Belittle Dhlakama At Own Risk
Only days after Mozambique marked 20 years of peace after the civil war that pitted government forces and Afonso Dhlakama-led Renamo rebels, the country got a huge surprise.
Dhlakama – whose counter-revolutionary force was created by the Rhodesian and apartheid South African governments and supported by the United States and West Germany among others – announced he was moving out of government and setting up camp in the bush again.
Dhlakama called a battalion of 800 former rebels back to their old military base close to Gorongosa Game Park.
Is he really going to re-enact the horror war that officially ended in October 1992, claiming a million lives?
Dhlakama demands greater inclusion of Renamo former fighters in the country’s armed forces and revisions to election laws.
He inexplicably also wants power to veto election results after accusing Frelimo of fraud in previous polls.
Renamo has 29 seats in Mozambique’s 250-seat Parliament.
Dhlakama reportedly says he does not want war, but does not rule out clashes if his followers come under attack.
Media reports say that a commission claiming to represent the Mozambican Forum of Demobilised Soldiers supports Dhlakama.
The spokesperson for the commission, Adolfo Beira, has been quoted in the media describing Dhlakama’s move as “courageous and necessary”.
At that time, he claimed to have made contact with Dhlakama in Gorongosa “to show our solidarity and readiness for any step that should be taken in the near future”.
The government says it is open to dialogue, butDhlakama has been dodgy and vacillating. All talks to date have collapsed.
The timing of Dhlakama’s move raises eyebrows coming recently after the discovery of gas and oil reserves.
Some commentators say Dhlakama could be eyeing control of diamond-rich areas.
However, some analysts do not believe he is a threat and think Dhlakama is in the twilight of his political career.
“He is retiring,” UK-based political analyst Joseph Hanlon – who has written several books on Mozambique – has been quoted saying.
He says Dhlakama is “retreating further and further and this is probably a statement that he does not take the next elections seriously”.
Mozambicans go to the polls in two years time.
A war in Mozambique may have devastating consequences on its neighbours, principally Zimbabwe, and the SADC region might be destabilised.
“Zimbabwe’s economic interests may be under threat,” says defence and military expert, Retired Colonel Panganai Kahuni.
“Zimbabwe is a landlocked country and its trade routes to the sea are in Mozambique.
“Zimbabwe and Mozambique share a long border and instability in Mozambique may have a disruptive influence on Zimbabwe. The tea and plantation industries near the border will also be affected.”
Rtd Col Kahuni sees the hand of foreign mischief-makers in Dhlakama’s moves.
“You must understand that Renamo was created by those who did not want us to get independence, that is apartheid South Africa and Ian Smith’s Rhodesia who funded it to fight Zimbabwe’s freedom fighters in the northeast.
“The hands of the enemy could be behind Dhlakama,” he says.
Political analyst Dr Nhamo Mhiripiri told the media inHarare that SADC should take Dhlakama seriously.
“These are serious threats,” he says, adding that “if there is a Renamo insurrection Zimbabwe will be forced to move in to protect her economic interests”.
“Last time our army had to move in and capture Gorongosa. We will end up being drawn into the chaos. There is a need for a quick resolution to the crisis.
“The SADC Organ on Politics, Defence, Peace and Security Co-operation should convene an emergency meeting to deal with the situation in Mozambique.
“The only problem is that SADC takes too much time to respond to a crisis situation in the region,” he says.
A conflict in Mozambique will likely take the country to the dark, ugly days of the 16-year conflict that ended in 1992 with the Rome Accord.
“What was the debris of the war?” asks Bjorn Enge Bertelsen in a 2005 paper “War, peace and development in Mozambique: A critical assessment” as published in an authoritative academic journal.
“Some figures may indicate the scale of the damage inflicted: Of Mozambique's mid-1980s population of 13-15 million, one million had been killed,1.7 mllion were refugees in neighbouring countries, and at least 3.2 million were (internally displaced) typically living near to towns and cities, often in abject poverty…”
Mozambique had “the world’s lowest GDP per capita and an extreme aid dependence” and much of the country’s physical and administrative infrastructure in liberated Mozambique was destroyed.
The paper cites one scholar as arguing that this was but part of Renamo's strategy to destroy the gains of independence “(b)ecause health and education were some of the main reasons for Frelimo's initial popularity, schools and health posts were targeted, along with students, teachers, nurses and patients, who often were kidnapped or killed”.
One estimate puts the damage arising from the war at US$20 billion, while UNICEF says Mozambique’s GDP is about half of what it could have been without the conflict.