New threats to peace in Mozambique

News and Press Release
Originally published
View original

Accusations of vote rigging in the October elections could lead to the breakdown of Mozambique’s peace agreement. Leaders from across Southern and Central Africa, as well as African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat, travelled to Maputo, Mozambique in early August 2019 to act as guarantors for the peace agreement between the Mozambican government and former rebel group RENAMO.

The agreement paved the way for inclusive elections in mid-October, which provided for a decentralised political system – one of RENAMO’s key demands since it returned to armed conflict over five years ago.

Mahamat said in a statement that Mozambique could be assured of ‘the AU's continued commitment to support the peace process as well as the government's efforts towards achieving sustainable socio-economic development in the country’. So far the AU has taken a back seat, with negotiations largely being led by internal processes.

Following elections on 15 October, won by the ruling FRELIMO with an overwhelming majority, fears have been mounting over the sustainability of the accord. Allegations of vote rigging, within the context of huge losses for the opposition, including in its provincial strongholds, now place the agreement in jeopardy.

Allegations of vote rigging, within the context of huge losses for the opposition now place the agreement in jeopardy

The international community and especially the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the AU have an important role to play in supporting peace in the country.

A reversal of the gains made through years of dialogue between RENAMO and the ruling party in Mozambique will be a setback for the continent’s Roadmap to Silencing the Guns. Mozambique is already plagued by violence in the north of the country, which has yet to be placed on the continental agenda.

Accusations of fraud during elections

Following their announcement, RENAMO and the MDM, the third-largest party in the country, rejected the results of the October presidential, provincial and legislative elections. RENAMO then lodged a complaint with the Constitutional Council, demanding that the results of the elections be annulled and a rerun organised. The council, however, rejected the complaint on 11 November.

According to the results, incumbent President Filipe Nyusi won 73% of the votes, RENAMO leader Ossufo Momade 22% and MDM leader Daviz Simango a mere 4%. FRELIMO also won all the provincial assemblies in the country’s 10 provinces. This was a surprising turnaround, given RENAMO’s majority in three provinces in the last elections in 2014. Losing in places where it has always been popular based on historical and ethnic loyalties is a huge blow to RENAMO.

This was a surprising turnaround, given RENAMO’s majority in three provinces in the last elections in 2014

The October 2015 election is also a major departure from the trend seen in local elections in October 2018, when FRELIMO managed to get only 51% of the total votes. By contrast, last month it even managed to clinch a majority in legislative polls in the country’s second largest city Beira, which has traditionally always gone to RENAMO and since 2009 to the RENAMO breakaway, the MDM.

FRELIMO increased its majority in Parliament to two-thirds of the vote, while RENAMO’s seats dropped from 89 to 60.

In their announcements following the results, the two opposition parties claimed there had been large-scale manipulation of the registration process, with voters’ numbers deliberately increased in FRELIMO strongholds, intimidation and violence in the run-up to the election day, and irregularities in the tabulation of the votes.

The two opposition parties claimed there had been large-scale manipulation of the registration process

The fact that thousands of independent election observers were denied the opportunity to do their jobs because of the national electoral commission’s failure to provide timely accreditation was also cited as a flaw in the process.

The electoral commission was divided over the outcome, with eight of the 17 members of the commission rejecting the results. This division was largely along party lines, but shows the strong views by many in the electoral management body that the voting process was not free and fair. The commission is composed of parties proportional to their representation in Parliament.

Observers note flaws in the process

AU and SADC election observers, in their preliminary statements, noted the violence in the run-up to the elections – notably the assassination of an election observer in Gaza province, allegedly by police – the abuse of incumbency and the alleged anomalies in the voter registration process. Yet they declared the election process peaceful and well managed.

European Union (EU) and United States observers were more critical, noting attacks on opposition candidates and the exclusion of independent observers.

RENAMO divided

RENAMO’s new leader Momade, who took over from his predecessor Afonso Dhlakama in early 2018, has not managed to unite the party behind him. Infighting marked the run-up to the elections.

In addition, the 6 August peace deal was rejected by a group calling themselves the RENAMO Military Junta. The Junta has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on government soldiers in the central parts of the country, similar to those stages by RENAMO between 2013 and 2016.

RENAMO’s weak performance in the polls now strengthens the hand of the breakaway group.

The 6 August peace deal was rejected by a group calling themselves the RENAMO Military Junta

Mozambique’s many challenges

The threat of the peace agreement’s unravelling comes against the backdrop of serious insecurity in the north of Mozambique. Since November 2017 violent extremists have carried out brutal attacks on villagers in the Cabo Delgado province, with some of them claiming to be radical Islamists.

The government has deployed the military and has reportedly received support from Russian mercenaries, but the insurgency continues to grow. Citizens of Cabo Delgado were prevented from voting in several districts owing to the insecurity.

The Mozambican government, however, is keeping an eye on the prize, with billions of dollars in revenue expected thanks to the liquefied natural gas finds in Cabo Delgado province. Some commentators believe the insurgency in Cabo Delgado is directly linked to this expected boom.

Support for the implementation of the deal

In order for Mozambique to make the most of its natural resources and the expected economic activity resulting from it, political stability will be key. The international community has shown through its commitment to the peace process that it is willing to support the country to realise this long-awaited goal.

The international community has shown that it is willing to support the country to realise this long-awaited goal

The EU’s Commissioner for Political Affairs, Federica Mogherini, was at the signing ceremony in Maputo and pledged €60 million for the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of RENAMO soldiers. If RENAMO stays in the peace agreement and accepts the election results, this process could move forward rapidly. Around 5 000 soldiers are said to be part of the RENAMO contingent yet to be demobilised.

One of the main sticking points for RENAMO has been the alleged unwillingness of the government to allocate top positions in the military and security services to former RENAMO soldiers.

To appease RENAMO after its big loss in the elections, some are suggesting that Nyusi offer key government positions to the opposition or enter into fresh negotiations with Momade. This seems unlikely, but ensuring the success of the DDR process, as set out in the peace agreement, could be an important step to ensure the peace deal survives the elections.

Behind the scenes, the guarantors of the deal, the AU, SADC and the rest of the international community can support measures that will ensure the longevity of the peace agreement; the third since the end of Mozambique’s civil war in 1992. This includes mediation and support to the DDR process.

The August deal was largely the result of closed-door mediation by a small group of individuals, led by the Swiss ambassador in Mozambique. International and multilateral pressure from the AU and SADC on the parties to adhere to the agreement will, however, be necessary if the deal starts falling apart in the coming weeks and months.