Op-Ed: Mozambique elections will go ahead despite threats of violence

By Gary van Staden, Head of Research, NKC African Economics.

Mozambique’s elections – due in less than a month – will go ahead as planned despite threats by a splinter group of Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) fighters who have defied the party leadership and vowed to step up its violence unless campaigning for the upcoming polls is suspended. There are no plans on the part of the government to suspend campaigning or delay the vote.

Fresh elections are due on October 15 and the splinter group of disgruntled fighters who lost January elections for a new leader following the death of long-time boss Afonso Dhlakama have threatened to step up their banditry activities that (to date) include two messy and unsuccessful attempts to hijack vehicles and kidnap the occupants.

The new peace agreements implemented on August 1 by President Filipe Nyusi, leader of the governing Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), and Renamo leader Ossufo Momade, required Renamo’s armed wing to disband (for the second time), where members could either retire with a government pension or join the national army.

Renamo’s coercive capacity has dwindled to almost nothing following the death of hardliner Mr Dhlakama, leaving a few disgruntled groups of fighters to continue to resort to sporadic violence.

Among them was a renegade self-appointed ‘general’, Mariano Nhongo, who has falsely claimed in several interviews to be ‘chief’ of Renamo’s armed wing. That was never the case according to Southern African Development Community (Sadc) sources.

“We do not acknowledge the recently signed peace treaty. An election will not take place. Anyone who makes calls for elections should know: We will kill him,” Mr Nhongo told foreign media while also claiming to be the legitimate leader of Renamo having previously threatened to kill Mr Momade.

Mr Nhongo claimed to command some 500 troops, but Sadc intelligence and security sources believe the number to be significantly lower and that these troops are the dregs of the former armed wing and not very well trained.

Nevertheless, the commander continued his threats, saying that should the election campaigning continue, “our attacks will continue”. He claimed that his fighters had been responsible for two recent attacks on the vehicles of provincial heavyweights in central Manica which left a total of four people injured. Gunmen attacked two cars along the main N6 road from Beira to Chimoio.

Some media reports stated that the attack took place in the village of Zimpinga, Gondola district, Manica – a Renamo zone of influence. Others said that police had arrived on the scene, relatively swiftly ending the attack and foiling an apparent attempted kidnapping.

Speculation that the actives of this splinter group, which must now operate outside any formal Renamo structures or logistical or other support, have a capacity to destabilise the elections, let alone the country, are fanciful and far-fetched.

The evidence rather suggests a ragtag outfit of disgruntled fighters unable or unwilling to accept the terms of the peace agreement. However, that does not mean they are harmless.

Sporadic attacks on unarmed motorists could unfortunately result in fatalities.

Mozambique seldom runs perfect elections and the debates over legitimacy will resurface before, during, and after the polls. But elections have tended to express the will of the people and we doubt any Renamo splinter group will have much impact.

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