Political talks between the Frelimo-led government and Renamo at the “Joint Commission” have continued throughout the month of June and it has been announced that an agreement has been reached which will enable President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama to meet face to face. This agreement was reached after Nyusi agreed to the presence of international mediators, primarily from the European Union (EU), South Africa and the Catholic Church as demanded by Dhlakama. After Nyusi acquiesced on 15 June 2016 the two men spoke via telephone and then again on 16 June.
The face-to-face talks will begin as soon as mediators arrive but it is still unclear who the various delegates will be or what role they play. Further, none of the mediating parties mentioned have yet announced their acceptance of the invitation to mediate.
Despite this concession, however, Dhlakama has openly refused to order Renamo militants to desist from orchestrating attacks on road and rail transport in the country’s central provinces. Instead, Dhlakama has demanded that the Mozambican army stop attacking his forces, an allegation which both the army and government deny claiming that its operations are purely in defence against Renamo attacks and not offensive. Further, Dhlakama is now calling for the Joint Commission to increase from six to 12 members adding three commissioners on either side.
On a more promising note, on 1 June 2016, Dhlakama did backtrack his statements that his fighters would take the six provinces Renamo claims it won in the last election by force, a threat he had been issuing since March 2016. On the same day, however, Dhlakama reiterated his much-touted claims that Frelimo is plotting to assassinate him or ensure he dies in battle. Clearly, therefore, fundamental distrust persists and the mere presence of international mediators may do little other than provide Dhlakama with some assurances as to his physical safety.
With the response of the international mediators still pending, it does appear that an agenda for the Dhlakama-Nyusi meeting has been agreed. Renamo has included the governance of the six provinces and restructuring the composition of the armed forces to include more Renamo leadership. Government in turn has tabled the immediate cessation of Renamo attacks and the disarming of its militia.
Dhlakama’s refusal to order a cessation of hostilities will severely undermine the efficacy of the talks, possibly to the point of derailing them yet again as Nyusi cannot be seen to negotiating with Renamo while attacks continue. Further, it is unclear how mediators will be able to direct the process as Renamo is similarly expected to refuse to heed any call from them to suspend violence. Essentially, Renamo’s anticipated recalcitrance could render mediation moot and a resumption of the status quo inevitable.
Nonetheless, the agreement to engage at all is a promising development for Mozambique’s politics and economy but scepticism is warranted as both sides of the conflict appear largely intractable. Pressure for peace, however, is at an all-time high with Nyusi desperately in need of a good news story as the country and the economy continues to reel from the ongoing debt crisis. In this context, the possibility of continued moves to undermine Renamo beyond the negotiating table, supported by especially Frelimo hardliners, cannot be discounted, and low-level conflict may persist for some time.