Silencing the guns: Mozambique parties seek absolute peace

MAPUTO – IN a rare expression of unanimity, all three political parties represented in the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on Monday expressed the hope that the current truce would become a definitive peace.

Phone conversations between President Filipe Nyusi and the leader of the Renamo rebels, Afonso Dhlakama, led to Dhlakama halting Renamo’s war as from 27 December 2016. A week later, the truce was extended by a further two months.

The truce has been holding. Since 27 December, no further Renamo ambushes have been reported on the roads, and no further clashes between the Renamo militia and the defence and security forces.

Clashes between Renamo and government forces were threatening peace in Mozambique and along the border with neighbours Malawi and Zimbabwe.  Refugees fleeing the conflict were said to be flocking to Malawi and Zimbabwe, threatening peace in the SADC region, as the country tottered on the brink of a relapse into the 1990s civil war that claimed thousands of lives and displaced millions.

The clashes also threatened the exploitation of huge coal and gas deposits in Mozambique’s Tete province, thereby derailing ecomomic development and investment in the country.

Speaking at the opening session of the first sitting this year of the Assembly, the head of the parliamentary group of the ruling Frelimo Party, Margarida Talapa, declared that Mozambicans were looking to the Assembly to ensure that in this sitting “the country will at last find a solid platform for effective peace”.

“Our debates,” she urged, “should seek only the national interest, which in the first place means definitively silencing the guns. We reaffirm that all Frelimo deputies are ready to place all their skills in the service of achieving the legitimate desire of the people.”

The truce had already borne fruit, she noted, in that the free circulation of people and goods was now possible throughout the county, schools which had been closed were reopening, and health units in zones of conflict were functioning again.

“Frelimo argues that peace is the top priority, and that only permanent, open and frank dialogue, free of preconceptions, will contribute to consolidating the unity in diversity which characterises us and enriches us as a people,” said Talapa.

She urged all Mozambicans, political parties and civil society organisations “to contribute to the re-establishment of peace, in the spirit of reconciliation, tolerance and national unity”.

Her opposite number, in the Renamo parliamentary group, Ivone Soares, claimed that the truce was Dhlakama’s initiative, and that she now expected it to become “definitive”. (Since she is Dhlakama’s niece, her words may well reflect his thinking).

“The truce has brought great hope to all the Mozambican people,” she said.

“This country can advance if we opt for a genuine peace, if we promote the democratic rule of law, based on strong and non-partisan laws and institutions.”   

Soares stressed the need for decentralisation, one of the main themes in last year’s negotiations between the government and Renamo. But she did not mention the long-standing Renamo claim that it has the right to rule the provinces where it secured majority votes in the 2014 general elections.

Instead Soares said, “We believe that decentralisation will allow the provinces to be governed directly by the governors which they will elect. This means bringing democracy closer to the voters.”

This is a shift away from Dhlakama’s earlier position that Renamo would simply appoint governors and other officials in the provinces it claims.

A completely new demand raised by Soares is for a “provincial police force”. The existing force, the Mozambique Republic Police (PRM), would retain responsibility “for the most serious crimes”, while other policing matters would pass into the hands of the provincial forces.

Soares wanted the Assembly to pass legislation on decentralisation and on the defence and security forces in this first quarter of the year – which gives the deputies slightly more than a month to reach consensus on a range of complex issues. Consensus is needed because changing the way in which the provinces are governed would require amending the constitution. Constitutional amendments require a two-thirds majority in the Assembly, which no party can obtain on its own.

Lutero Simango, the head of the parliamentary group of the second opposition force, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), said the current truce “should serve as a platform to give peace back to Mozambicans so that they can dream and work freely on national reconstruction, and reinvent the State, in accordance with the values of democracy, freedom, political pluralism and the rule of law”.

“There is a national consensus that peace should not be conditional,” declared Simango. “Peace should be real and effective, it should be the property of all Mozambicans.”

The sustainability of peace and democracy, he argued, “necessarily involves an inclusive national dialogue”. Political dialogue must no longer be restricted to the government and Renamo, but should involve “all the live forces of society to establish commitment and undertakings for a sustainable and lasting peace”.

Simango insisted that the Assembly “must legislate and establish norms conducive to the sustainability of peace, inclusion, political participation and shared economic development”.

The MDM believes that amending the Constitution and the electoral legislation was crucial to this.    TST Writer/AIM

March 2017
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