Mozambique Christmas truce fuels hopes of peace

Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Mozambique's Renamo opposition party
Afonso Dhlakama, leader of Mozambique's Renamo opposition party Cristiana Soares for RFI

The people of Mozambique has welcomed a seven day ceasefire to end hostilities between Renamo opposition fighters and the ruling Frelimo government. Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, declared the truce on Tuesday to allow the public to enjoy the New Year festivities. It comes after an upsurge in fighting that has displaced thousands.


The truce comes at the end of a gruelling year, with rights groups reporting that more than 15,000 people have been forced to flee the fighting between Renamo opposition fighters and the ruling Frelimo government this year alone.

"The truce is obviously a first start," Joseph Hanlon, a visiting senior fellow at the London School of Economics told RFI on Thursday.

"But what is missing at the moment is any sense of the two sides feeling that they actually have to live together, that there has to be some kind of agreement between them which would allow the country to move forward. Neither side seems to accept that yet."

The gulf between Renamo and Frelimo sent international mediators away disappointed at the start of the Christmas break, as mediation efforts once again broke down.

"So far negotiations have stalled because neither side feels that it's important enough to make concessions, so we keep ending up with a stalemate," continues Hanlon.

What's been poisoning peace talks is the issue of decentralization.

Face-saving opportunity

Renamo's Afonso Dhlakama wants the right to nominate governors in six provinces where the opposition won the most number of votes in the disputed 2014 elections.

He also wants Renamo fighters to be brought into the military and the police.

The Frelimo government says that they must first disarm.

"Renamo is trying to call attention and send out a message that it still exists," Philippe Gagnaux, a Swiss doctor and independent politician living on the outskirts of the Maputo capital, said

So far, much of its publicity has been negative, with Renamo gunmen being blamed for an upsurge in attacks on government convoys and civilian vehicles on Mozambique's roads.

Gagnaux however contests the claim that Renamo is primarily responsible for the unrest.

"The attacks are often carried out by government soldiers, without their superiors knowing. They may lack supplies, and so attack convoys to make up their shortfall," he told RFI.

Resource curse fuelling unrest

Another factor behind the unrest is the battle to control the country's new-found gaz reserves.

Mozambique is ready to develop huge offshore find, which the government hopes will help transform the country into a middle-income state.

 "The gas is partly the reason for the war," Hanlon adds.

"We have in a sense an advance resource curse, because the previous government of Armando Guebuza borrowed in secret two billion  euros--a huge amount of money for Mozambique--on the expectation that it would be paid for by gas revenues."

The move led the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to suspend aid to the country in April this year.

"The worst thing is that some 1,200 million euros are still missing," claims Philippe Gagnaux, who argues that the government's inability to tackle corruption has strengthened Renamo.

"In my opinion Renamo should have gone to a second round," he says in reference to the 2014 presidential poll, which saw the opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama obtain 30% of the vote behind president Filipe Nyusi at 63%.

"At least a second round should have happened because there was so much fraud. Since then, Renamo has remained quiet and accepted the result, but it wants something in return."

Yearning for peace

In the meantime, the people are still waiting for peace.

Mozambique is still recovering from its bloody 1976-1992 civil war during which one million people died.

With more people fleeing the fighting this year alone because of increased violence, the hope is that the truce and its promise of peace, will remain, beyond the Christmas break.

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