By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
The news out of the southeast African nation of Mozambique has been most disturbing. After a 21 year period of peace, Renamo—the notorious Mozambican National Resistance—has announced that it is breaking its pact with the ruling Frelimo (Mozambican Liberation Front, the movement that led the struggle for independence from Portugal). Skirmishes have commenced with the government and government forces have moved into the traditional headquarters of Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama and seized it.
It remains far from clear whether Mozambique will return to a state of civil war, but the fact that conditions have deteriorated says something both about post-independence Mozambique as well as the rather bizarre and politically conservative Renamo.
In the aftermath of gaining independence from Portugal in 1975, the Frelimo-led government embarked on a major effort at development, as well as equal efforts at solidarity with other progressive movements in Southern Africa. Aligning itself with the USSR and China, Frelimo saw itself as ultimately building a socialist state in Mozambique. It also saw itself as providing support to freedom fighters in Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa.
In a major effort at destabilization, the White minority regime in Rhodesia trained and armed conservative Mozambicans to begin a guerrilla war against Frelimo. The Rhodesian objective was to tie down Frelimo and prevent it from offering any substantial support to the national liberation forces in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. Playing upon various grievances that existed under the post-colonial regime, these armed units, which came to be known as the Mozambican National Resistance (MNR, but more commonly, Renamo), undertook a vicious and terroristic campaign against Frelimo and its supporters. When the Rhodesian regime collapsed and national liberation arrived in Zimbabwe, the apartheid South African government took up supporting Renamo.
One of the most striking features of Renamo was its viciousness. Rather than trying to secure “liberated zones” and demonstrate an alternative to Frelimo, Renamo resorted to a campaign of open terror. There appeared to be no targets that were off limits. Civilians were murdered and/or tortured in an effort aimed at creating nothing short of panic. This situation lasted for more than 15 years, ultimately ending in a peace pact in 1992.
In the period since the peace pact, Renamo—which repositioned itself as an opposition party to Frelimo—has gained little ground. Many observers believe that the myopic orientation of Renamo leader Dhlakama has straight-jacketed the movement, both chasing away some of its most talented cadre plus locking the movement into an “all or nothing” approach in its dealings with Frelimo.
In the meantime, Frelimo has faced a very different set of challenges. While the economy of Mozambique has, overall, improved and there has been relative stability, Frelimo has dramatically shifted from the orientation that it had during the anti-colonial war and under subsequent leader Samora Machel that emphasized social transformation. In part, as a result of the war with Renamo, along with collapse of the Soviet bloc and the adoption of capitalism by the People’s Republic of China, Frelimo increasingly followed a path of development consistent with the objectives of international financial institutions and global capitalism. One result of this, in addition to a very uneven living standard, has been increased corruption.
There is nothing progressive in the apparent return to warfare by Renamo. It will bring further misery. Renamo has no positive vision for Mozambique but has repeatedly demonstrated its interests in enriching its leadership. Nevertheless, tensions within Mozambican society that have nothing to do with the politics of Renamo, may end up playing a role in any ensuing conflict between Renamo and the Mozambican government. To the extent to which Mozambicans have concluded that their Frelimo-led society is not transforming their lives in an equitable fashion, they may withhold badly needed support from the Mozambican government, thereby prolonging the conflict and, possibly worse: turning Mozambique into a battleground for militias.
Bill Fletcher, Jr. is a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies, the immediate past president of TransAfrica Forum, and the author of “They’re Bankrupting Us” – And Twenty Other Myths about Unions. Follow him on Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.