Dhlakama death a big loss for RENAMO, blow to democracy

Afonso Marceta Macacho Dhlakama was a Mozambican politician and the leader of RENAMO, an anti-communist guerrilla movement that fought the FRELIMO government in the Mozambican Civil War
Afonso Marceta Macacho Dhlakama was a Mozambican politician and the leader of RENAMO, an anti-communist guerrilla movement that fought the FRELIMO government in the Mozambican Civil War

By Samuel Jack Matikiti

Southern African Development Community has witnessed an unprecedented wave of events that has swept away leading opposition stalwarts, living a vacuum and general political uncertainty for smooth political transition in the region. In February this year, Zimbabwe saw the death of Movement for Democratic Change Opposition leader Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, leaving the party and the struggle for democracy in shambles. On the 3rd of May 2018, the death of Mozambican former rebel leader and controversial Mozambican opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama (Mozambique National Resistance), triggered a seismic shift in Mozambican politics and is bound to activate internal party succession disputes which might result in severe conflicts within the country if not addressed amicably and sagaciously.

Upon assuming power in 1979 after the death of notorious rebel leader Andre Matsangaissa, Afonso Dhlakama led the party for thirty-nine years and in October 1992 he was a signatory of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between his Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) and Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) ending the sixteen years of an acrimonious civil war in Mozambique. Since then, Mozambique has had a one-party smooth transition of leadership renewal from Samora Moseis Machel to Joaquim Chissano, followed by Armando Emilio Guebuza and current Filipe Nyusi although there has always been contestations, with allegation of electoral fraud perpetrated by the revolutionary – ruling party Frelimo.  The dominance of Frelimo as country’s only ever ruling party for the past four decades since Mozambican independence in 1975 has largely been because of the success its information warfare effectively depicted RENAMO as an insurgent outfit responsible for callous and brutal acts of mutilations, use of child soldiers and mass killings during the sixteen years civil war.

 

To the international community, Afonso Dhlakama was labelled as a blood thirsty ogre and a warmonger, always eager to grab political power through military guerrilla – warfare threat but failed. However , after 1992 Peace-Agreement between the ever rivals – Renamo and Frelimo, Afonso Dhlakama transformed himself into a champion of democracy in Mozambique, always seen clashing with the FRELIMO regime, demanding the government to be more transparent and accountable to the people. Politically, he wanted Mozambique to be an example of a country that promotes free and fair elections, hence he has been against Frelimo’s alleged election rigging for the past two decades.  Since the Revolutionary Party Frelimo has had an upper hand because of its full control of State institutions, using the powers of the executive police, martial law, censorship, physical implementation of the election mechanism among others to remain in power, Dhlakama advocated for constitutional reforms. He wanted inclusivity of his people into the government key security ministries such as military, police, intelligence and he wanted a clear and lasting decentralisation of power which promotes meaningful democracy in Mozambique.

 

Economically and socially, Afonso Dhlakama was against government’s misuse of public funds for party ends and Frelimo leaders’ gratitude’s at the expense of the general populace languishing in abject poverty.  In a country with millions of people living below poverty datum line, like in most developing countries, Mozambique has rampant corruption from top state officials down to the grassroots level; unfair distribution of resources and power, high unemployment rate, increasing exploitation and exploration of natural resources by foreign investors with little benefits to the majority of local people resulting in continuous wide-spread poverty and mass migration of Mozambicans to surrounding SADC countries like  Malawi, South Africa,  Zambia, Zimbabwe and other European countries like Portugal and Germany. This has become a worrying issue among the young generation who feel the government should be more transparent, efficient and accountable especially considering vast minerals currently being discovered in the country such as gas, timber (hard indigenous wood), coal, gold, fishing industry among others. This has been at the centre of Renamo’s demands under Dhlakama for the past decades, that if Mozambique has the potential to become the richest and developed country in Southern Africa why is it the ruling party Frelimo is slowly doing nothing to address problem being faced by majority of Mozambicans. As a result of this, Mozambique has been experiencing a shift of political parties’ support-base with Renamo having an increase in its supporters in last few years as general Mozambicans no longer trust the development of the country in hands of Frelimo. Dhlakama has been known for advocating for a shift of the capital city to Beira since geographically it is the centre of the country. The idea was that development in Mozambique has since favoured the south, yet resources that bring funds to the state are vast in the north were development has not been realised. Rather it is only in Maputo were most development is taking place with most Frelimo elites living luxurious lives as most are owners of big companies in Mozambique.

 

In Mozambique like most post-colonial political system, political rivals don’t necessarily have to like each other, rather the ground rules of a democratic society are to encourage tolerance and civility which Afonso Dhlakama during his life-time advocated and stood for. There has been a spate of political incidents in Mozambique with an escalation of military attacks in the last five years and a considerable number of civilian casualties. The usual allegations have been that Renamo has been behind the attacks. However, closer sources also revealed that the ruling party has also been behind the attacks as it seeks to criticise and weaken the power of Renamo since it has been gaining much support.

 

This can be evidenced by attacks on Afonso Dhlakama convoy in Gondola along Chimoio – Beira road and the burning down of Renamo headquarters in Chimoio which later triggered and fuel political tension in the country. Such incidents have seen Dhlakama and his party threatening to go back to war if Frelimo fails to address their demands. The strength of Dhlakama was in his control of Gorongosa area, his soldiers – mainly those who partake in the sixteen-year civil war and his access to weapons which has since backed his opposition politics and guerrilla kind of warfare. To him, all the threat of wanting to revert back to war was motivated by a just cause, for he wanted a perfect society in which political power should be justly and fairly distributed. In his words, the only language African revolutionary ruling party(s) understand is a threat of violence.

 

His leadership qualities as a strong opposition leader was portrayed in his ability to control hundreds of his armed men currently in the bush and negotiate a long-lasting peace deal with the government which leaves little doubt whether Renamo will have a party successor who can hold the party intact. After the October 1992 peace agreement, Dhlakama was a more tolerant and liberal opposition leader given his long history since signing the Peace Agreement when compared to some of his commanders who have since accused him of meaningless bargaining with the government because the ruling party has not been willing to accept Renamo’s demands for the last decade. However, positive changes come with the coming in of Filipe Nyusi administration with inter-party negotiations progressing well.

The death of Dhlakama comes at a crucial time when efforts of trying to reach a consensus on the way to resolve Mozambican challenges and move the country forward were at an advanced stage. Afonso Dhlakama’s death might act as a catalyst for serious political instability if government fails to play the game wisely as this can divide the country.

Though the ruling party or the government with the supporters of Frelimo might see the death of Afonso Dhlakama as an end to long intra-state conflict that has caused the suffering of millions people and death of thousands, the situation might mark the beginning of demise of Mozambican democracy that has been flourishing.

This is because whoever is going to take over the party leadership should be capable of maintaining party’s demands and Dhlakama’s desires of constitutional reforms; decentralisation of power as well as inclusion of his members in national institutions and that successor should put peace above everything as the base and guarantee of sustainable dialogue between opposition and the ruling government for improvement of everlasting democracy.

However, the risk that the Mozambican government is likely to make is trying to disarm Renamo forces and take control of Gorongosa area since Dhlakama is no more. This will be a miscalculated move if the ruling party rushes to as it will trigger and worsen the intra-state conflict which might result in regional destabilisation. As good and capable as he was, the question that grips millions of Mozambicans and people around the world right now is who will be the successor? Will he value and adhere to democratic principles of peaceful dialogue above fighting like Afonso Dhlakama or will he opt for violence.

This is a critical moment for Mozambique and it marks a “bad time” as noted by Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and the ruling party should quickly look into such matters and reforms before political instability escalates, worse still with the presidential, legislative and provincial elections scheduled for October 2019 Mozambique will not have a peaceful atmosphere to hold elections if the government overlooked the demands Renamo has been claiming under Afonso Dhlakama. Despite being champion of democratic change in Mozambique, the biggest error that Afonso Dhlakama did was to concentrated all the Party Powers in his hands which is likely to create succession disputes and the overall party control as hundreds of his mean are left vulnerable without a quick plan to continue with Dhlakama and Renamo’s legacy.

It remains to be seen whether his death will have a great consequence on the lives of millions of Mozambican Renamo supporters who are likely to lose confidence in the party if the succession issue degenerates. During his life-time as opposition leader, Dhlakama remained a strong critic of the ruling party, which fostered democracy in Mozambique through pluralism and multi-party system, an ideal Samora Machel was diametrically opposed to. Dhlakama’s contributions to Mozambican democracy was witnessed through the political pressure he exerted to the government resulting in peace dialogue between the two rivals over constitutional reforms to promote the inclusion of minority groups in political affairs of the state and for his man to have a share in key state administration. Whoever shall assume party leadership, Renamo should not lose focus and to boost and preserve its support base, they should stick to the democratic values upon which the party has been founded together with its ideas about the future of the nation. Failure to, most vulnerable Renamo support will be left with no option but to join the new third most popular party in Mozambique the Mozambican Democratic Movement (MDM) led by former Renamo member Daviz  Mbepo Simango.

This is without doubt that, if such a move happens no former Renamo supporter would like to be associated with Frelimo because of its unpopularity which is increasing due to its failure as a ruling party to effectively address daily socio-economic problems affecting the nation.

  • Samuel Jack Matikiti (Researcher, Writer & Lecturer with Zimbabwe Open University) – Email. – samueljackmtkt@gmail.com or msamueljack@yahoo.com; Twitter – @matikitisamuelj; WhatsApp +263 712 531 859