Corrupt politicians, public debt spiraling out of control and war reborn. Can Mozambique survive in its current shape?

War is once again ravaging Mozambique, a country barely recovered from a civil war that scarred its people and landscape. After skirmishes in 2013, Renamo announced the end of the 1992 peace accord. The current war actions were triggered by disagreement over the outcome of the 2014 elections. Immediately following the elections, the opposition party RENAMO claimed victory in the provinces of Tete, Sofala, Zambezia and Nampula. The party also argued that the election results in Niassa and Manica entitled them to rule there, but the ruling party FRELIMO refused to let RENAMO take control of these provinces, arguing that Mozambique is not a federal state and that a division of power is not possible.

The blunt dismissal has been hard to swallow for RENAMO and its supporters. The election results in the mentioned provinces clearly bear testimony to RENAMO’s persisting strong influence in some parts of the country. During the elections there were incidents that, if not implying outright fraud, certainly looked suspicious. Many interpreted this as a sign of FRELIMO trying to limit RENAMO’s influence. There has also been persecution campaigns targeting RENAMO officials. 

Negotiations followed RENAMO’s claim for victory. The negotiations are led by a coalition made up from representatives from the European Union, the Catholic Church, South Africa, Tanzania and Botswana. Support from the international community was RENAMO’s precondition for entering negotiations. So far, there are no tangible results.

Becoming a one party state
How could war break out again? The ill will between FRELIMO and RENAMO has deep historical roots. After the signing of the peace agreement in 1992, Mozambique was peaceful for many years, but the root causes of past conflict were never addressed. The political dynamics that led to social cleavage persisted.

There were some provisions about power sharing in the peace agreement, but the UN who monitored the implementation of the peace agreement was not able to ensure distribution of power and positions between the two parties. Mozambique continued, in practice, as party-state with members of FRELIMO in all positions. RENAMO was excluded in practice from positions of power and administration.

The consolidation was complete. State institutions remained to suit the ruling party and the ruling elite’s needs.

Facing a new debt crisis
A serious economic crisis that threatens any social development in the country contributes to an already strained atmosphere. Loans taken by the former government has contributed to public debt yet again spiraling out of control at such a pace that Mozambique is now on the verge of a sovereign default.

At least USD 2.1 billion, were borrowed “secretly”. The justification was that the country was in need of defense material. There is little visual proof to show what the money has actually been spent on, but companies closely connected to the government has bought fishing boats and high speed defense vessels meant for patrolling Mozambican fishing territories. None of them operative. The loans were made without any discussion in the parliament, and many analysts and civil society actors now consider that the government should not repay the loans. They argue that the population is held hostage in a standoff between the government and its creditors, and that the poor majority are the ones who will suffer if Mozambique is to repay this debt.

Rebuilding of Mozambique
To rebuild peace and the country itself, it seems clear that four issues have to be resolved:

-The issue of the six provinces that RENAMO wants to rule

-Disarmament of RENAMO

-Financial crisis

-To free state institutions from FRELIMO monopoly

The question of the financial crisis is bigger than it being a matter of public debt. In a new report on the costs of corruption in Mozambique, researchers estimate that a mind-boggling USD 4.9 billion disappear every year. The question of FRELIMO-RENAMO relations and the removal of FRELIMO’s monopoly over the state institutions is bigger than power sharing in the most straightforward sense of the word. The only way forward is to address the social, economic and political cleavages that are built into the state institutions. To do that, Mozambican politicians need to think again about state building. It is about power-sharing in a very broad sense. The country needs a reconstruction of its state institutions to make democracy work in a different political and institutional landscape. State institutions cannot be centered around any ruling party. 

What is clear is that the country’s political elite will have to change to survive. The financial crisis and revival of war have put Mozambique in a situation that is not sustainable for the people nor the politicians.


By Åse Johanne Roti Dahl