to end elected mayors.)

The 1982-92 war ended in stalemate but with Renamo clearly in the weaker position, forced in the peace accord to recognise the legitimacy of the Frelimo government and national constitution. Renamo became the main opposition political party in parliament, but also retained a small guerrilla army. In the weaker position, Dhlakama used two tactics to put pressure on Frelimo and the government. The first was boycott, regularly walking out of 1992-4 transition talks and subsequently of parliament in an effort to gain concessions, and boycotting local elections in 1998 and 2013. The second was to return to war, in a small way, with attacks on the main north-south N1 road in 2014-6, while maintaining a presence in parliament.

Dhlakama was presidential candidate in all five multiparty elections (1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014) and only once came close to winning, in 1999 when he gained 48% of the vote. He was convinced he had won all five elections and had been defeated by fraud, but studies at London School of Economics (including by this writer) show that while there was fraud, it was never enough to explain Dhlakama’s loss. His campaigning became increasingly negative, saying he would never be allowed to become president, which gave the message even to supporters that there was no point in voting for him, and his share of the vote fell to 16% in 2009.

The defeat led him to move out of the capital to Nampula in 2010. Frelimo kept the pressure on and there was a confrontation between government and Renamo forces at his house in Nampula in which 22 people were killed. He then moved to a Renamo base on the side of the Gorongosa mountain in Sofala in October 2012. He reappeared in public and campaigned in the 2014 election, but in September 2015 his motorcade was twice attacked in Manica, killing at least 12 people, and then his house in Beira was raided by police. In October he returned to his Gorongosa base. Renamo attacks on the road resumed and the army regularly shelled his Gorongosa base.

Despite being convinced that he was always being cheated, he did learn, and after 2009 became a very effective campaigner and speaker. Increasingly he was listening to internal and external advice, and his actions and statements became more positive and forward looking. At the beginning of 2017 he called a cease-fire, and announced Renamo would participate in 2018 municipal elections. Negotiations with President Nyusi became more active and an agreement on decentralisation was tabled in parliament. Dhlakama gave more telephone press conferences and speeches, which made good use of Frelimo’s weakened position due to the $2 bn secret debt and the on-going small war. Renamo clearly expected to do well in municipal elections on 10 October with Dhlakama taking a lead in the campaign; Frelimo’s weakness and his own improved campaigning gave him a chance of winning October 2019 presidential elections.

Afonso Dhlakama’s personal control of the party and marginalisation of possible challengers means he did not nominate a successor, and his death throws into confusion both the negotiations with President Nyusi and Renamo’s election planning. A decision on municipal elections and how mayors will be named is necessary within weeks, and a full agreement with government requires details on integrating Renamo guerrilla leaders into positions of authority in the army, police and security services at a time that it is not clear what Nyusi and Dhlakama have agreed so far.

Thus a key question is: Who will lead Renamo? Three candidates have been discussed so far:

Ossufo Momade, current acting head, was born on Ilha de Mocambique, perhaps in 1961. He joined the new government army in 1974 and moved over to join Renamo in 1978, becoming a commander and opening the Nampula front in 1983. He was elected an MP in the second elections in 1999 and remains in parliament. He was Renamo secretary-general 2007-2012.

Manuel Bissopo, current party secretary general, took over from Momade. He is also a member of parliament,. He was born in Zambezia in 1967 and was a guerrilla in the 1982-92 war. He has a diploma in economy from the Catholic University in Beira. Bissopo was seriously injured in an assassination attempt on 20 January 2016, when a car pulled up beside his car and shots were fired into his car; this occurred at a time when other Renamo officials were being attacked and there seemed to be a government hit-squad.

Ivone Soares, head of the Renamo parliamentary bench since 2015, is a niece of Afonso Dhlakama. She was born in Maputo in 1979 and joined Renamo only in 1993, after the end of the war, and was elected to the Renamo Political Commission in 2009. She has a masters degree from the Universidade Politecnica de Maputo, and is part of the new educated generation of Renamo leaders. Soares became one of the main links with Dhlakama after his retreat to the bush, and seems to have been influential in his development of more forward looking attitudes. There was an unsuccessful attempt to shoot at Soares’ car on 8 September 2016 in Quelimane.

The divisions in Renamo in making a choice will be similar to those in Frelimo – age, region and links to the military. The Renamo military remains important, and Dhlakama himself said he was forced by his own generals to return to war in 2014. They are likely to back an older war veteran. But there will be pressure from inside to back a younger more dynamic leader who can mobilise and modernise the party and win elections, and Soares has the advantage of coming from the former chief’s family.

One wild card in the discussions will be the possible return of people marginalised by Dhlakama. Daviz Simango, mayor of Beira and founder of the MDM (Mozambique Democratic Movement) probably does not have support within Renamo and would surely demand to be leader, so is unlikely to be a player. But Manuel de Araujo who left Renamo to join MDM had maintained good relations with Dhlakama and is married to Ivone Soares’ sister. He was born in Quelimane in 1970, has a PhD from the University of East Anglia in the UK, and has been a dynamic mayor of Quelimane since 2011. If Araujo returned to Renamo, he would not be a presidential candidate, but would become a major force in in the post-war generation and in organising Renamo’s election campaigns.

Faced with the unexpected death of its long-time president, the problem for Renamo will be that it must sort out the leadership (and the 2019 presidential candidate) while at the same time facing urgent pressures to conclude negotiations on decentralisation and military integration with Nyusi and to name candidates and prepare for local elections in October.

Post published in: Africa News

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