Mozambique – Mourning Afonso Dhlakama

The “irreparable loss” of the opposition leader casts a shadow on the peace process.

Thousands of mourners in Mozambique paid their final respects to Afonso Dhlakama, a former rebel leader turned opposition leader, on May 9th in the port city of Beira.

Dhlakama died on May 3rd of a suspected heart attack at his hideout in the Gorongosa mountains.

President Filipe Nyusi delivered a eulogy at his political rival’s memorial and said he was ready to continue peace talks with the next Renamo leader.

Dhlakama led the rebel group during its war against the Marxist-inspired Frelimo government after independence from Portugal in the 1970s.

Up to a million people died in the conflict, which ended in 1992. He gradually transformed Renamo into a political party, but it failed to take power from Frelimo and again took up arms in 2013 and 2016.

His unexpected death at the age of 65 has cast a shadow on a peace process nearly a year before the next presidential elections. (BBC 9/5)

“It is an irreparable loss. Afonso Dhlakama is the founder of democracy in Mozambique,” said Eufrasia Jordao, a mourner who came from nearby Zambezia province.

In December 2016, Dhlakama announced a surprise truce with the government, taking the major first step towards a formal peace deal.

Dhlakama had recently held talks with Nyusi and he was seen as playing a key role in advancing the nascent peace process.

“The death of Afonso Dhlakama should not be an excuse to end democracy and return to a one-party regime,” said Jose Chitula, a former Renamo member who joined another opposition party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM).

Dhlakama will be buried in his native village of Mangunde, southwest of Beira, on May 10th. (AFP/Business Live 9/5)

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Afonso Dhlakama. Image: A Bola

The military wing of Renamo has seized control of the party after the sudden death of Dhlakama, raising fears of a return to wider warfare.

The Secretary of the Renamo Defence Department, the de facto chief of staff General Ossufo Momade, was unexpectedly appointed interim president on May 5th by the party’s national council.

He has threatened to resume civil war and cancel the 2015 ceasefire agreement unless President Filipe Nyusi implements the decentralisation and demilitarisation agreements which Dhlakama and Nyusi had been close to finalising.

These tentative agreements, the fruit of long, direct negotiations between Nyusi and Dhlakama, would, if finalised, transfer to Renamo the governorships in those provinces in central Mozambique where it commands majority support and also demobilise Renamo rebel soldiers and re-integrate them into the regular army.

Professor Andre Thomashausen, an expert on Renamo and former adviser to Dhlakama, said that Momada’s election meant that “it’s a military takeover by the military of Renamo.”

According to Renamo’s constitution, the party’s secretary-general, Manuel Bissopo, should have taken over as interim president, pending a decision on a permanent new president by a full congress of the party.

Thomashausen said the Renamo military “have been weary of Dhlakama’s love for peace during the last two years and Dhlakama once publicly lamented that ‘the generals’ were threatening him.”

However, if Renamo does not revert to warfare, it could do well politically, some believe.  Thomashausen said Renamo would get a large boost from the huge secret loans scandal which rocked the government in 2016.

The public at large blame the scandal on the government “and the greedy West and their ruthless capitalist practices,” he said.

“The schizophrenic rejection and vilification of Renamo by all the Western powers for the past 50 or so years will end up increasing Renamo’s pull with the Mozambican voters,” he added.

Other analysts have suggested though that the second opposition party, the MDM, could be the big winner in the elections if Renamo’s succession battle turns ugly or if the party goes off in a military direction.

Political commentator Fernando Lima, president of the media group Mediacoop, said Dhlakama’s death presented an opportunity for Renamo to redefine itself and decide whether it wanted to be a democratic party, or to be led by a strongman and to become Mozambique’s “first truly democratic party, because all others are dominated by authoritarianism.” (Daily Maverick 7/5)

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Read more in the Bulletin: 

Mozambique – Decentralisation Plan
Political, Social and Cultural Series
Vol. 55, Issue 2

Mozambique – Frelimo Conference
Political, Social and Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue 10

Mozambique – End to War?
Political, Social and Cultural Series
Vol. 54, Issue 5

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