Africa Watch

Dark clouds keep gathering over Mozambique

Conflict returning to Mozambique

With reports of increased tension and armed confrontation, a succession threat, a refugee exodus and government denials, Mozambique’s natural gas bonanza is likely to be postponed.

In an article in October last year we posed the question: "Who is destabilising Mozambique?”

The article put into perspective the serious negative long-term consequences, not only for Mozambique, but also for its neighbours, if the long-simmering violent relationship between the ruling Frelimo government and the main opposition party, Renamo, were not amicably and permanently resolved.

At the heart of the problem then was renewed tension between Frelimo and Renamo after a convoy transporting the Renamo leader, Afonso Dhlakama, was shot at by unknown assailants. In the skirmish that followed 13 people, mostly from Dhlakama’s entourage, lost their lives.

Renewed tension

News reports from Mozambique seldom make international headlines and despite regular snippets about increasing clashes since the beginning of the year between Renamo and government security forces, little notice was taken.

Reports of the often violent confrontation between the two antagonists in Mozambique had become boring and dull and received limited coverage outside the country.

However, disturbing news recently emerged from Mozambique with the local media reporting almost daily attacks and shootings.

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also reported that it has received “worrying information” about armed clashes, human rights violations that included cases of enforced disappearances, summary executions, looting, destruction of property and rape perpetrated by both the government and Renamo.

It is, however, a recent call by Human Rights Watch for a “credible and transparent” investigation by the Mozambican authorities into the “discovery” of a mass grave containing 120 bodies in an area that frequently sees clashes between security forces and Renamo, that has finally attracted international attention.

Frelimo government officials deny the existence of the alleged mass grave while Renamo insinuated its members could be the victims. They claim their members are routinely targeted by the security forces, with at least fifty being murdered in recent months.

The deteriorating security situation in Mozambique gives renewed urgency to the remark in our October article that, “If left unattended, the worsening situation in Mozambique could be negative, also for the neighbours and particularly for South Africa”.

Malawi’s burden

Mozambique’s small northern neighbour, Malawi, is already faced with the negative fall-out of the intensified strife in Mozambique.

Once battling to shelter more than a million Mozambican refugees fleeing that country’s brutal civil war between 1977 and 1992, Malawi is facing the same quagmire once again.

A poor, landlocked country struggling to come to grips with its own political shenanigans of the past, Malawi is facing a devastating drought with over 2.8 million of its people requiring food aid.

The drought is placing severe pressure on Malawi’s meagre resources and without massive external relief, Malawi will probably succumb to the effects of the drought – in the past often exacerbated by subsequent floods.    

Against this backdrop and already hosting some 25 000 refugees, mostly from the Great Lakes region, Malawi is facing an influx of refugees from Mozambique.

It is estimated that over 10 000 Mozambicans have fled to Malawi since December 2015 to escape the violence allegedly perpetrated by the security forces.

They tell stories of torture, rape and extrajudicial executions of people suspected of sympathising with Renamo.

NGOs, reporting on the deteriorating situation, quote Mozambican refugees as saying that, “To some of us, it is better to die of starvation in a peaceful Malawi than to be butchered by cruel soldiers in our motherland.

“Some of us witnessed the barbaric slaughter of our husbands and sons who were accused of being Renamo sympathisers. Some heartless soldiers burnt down our houses and granaries.

“We cannot go back to Mozambique where government soldiers who are supposed to protect us end up torturing us.”

Mozambique’s denial

The Frelimo government strongly denies these accusations and according to President Filipe Nyusi “there was no war in Mozambique” that warranted the fleeing of Mozambicans and that the reported 10 000 refugees that to date have entered Malawi “were exhibiting normal migrant behaviour”.

If President Nyusi was correctly quoted, he is deliberately trying to downplay the seriousness of the situation. This only strengthens the perception that the Frelimo government is intentionally neglecting the north-eastern regions where Renamo is enjoying overwhelming support.

President Nyusi’s remarks also, in an ironic and twisted way, add credibility to Dhlakama’s threat late last year that Renamo will take power by force in the provinces in which they polled the majority of votes.

According to Renamo the 2014 presidential and general elections “were rigged” and Dhlakama vowed to seize power in six provinces – Manica, Sofala, Tete, Zambezia, Nampula and Niassa – where Renamo polled the most votes.

Dhlakama also warned he would retaliate with force if the government tried to prevent his projected takeover from being realised in March or April 2016.

It is, therefore, not improbable that the recent upsurge in violence could be directly linked to Dhaklama’s irrational and unfeasible threat.  

With what seems to be a lack of international interest, the current instability in Mozambique will in all probability continue, with every chance of an escalation of the conflict.

One of the many negative consequences of such an eventuality is that it could further delay the coming on stream of Mozambique’s natural gas bonanza which is already two years behind schedule.       

by Garth Cilliers

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