Jungle jitters

Tensions flare in Mozambique as the rebel opposition tears up the civil war peace treaty

The Monday morning news in Mozambique made for grim reading. The Renamo former rebel group declared it was terminating a peace accord that ended the country’s 1975-1992 civil war. The rebel opposition blamed the governing Frelimo party and soldiers for surrounding one of its headquarters in Sofala province, in the centre of the country, and then staging a raid on the base. By today, Friday 25th, Renamo had announced that one of its MPs, Armino Milaco, had died as a result of the assault on its military base. This is a serious culmination of a problem that has been getting worse throughout the year. Renamo staged raids in April and June in central Mozambique in which at least 11 soldiers and six civilians died.

In response, the president, Armando Guebuza, has sent military reinforcements to the area to try to contain the threat to peace and stability that Renamo and their angry leader, Afonso Dhlakama, could pose. Dhlakama wants electoral reforms to shake up a system that has seen Guebuza’s Frelimo in government since the end of the conflict in 1992. During that war he oversaw an effective guerilla campaign by his men, based out of the central jungles. The raids carried out so far this year by the hiding rebels have disrupted road and rail traffic and the government is determined to see off the deadly and unpredictable tactics of Dhlakama and his band.

Political stability is important in Mozambique because it is both a nation leading the way in some sectors and also one that is having to learn from neighbours’ examples in other areas. The oil and gas industry serves both these factors well: the country has huge fields of both commodities but is having to balance the excited foreign investors and the manner in which profits are shared between the companies working on the fields and the under-developed population. The economy grew 7.4% last year and is expected to hit 7% again in 2013. GDP per capita is still low, with 2012 data from the World Bank showing the country well down the Africa list, with a total of only $579. But although Equatorial Guinea is strides ahead in the numbers ($24,036), the tiny oil-rich nation is hardly a continental leader when it comes to equality and wealth distribution. Mozambique will have to be careful how it manages its oil and gas find. It is a fast-growing economy in a volatile part of the continent (Zimbabwe’s regression, Madagascar’s military coup).

Maputo needs also to be wary of the country’s dominance by just one party, Frelimo. Stability is no longer beneficial when it turns to stagnation. South Africa’s ANC (in power since 1994) is being criticised for alleged abuse of power, abuse of position and internal corruption. This worry over one-partyism is not to say that Frelimo should immediately resign power but just that it needs to be alert to the problems and resentment that can be caused in such situations. Both world powers (United States) and neighbours (Zimbabwe) have called for calm this week and the Mozambican people certainly do not have any appetite to return to civil war. But this remains a delicate situation of peace accords, one-party government, oil bonanzas and national development that needs a steady and carefully mediated path to be defined by the country’s bickering leaders.