In a significant development for the ongoing Mozambican peace process, President Filipe Nyusi announced that the government had agreed to the principle of decentralisation and would be soon submitting a constitutional amendment bill to parliament to realise this. This announcement is a major step towards a lasting peace agreement between the Frelimo-led government and the opposition group Renamo. The agreement reportedly follows several phone calls and even face to face negotiations between Nyusi and Renamo leader, Afonso Dhlakama.
Decentralisation has been a major demand of Renamo’s throughout the negotiations process and a major sticking point between the two sides. The principle calls for governors to be elected by the provincial assemblies and not appointed by the president, as is the current case. This would enable Renamo to govern provinces where the party holds a majority in the provincial legislatures, giving Renamo leaders access to systems of patronage and a further incentive to work within the political system, instead of waging conflict. In the 2014 elections Renamo received a confirmed electoral majority in Sofala, Tete, and Zambezia provinces. The party also came close to winning Nampula province – Renamo and Frelimo hold the same number of seats in the Nampula legislature with the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) having the tie breaking vote.
Nyusi will still need a super majority in Mozambique’s parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, as introducing the direct election of governors will require a constitutional amendment. The proposal is expected to pass as both Frelimo and Renamo MPs should vote for it, but some Frelimo hardliners oppose granting Renamo any concessions and could attempt to derail support for any decentralisation bill. That said however, Nyusi emerged from Frelimo’s elective conference in 2017 with firm control of the party and is arguably in his strongest political position yet since the start of his presidency.
Nyusi needs the peace process to succeed as he has spent significant political capital on the negotiations and it is his most successful endeavour as president to date. He has largely failed to turn Mozambique’s economy around or create employment, and, notably, also appeared to fail to hold to account those responsible for the country’s debt crisis and resulting economic fallout.
However, the peace negotiations are not completed, and no agreement has been reached on the matter of force integration. Renamo wants government to commit to effectively integrate its forces into the military and the police. This was supposed to have occurred following the initial peace talks in 1992 which ended Mozambique’s civil war between Frelimo and Renamo. However, the process was never completed with Renamo maintaining a militia on which it could call yo fight when necessary ‒ as it did in 2013 and again in 2015. Renamo is demanding that its forces are also integrated at comparative levels, meaning it wants its ‘military leaders’ appointed to high-ranking positions on a near equitable basis with government forces.
This demand will be more difficult for Nyusi to accommodate as it will require buy-in from Mozambique’s security forces which were only recently fighting Renamo militants. Frelimo hardliners opposed to the negotiations will also find this an easier proposition to reject. Similarly, Dhlakama needs this concession for his supporters in order to guarantee his fighters promised military positions and employment. Further, Dhlakama is known to be concerned about threats to his security from Mozambique’s military and believes he will be safer if his troops are integrated into the armed forces. Integration is also critical from a national security perspective as having two security forces is an untenable situation and Renamo militants are unlikely to disarm without this concession being made.
However, Nyusi conceding on decentralisation will pressure Dhlakama to soften his stance on integration as there is little public appetite for future conflict and Renamo will need to maintain its voter support if it is to win three or more provinces in the 2019 elections.
The fact that elections are taking place in 2019 and that the necessary constitutional amendments will likely be adopted beforehand incentivises Renamo to commit to a peace agreement. If Renamo is able to appoint governors, and thus gain access to other systems of patronage and the ability to appoint people to public sector jobs, it will be less dependent on military integration to provide for its supporters. This might encourage it to accept a less drastic deal than one Dhlakama is currently demanding, especially given that it will not want to go into the 2019 elections as the party responsible for holding up the peace process after receiving a major concession.