The low level conflict between Mozambique's former civil war foes escalated recently, but now there is fresh hope of peace in the East African country. However, a deal has been postponed.
It is unusually quiet on National Road 1 (EN1), Mozambique's main north-south highway. Not a single shot has been fired at a bus, a car or a truck for two weeks. Military convoys continue to escort traffic along a dangerous stretch of the road north of the bridge over the Save River but they could soon be withdrawn. The two feuding factions in Mozambique, the opposition RENAMO rebels and the FRELIMO governing party, say they have agreed on a peace deal to end their low level conflict. Hostilities began in October 2013 with an attack by the government on the headquarters of the opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama and the annulment by RENAMO of a 1992 peace agreement. Sources have told DW that at least 54 people died in the fighting, which reawakened painful memories of the protracted and brutal civil war between the two sides (1972-1992).
This Wednesday (30.07.2014) RENAMO and the government were to sign a new peace accord under which the rebels would be integrated into Mozambique's police and armed forces. In return the government has secured consent from the rebels that "no party would in future be allowed to keep its own armed troops." This point was particularly important for the government because RENAMO had maintained a rebel force of several hundred fighters in contravention of the 1992 peace deal.
Make peace in time for the election campaign
Both sides have agreed on the wording to the new accord, but it is as yet unclear how its implementation is to be verified or monitored. "The outcome of our negotiations is intended to address the concerns we have for lasting peace and stability in the country," said chief RENAMO negotiator Saimone Macuiane. But the deal was delayed on Wednesday because a number of outstanding questions could not be resolved in time.
Until very recently it looked as if the conflict in Mozambique was about to escalate. At the beginning of June, RENAMO announced the end of a ceasefire and intensified its attacks. One reason why peace now appears possible could be the upcoming elections in October. Dhlakama wants to run again as RENAMO's candidate for president. But in order to take part in the election campaign he will have to emerge from his hiding place in Gorongosa National Park. Because of the conflict RENAMO did not field candidates at the municipal elections in November 2013 and was forced to watch from the sidelines how another opposition party, Movement for a Democratic Mozambique (MDM), was able to substantially increase its share of the vote.
Elections have to be 'fair and transparent'
FRELIMO has a vested interest in putting an end to the low level conflict because of the damage it causes to the Mozambican economy. Coal exports have been impeded by attacks several times, tourism has fallen off and foreign investors are getting nervous. It is also politically expedient for FRELIMO, which has ruled Mozambique since independence from Portugal in 1975, for the opposition vote to be divided into two, between RENAMO and MDM.
Will the new peace agreement last? This depends on the October elections, among other things. "The elections have to be fair and transparent - the parties have to reach an understanding with one another," Mozambican analyst Silverio Ronguane told DW. He recalled that previous elections have been marred by serious allegations of fraud but is optimistic that this poll will be fair. "I'm confident that Mozambicans, too, can live with defeat at the polls as long as it is the outcome of a process that is above board; a process in which there are clear rules and in which everybody has the opportunity to achieve a good result, assuming they make the effort." he said.
Editor: Susan Houlton