Steadily ratcheting political tensions in Mozambique rose another notch on 28 March 2016 after a police raid on the headquarters of the main opposition party, Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (Renamo), and houses belonging to Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, in the capital, Maputo. Police seized over 40 firearms, including assault rifles, which they claim had been used in attacks and other violent crimes in recent months. Dhlakama was not present during the raid and is believed to be hiding out in a Renamo stronghold in the Gorongosa Mountains.
Political relations in Mozambique have been fraught since the 15 October 2014 general election that ostensibly ended two years of low-level conflict between Renamo and the Mozambican government. The election was won by the incumbent Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo) which has ruled Mozambique since its independence. Since then, Renamo has repeatedly threatened to resume an insurgency against government, recently demanding the right to govern the six central and northern provinces in which it received the most votes in 2014 (Manica, Sofala, Tete, Zambezia, Nampula and Niassa). The semi-autonomous control of these provinces has long been a goal of Renamo’s. Despite a 2014 peace agreement and subsequent elections, Renamo has refused to disarm and has reportedly continued low-level attacks across the country, particularly in the noted provinces, with a definite uptick this year as Dhlakama threatened to retake the provinces at issue by force in March 2016. Most recently, on 30 March, gunmen allegedly belonging to Renamo opened fire on a government convoy in Manica province and the government has reinstated armed convoys on two major roads.
While a return to full-scale war remains unlikely at present, due partly to Renamo’s capacity challenges, ongoing attacks and threats seem inevitable for now with a concomitant pushback from Mozambican security forces. The extent of the engagement will, in no small part, depend on how President Filipe Nyusi responds to the ongoing and economically costly crisis with various insiders noting significant pressure from Frelimo hardliners to crack down hard and deal with the Renamo problem for once and all. Similarly, international stakeholders and investors want an end to conflict as a matter of urgency to protect their interests and aspirations in Mozambique’s resource-rich north ‒ areas severely affected by Renamo’s activities.
In this context, the recent raid on Renamo headquarters exemplifies the political dilemma as Frelimo efforts to contain Renamo’s military campaign risk fomenting further conflict and an escalation in instability that would compound impediments to investment and the country’s economic recovery. However, Renamo’s continued refusal to disarm makes it imperative that Frelimo asserts the law of the land and acts decisively to contain the threats Renamo presents militarily, while offsetting the additional political threats attendant on Renamo’s popular support in large tracts of the country. Should Renamo be able to galvanise this support and also boost its military capacity, Frelimo may find itself on the back foot and continued incidents of violence are, therefore, likely to continue as the ruling party ups efforts to reign Renamo in while publicly reiterating its commitment to dialogue and a political solution. In the short to medium term, Mozambican investors will be well advised to monitor local developments closely and take the necessary precautionary measures on an operational level.