Mozambique: devolution or revolution?


The internationally mediated new peace talks between the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) – its official parliamentary opposition as well as its enemy on the battlefield – began with great fanfare in Maputo on Thursday last week, but were suspended indefinitely just two days later.

So many issues were thrown on the table and such hard lines were taken that the large and very mixed bag of international mediators decided no progress was possible then.

The de facto chief mediator, the European Union’s (EU’s) Mario Raffaelli – who also mediated the 1990 - 1992 Rome negotiations that ended the civil war in 1992 – announced after the talks were suspended that mediators were now asking for ‘more order in the discussion.’  This seemed to be a euphemism for ‘let’s get real’ – though it is not uncommon for mediators to take a break near the start to define their own strategies and perhaps offer compromise proposals.

FRELIMO has been negotiating directly with RENAMO on and off for some time, even as a low-level war between them continues. But the ruling party had resisted RENAMO’s demand for foreign mediators to ensure fair play.

Eventually President Filipe Nyusi gave in and agreed to an international mediation to be conducted by the EU, the Catholic Church and – rather surprisingly – South African President Jacob Zuma: all proposed by RENAMO.

The problem in Mozambique goes well beyond a ceasefire

FRELIMO added former Tanzanian president Jakaya Kikwete; former Botswana president Ketumile Masire – representing the Global Leadership Foundation; and Jonathan Powell, a former envoy of ex-British prime minister Tony Blair, representing the mediating organisation Inter Mediate.

Though the agendas of the two sides have not been published, FRELIMO’s demand for a ceasefire is a key issue which RENAMO’s intransigent leader Afonso Dhlakama has flatly rejected. Dhlakama told Savana on Friday that RENAMO would not lay down its guns until the problems that brought about the military conflict had been resolved.

As Gustavo de Carvalho, a senior researcher in the Peace Operations and Peacebuilding division at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) points out, the problem in Mozambique goes well beyond a ceasefire. Many unresolved issues remain, which date back to the Rome Peace Agreement of 1992.

These include the still incomplete disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration process of demobilising RENAMO combatants, which remain a destabilising force.

Perhaps the biggest such problem, though, which has sparked several returns to fighting, is RENAMO’s demand for power to be devolved to it in the central provinces, where it has the most support.

Perhaps the biggest problem is RENAMO’s demand for power to be devolved

Dhlakama is insisting that he should appoint the governors in six out of the country’s 11 provinces, which he claims RENAMO won in the 2014 elections. But Nyusi, speaking in Luabo in Mozambique’s Zambézia province on Friday, said ‘decentralisation was a gradual process’ that could not be sped up or decreed outside the constitution.

In fact, FRELIMO has always resisted real decentralisation, for fear of losing control. It appoints all the provincial governors and although it created elected provincial assemblies in 2007, it gave them no real power.

The focus of the FRELIMO policy of gradualismo, which Nyusi referred to, has been to devolve some autonomy to municipalities, the third tier of government. But even then it has only done so to 53 out of the country’s 405 municipalities, and mainly only to those controlled by FRELIMO itself.

Decentralisation has become, quite literally, a deadly serious issue, and not only because it has sent Dhlakama back to the bush to renew the civil war. In March last year, law professor Gilles Cistac was shot dead outside a café in Maputo in broad daylight after RENAMO contracted him to write a devolution proposal.

That appeared to be a measure of how far FRELIMO hardliners were prepared to go to avoid losing power in several provinces – and with it, control over land usage rights and probably also of concessions for natural resources, most of which are in opposition strongholds. The tragic irony of this issue, though, is that Dhlakama, though demanding devolution from FRELIMO, is far from being a federalist at heart himself.

FRELIMO has always resisted real decentralisation, for fear of losing control

His demand in the current talks is that he himself, as RENAMO leader, should appoint the governors in six out of those provinces which he claims RENAMO won in the 2014 elections; Sofala, Zambézia, Nampula, Tete, Manica and Niassa.This demand is questionable in many ways.

For starters, Dhlakama only won more than 50% of the votes in the presidential elections in two of those provinces: Sofala and Zambézia. In Nampula, Tete and Manica, he won the most votes but not a majority, while in Niassa, Nyusi beat him by four percentage points.

In the national assembly elections, RENAMO did not win a majority in any of the provinces, though it won the most votes in Sofala and Zambézia. In the provincial assembly elections, however, RENAMO won a majority of votes in three provinces, Sofala, Zambézia and Tete.

The latter results are the basis for a more moderate demand from RENAMO adviser and University of South Africa law professor, André Thomashausen. Thomashausen formulated many of the protocols of the Rome Peace Accord of 1992, which ended the civil war, and was special advisor to the head of the United Nations Operations in Mozambique.

He says he has been advocating a solution that would strengthen the powers and responsibilities of the elected provincial assemblies in Mozambique.

After such reforms, in the absolute RENAMO majorities of Sofala, Zambézia and Tete, RENAMO could nominate provincial governors of their choice and preference, to replace those unilaterally appointed in 2014 by Nyusi.

If long-term solutions are not found in Mozambique, the mediation process will just be a band-aid

‘In a further three provincial assemblies – Nampula, Manica, Niassa – where neither RENAMO nor FRELIMO obtained an absolute majority, new governors could be appointed only on the basis of a coalition agreement,’ he says.

‘Such coalition agreements would encourage and strengthen the politics of inclusion, which have been so totally lacking in Mozambique ever since the country held its first multi-party elections in 1994, under UN supervision.’ This proposal, or something very like it, must be the only compromise, which has any hope of success.

But Dhlakama seemed to dash any such hope – and therefore pulled the plug on the mediation effort, many analysts believed – when he flatly rejected anything short of FRELIMO handing over the six provinces, ‘nicely’ or he would just go back to war and take them.

As Mozambique commentator Joseph Hanlon notes in his latest blog, Dhlakama does not want real devolution because that would put power in the hands of elected RENAMO officials, who might use it as a base for challenging his absolute authority over the party. Hanlon says the FRELIMO leadership is equally distrustful of elected officials – even its own.

All this bodes ill for the prospects of the negotiations.

‘There seems to be a deep lack of trust on both sides,’ says Cambridge University political scientist, Justin Pearce. ‘RENAMO believes it needs to keep up military pressure on the government. The government sees no reason to halt its operations against RENAMO.’

Some analysts believe ‘the mediation team is ill equipped to deal with such a deep conflict’, though De Carvalho is more hopeful, suggesting ‘the external pressure might help parties to see the benefits of compromise.’

But he cautions that ‘if long-term solutions are not found for the underlying issues that enable the different crises to emerge, the mediation process will just be a band-aid.’ And the fighting will continue. As it is in the meantime. At best, this points to protracted negotiations.

Peter Fabricius, ISS Consultant

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