On 3 May 2018, Renamo’s long-serving leader Afonso Dhlakama died. The announcement was made by Renamo party officials. The details surrounding Dhlakama’s death, including the cause of death, have not been revealed, but he is believed to have been ill and was being prepared to travel to South Africa for emergency medical treatment when he passed away. At the time of writing, no foul play has been alleged or is suspected.
Dhlakama’s passing is a potentially seismic event in Mozambican politics. The Renamo leader has had almost absolute control over the opposition party since he took over as its leader in 1979. During this period he has been a major force in Mozambican politics, both as a rebel leader and an opposition politician and has personally shepherded the party through its various incarnations over the past 40 years.
Mozambique’s political and security situation is currently still unstable following four years of intermittent low-level conflict between Renamo and government forces. Peace negotiations are ongoing, but Dhalakama was essential to these talks as major sticking points between the negotiating teams were elevated to direct discussions between Dhlakama and Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi.
Dhlakama’s death has cast an element of uncertainty over the peace negotiations especially as some of the major points of disagreement between the two sides are yet to be resolved. Key among these is the disarming of Renamo forces and their integration into Mozambique’s security forces. However, the issue of decentralising power ahead of the 2019 elections has already been agreed upon.
The bigger concern will be establishing a successor to replace Dhlakama as Renamo leader. Given his dominance over the party and the unexpected nature of his death, there is no heir apparent in line to replace him. Accordingly, the need to appoint a new leader could catalyse a power struggle within the party’s leadership which could undermine Renamo’s ability to act as a unified force which, in turn, could endanger the peace negotiations.
There are multiple possible outcomes in terms looming changes, with the most likely successors at present being Renamo General Secretary Manuel Bissopo, and Renamo deputy leader and the leader of the Renamo parliamentary caucus Ivone Soares – who is also Dhlakama’s niece.
Due to the immediacy of Dhlakama’s death, the situation remains very fluid. Renamo will be under pressure from regional powers and the local conflict-weary population to handle the leadership transition smoothly and remain committed to the peace process. Similarly, the government will need to handle the situation with delicacy and allow Renamo to hold public memorial commemorations in the coming days and weeks.
However, the possibility of a decline in stability both within Renamo and Mozambique remains a possibility and until a new Renamo leader is appointed the situation remains uncertain.