Moçambique: Why has Renamo gone back to the bush?


MDM has so far confirmed its expansion to Quelimane and Gúruè and secured its presence in all municipal assemblies. Interestingly, the difference between FRELIMO and MDM votes in urban municipalities is negligible while MDM has secured the highest number of votes ever recorded. Due to anomalies in Nampula, the counting process for the municipal assembly has been cancelled. Elections for the mayoral elections are to resume on 1 December 2013. These results are yet to be confirmed by the National Electoral Commission (CNE). 

The end of the cold war in the 1990’s paved the way for Mozambique to achieve peace and democracy after 16 years of brutal civil war between the FRELIMO government and the guerrilla movement (RENAMO). FRELIMO rules the country since independence from Portugal in 1975 and RENAMO was founded by the Rhodesian Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO) to fight the Zimbabwean ZANU guerrilla operatives in Mozambique, and in 1976 started fighting against the new independent government. After Zimbabwe’s independence in 1980 RENAMO was funded by the apartheid regime in South Africa to destabilise Mozambique because of its support of the African National Congress (ANC). 

Mozambique’s civil war claimed over one million lives, resulted in nearly two million refugees and three million internally displaced persons (in a population of a little more than fifteen million). On October 4, 1992, after two years of failed attempts, both parties finally signed a General Peace Agreement in Rome under the auspices of the Catholic organisation Saint Egídio.

In 1994 the first national elections were held in which FRELIMO won 129 of the 250 parliamentary seats. RENAMO captured the majority of votes in Nampula, Zambézia, Tete, Manica and Sofala provinces and won 112 seats in parliament. The remaining 9 seats were occupied by União Democrática (UD) [1]. The concurrent presidential elections saw Joaquim Chissano (FRELIMO) elected President with 53,3% while Afonso Dhlakama (RENAMO) obtained 33,8% of the votes. 

In the 1999 elections, Chissano was reelected with 52.3% of the votes with FRELIMO winning 133 parliamentary seats. Dhlakama received 47.7% of the votes and the party held the remaining 117 seats. These results showed a slight increase for FRELIMO while RENAMO – Electoral Union (RENAMO-EU) [2], almost retained its previous number of votes. UD had already ceased to exist due to internal conflicts within its leadership. The territorial distribution of votes changed slightly. RENAMO-EU retained its majority in the central provinces of Sofala, Manica, Tete, Zambézia and Nampula and expanded into the Northern Province of Niassa which had become FRELIMO’s in 1994. FRELIMO preserved its hegemony over the Southern provinces of Inhambane, Gaza, Maputo – Cidade and Maputo – Província. These results have been highly contested by RENAMO-EU allegedly due to extensive electoral fraud (Chichava). [3]

In the following election in 2004, Armando Guebuza (the new FRELIMO’s candidate) won 63.7% of the votes. This represented twice the number of Afonso Dhlakama’s votes (31.7%). FRELIMO won 62% of the votes; RENAMO-EU 29.7% and 18 minority parties shared the remaining 8%. Thus, FRELIMO took 160 seats and RENAMO-UE, 90 seats. These results denoted RENAMO’s most dramatic defeat since the beginning of multiparty elections in 1994 and were once again contested by RENAMO but confirmed by the judiciary and the electoral commission (CNE). This overwhelming victory marked a turning point in the traditional type of dialogue FRELIMO had been having with RENAMO since 1992, which had resulted in minor concessions by the ruling party (Brito 2008) [4]. 

In the most recent general elections of 2009, FRELIMO took 191 parliamentary seats, followed by RENAMO with 49 while the newly established MDM [5] (Movimento Democrático de Moçambique), a splinter party of ex-RENAMO supporters and members, won 8 seats. The results confirmed a continued sharp loss for RENAMO, a major increase by FRELIMO and the appearance of MDM as a new contender. The 2008 municipal elections had yielded even worse figures for RENAMO while they were extremely positive for FRELIMO. The ruling party won 42 of the 43 municipalities with MDM gaining control over the city of Beira. 

This year’s municipal elections were held on 20 November 2013 and general elections are scheduled for 2014. Thus RENAMO subjected its participation in both elections to a number of guarantees and threatened to disrupt the election if those guarantees were not met. The most relevant of these guarantees comprises changing the electoral law to allow parity in political party representation under the non-executive supervisory board of elections at national level (CNE). Another guarantee wanted by RENAMO is the proportional share of the country’s wealth. To resolve these disagreements, the parties (the Government of Mozambique and RENAMO) assigned a task force. After 18 successive rounds of dialogue they failed to reach consensus – the electoral law being the major stumbling block [6]. Out of the 12 points and 19 sub-points of the dialogue agenda, the Government has agreed with all except the one on the electoral law (Guilengue 2013) [7]. It is against this background that RENAMO decided against participating in elections and Dhlakama, together with some of his supporters, went back to the bush from where he is said to be conducting guerrilla attacks in the last few months. 

Given this context, it is argued here that the return of RENAMO to the bush reflects its difficulty to transform itself from a guerrilla movement into a bona fide political party. 


Under the provisions of the 1992 General Peace Agreement, Mozambique’s political settlement was expected to convert to a multiparty democracy with RENAMO as a legitimate and recognised political party. To aid in its transformation RENAMO received technical and financial support from various sources. USD 16 million was immediately made available to RENAMO through a UN proxy fund (Carter Center 2005) [8]. Since then, USD 100 000 per annum, has been allocated from the public budget to RENAMO and other political parties likely to obtain seats in parliament. 

It was also agreed that the two former armies would contribute 50% of their troops to form a national army 30 000 strong [9]. However, a concession was made allowing RENAMO leader, Afonso Dhlakama, to temporarily maintain a personal security force of around 150 – 200 men until such time as he considered the national police trustworthy [10].

After 21 years Mozambique’s peace agreement was widely considered to be robust and a positive example of post-war reconciliation in Africa. However, against all expectations and apparent stability, RENAMO guerrillas have regrouped and taken up arms against their old rival. This raises the following question: “What made the transformation of RENAMO from a guerrilla movement into a political party so difficult?” 


First, the transformation of RENAMO into a bona fide political party was negatively affected by the hostile political environment imposed by a ruling party (FRELIMO) that is not conducive to opposition parties, especially to a potential major challenger like RENAMO. Despite a formal multiparty system and democratic constitution Mozambique’s political reality is dominated by an over powerful party that seems no longer interested in reaching out to other parties.

FRELIMO seems increasingly to view opposition parties as political enemies and not normal competitors. In November 2005, for example, a demonstration organised by RENAMO against the government of Joaquim Chissano and FRELIMO in Northern Mozambique (Montepuez, Cabo Delgado Province) was responded to with heavy police repression resulting in 123 fatalities and halting the demonstration. Since then the army and police have continually been used to suppress all forms of public demonstration by different social classes against the government. Most recently, the MDM was restricted from putting up its flag and setting up offices in Gaza province which is a FRELIMO stronghold. 

The ruling party dominates the state apparatus in Mozambique causing some to speak of the “FRELIMISATION” of the state (DW 2013). [11] The judiciary and the electoral committee in charge of supervising electoral acts have always rejected outright the numerous RENAMO’s allegations of fraud and unconstitutionalities by the ruling party, even when exposed by independent institutions such as Freedom House in 2004. Appointments to government and state positions are heavily dependent on political affiliation to FRELIMO and life is made very difficult for public servants who side with or who are members of opposition parties. In August 2013, Albertino João, a primary teacher at a public school in the District of Sussundenga claimed to have been demoted by the school authorities after having presented himself as an MDM candidate (CanalMoz 2013) [12]. 

FRELIMO’s control over the public media (there is also a small independent press) played a major role in restricting knowledge about opposing views and in discrediting opposition parties. Most recently, FRELIMO made considerable efforts to further tighten its grip on the media. Described as the “Angolan strategy”, these efforts included acquisition of important shares in independent media and replacing editors of the public media who were critical of the party. It has been reported that Rogério Sitoe, the former editor of the government owned newspaper “Jornal Notícias” was dismissed for covering Dhlakama’s press conference in Satungira in July 2013 as well as for reporting the arrest of the leader of the doctors’ strike, Jorge Arroz, in May 2013. Further restriction of freedom of expression took the form of a recent directive sent by government to its Ministries and the media that stipulates that they should only make use of the 43 commentators approved by government and listed in the directive (SAVANA 2013) [13]. Suffice to say that all these persons are staunch FRELIMO apologists. 

The Guebuza clan and FRELIMO officials are progressively expanding their control over the country’s economy, especially with the mining boom. After taking office in 2004 Guebuza, he expanded his financial control in areas such as luxury goods, public works, communication, medical equipment, real state and energy. Guebuza’s four children have all become hard-driving entrepreneurs (Africa Intelligence) [14]. This is also notable with other FRELIMO state and government officials expanding or building new interests in the extractive industry (CIP) [15]. This expansion coincided with the discovery of large commercial quantities of coal and gas. These discoveries have the potential to contribute billions of dollars to the economy and turn Mozambique into the world’s third largest exporter of liquefied natural gas (Gqada 2013) [16]. The new resource bonanza coupled with considerable inflows of foreign direct investment and reduction of foreign dependency might lead to an increase in FRELIMO’s arrogance over its people, political parties and financial partners. This context might also negatively affect the country’s reconciliation agenda [17]. 


It is apparent that RENAMO has not developed a political structure and agenda facilitating its change into a creditable political party. Despite demobilising and integrating part of its troops into the national army under the General Peace Agreement, RENAMO still maintained some of its military bases [18]. It is said that these troops, estimated to be up to a thousand, have consistently exercised pressure on the party’s political wing to secure their future as promised. Maintaining a strategic military reserve might have been a deliberate tactic by Dhlakama as every time he lost an election he threatened to go back to the bush. Some people are of the opinion that the ultimate goal of RENAMO has never been to gain political mileage, but only to benefit from the existing financial and material resources (Hanlon 2013) [19]. Various studies e. g., Vines 1998; Phillips 2010; Gentili 2013 [20] prove that RENAMO demanded direct financial benefit for its leadership, as a prerequisite to the signing of the General Peace Agreement in 1992. “There is no democracy without money” – said Raúl Domingos, Chief RENAMO negotiator in 1992 (Vines 1998). “I had a bag full of cash for eventualities. Demands came at all hours. We needed to be flexible” – said an Italian Diplomat, August 1994 (Vines 1998). 

In the 1999 elections RENAMO was again accused of demanding payment before recognising FRELIMO’s victory and accepting Mozambique’s government (Cahen 2001) [21]. During the same year, RENAMO demanded the right to not only appoint governors in provinces where it had won a majority, but also insisted that some of its members be appointed to the board of directors of public enterprises. Interestingly, it is in those public enterprises where by far the highest salaries and benefits are paid. Most recently, in 2012, RENAMO submitted a document to government requesting an increase in legal public funds allocated for political parties (AIM 2013) [22]. The financial argument is gaining impetus with the advent of the extractive industry and the fact that the party is demanding to also benefit from that wealth. 

This financial argument is further underpinned by RENAMO’s less than impressive political strategy. In 1998 the party boycotted the first municipal elections which saw its influence at municipal level disappear for the next five years. In the 2003 municipal elections RENAMO won the city of Beira (Mozambique’s second largest city) and other minor municipalities such as Angoche, Nacala, Ilha de Moçambique and the village of Marromeu. After having won Beira in 2003 with Daviz Simango as candidate, Dhlakama, fearing Simango’s increasing popularity, decided to appoint another candidate, Manuel Pereira, for the 2008 elections. This resulted in Simango running as an independent, being dismissed by RENAMO, overwhelmingly defeating Pereira and ultimately creating his own party (MDM). Poor internal preparation and overconfidence led to RENAMO losing all other smaller municipalities it previously controlled to FRELIMO. In response, the party returned to a strategy of not only boycotting elections by promising to neither take part in the municipal elections of 20 November 2013 nor the general elections in 2014, but also threatening to disrupt both elections. 

In fact, Dhlakama has always been regarded as a disastrous political leader. Some of his other ruinous tactics include impeding any potential successor and the centralisation of decision making. This is reflected by the defection and dismissal of some of the party’s senior and dynamic official such as Daviz Simango, Raúl Domingos, Maria Moreno, Luis Boavida, Manuel Araujo, Ismael Mussa and others. 

During the process of the constitutional review (1994 – 2004) after having been able to secure FRELIMO’s support to establish a semi-presidential system with substantial amount of power to be transferred to the government, (led by a prime-minister resulting from a parliamentary majority) RENAMO suddenly changed its mind and decided to leave the presidential system unchanged. This about face was decided to by Dhlakama as he expected to clinch the next elections and thereby not wanted to limit his presidential power (Brito 2008). 


There are other important political and economic factors, both internal and external, that may have significantly influenced the progress of the reconciliation process in Mozambique and the transformation of RENAMO into a legitimate political party. These factors include FRELIMO’s weak political will to coexist with other opposition parties; the state’s limited financial capacity for political parties funding; and RENAMO’s poor political experience and centralised party structures. 

The Western donors who played a dominant role in Mozambique’s first years after 1992, before the energy resource bonanza started (and the state budget became less dependent on foreign aid), have to some extent neglected the political reconciliation process and put too much effort on economic and social development. Despite some considerations that political stability depends on economic factors, I argue that a different approach is required for post-civil war contexts especially when the conflicts are mainly driven by political and ideological differences. 

The transformation of RENAMO into a political party and its integration into a broader national political spectrum has neither been treated as a pressing issue by RENAMO nor, more importantly, by the ruling party. Prolonging an uneasy status quo was something both parties tolerated. Seemingly, the arrangement suited RENAMO provided it could maintain part of its troops and was able to use the threat of violence as a bargaining chip to further its own interests, while FRELIMO was comfortable as long as these threats failed to materialise and it could still retain power. However, in light of recent developments it appears that this ticking time bomb has become increasingly difficult to defuse. 

[1] UD was a coalition made of three political parties: Partido Liberal e Democrático (PALMO), Partido Nacional Democrático (PANADE) and Partido Nacional Moçambicano (PANAMO). 
[2] A coalition between RENAMO and 10 other small political parties. 
[3] Chichava. Uma Provincia “Rebelde“: o significado do voto zambeziano a favor da RENAMO. Cidadania e Governação em Moçambique. Available at
[4] Brito (2008). Uma nota sobre voto, abstenção e fraude em Moçambique. Discussion paper nr.4/2008. Available at: 
[5] MDM was founded in March 2009. 
[6] For the current composition of the CNE, see Guilengue, F. (2013). 
[7] Guilengue, F. (2013, November 7). Threat of instability shakes mozambique. The Zimbabwean, p. 23
[8] The Carter Centre. Observação das Eleições de Moçambique 2004. Available 
[9] Apparently, the number has been cut down to 20 thousand due to financial reasons. 
[10] For further details on this arrangement see: Lei n. 13/92, de 14 de Outubro de 1992 (1992). Protocol IV about military issues. 
[11] DW. Accessed on the 4th of November 2013. 
[12] CanalMoz. . Accessed on the 2nd of September 2013. 
[13] Jornal SAVANA. . Issued on the 26th July 2013. 
[14] Africa Intelligence. Available at: accessed on the 2013.11.15 
[15] Centro de Integridade Pública (CIP). Os interesses empresariais dos gestores públicos da indústria extractiva. Available at: 
[16] Gqada, I. (2013). A Boom for Whom? mozambique’s natural gas and the new development opportunity. [Paper N. 151]. South African Institute for International Affairs, Johannesburg, South Africa 
[17] Dependency of the state budget on external resources reduced from 39,5% in 2012 to 32,8% in 2013. Internal generated resources increased from 60,5% in 2012 to 67,2% in 2013. Jornal O País. . Acessed on the 15th of November 2013. 
[18] To name some: Navivene, Murrupula, Naminge, Nakira, Nantikwa in Nampula province. Others like Marínguè and Satungira in Sofala province have just been occupied by government forces. 
[19] Hanlon, J. (2013). Mozambique: RENAMO revert to force, ageing, spent and broke. Retrieved on the 17th of November 2013 from 
[20] Gentili, A. 2013. Lessons learned from the Mozambican peace process. Istituto Affari Internazionali. 
[21] Phillips A. 2010. Mozambique: A chance for peace. Center for Complex Cooperation. Washington 
[22] Vines, A. “The Business of Peace: ‘Tiny’ Rowland, Financial Incentives and the Mozambican Settlement,” Accord (1998). 
[23] Cahen, M. 2001. Mozambique: l’instabilité comme gouvernance? Politique Africaine, 80, 111-135.
[24]Agência de Informação de Moçambique (AIM) (2013). Accessed on the 30th of April 2013. 

* Fredson Guilengue works with Rosa Luxembourg Foundation Southern Africa.


Source: Pambazuka

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