News / Africa

Donors Darling, Mozambique Looks Less Loveable After Attacks

Fishermen cast their nets beneath the skyline of Mozambique's capital Maputo, November 2009. In 2013 a series of hit-and-run raids by opposition Renamo gunmen about 600 km further north has rekindled fears of a return fears of a return to all-out conflict in what has become one of Africa's economic growth stars
Fishermen cast their nets beneath the skyline of Mozambique's capital Maputo, November 2009. In 2013 a series of hit-and-run raids by opposition Renamo gunmen about 600 km further north has rekindled fears of a return fears of a return to all-out conflict in what has become one of Africa's economic growth stars
Reuters
At Bobole, a bustling refreshment stop on Mozambique's north-south highway, brightly-painted kiosks lined with bottles offer drinks to thirsty travelers while hawkers sell bananas, paw-paws and carrots in a typical African roadside scene.
 
But memories remain fresh of when Bobole lay in the “death corridor” of a civil war that cost nearly one million Mozambicans their lives until it ended two decades ago.
 
This year, a series of hit-and-run raids by opposition Renamo gunmen about 600 km (375 miles) further north has rekindled fears of a return to all-out conflict in what has become one of Africa's economic growth stars, where international investors are developing multi-billion-dollar coal and gas discoveries.
 
“What we saw here, we don't want our children to see,” said Rogeria Mabjaia, who owns a kiosk in Bobole, an hour's drive north of the capital Maputo. She remembers hiding in the bush from the “bandidos,” the name Mozambique's Frelimo government gave the Renamo guerrillas during the war of 1975-1992.
 
Back then, motorists and residents at Bobole faced ambushes day and night by armed raiders who stole livestock and food, burned homes and vehicles, and killed without mercy.
 
By comparison, the raids this April and June in central Sofala province look minor, although at least 11 soldiers and police and six civilians were killed.
 
Nevertheless they caught the Frelimo party government and its international backers by surprise, forcing a temporary suspension of some coal exports to the coast by rail, reducing north-south road traffic and causing tourist cancelations.
 
Unrest before local elections in November and a presidential vote next year could dislodge the former Portuguese colony from its pedestal as a “donors' darling”, showered with foreign aid. It could also derail the expected resources investment bonanza in a country that remains desperately poor.
 
Rhodesia creation

Renamo was formed as an anti-communist rebel group in the 1970s by the secret service of neighboring Rhodesia, in retaliation for Mozambique sheltering guerrillas fighting the white-minority government of what is now Zimbabwe.
 
It was later adopted by the apartheid-era South African military but abandoned the war in a 1992 peace pact to become Mozambique's leading opposition party.
 
Renamo has lost every election to Frelimo since then, but accuses President Armando Guebuza and his ruling party of hogging political and economic power through a one-sided electoral system and by harassing its opponents.
 
Mozambique needs some kind of accommodation, said Leopoldo Amaral, human rights program manager for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) in Johannesburg, a pro-democracy network founded by financier George Soros.
 
“They are at a crossroads. If they don't reach a deal, things are likely to degenerate,” he said. “You don't want a militarized country that will scare businessmen, investors.”
 
Brazil's Vale, London-listed Rio Tinto, Italy's Eni and U.S. oil firm Anadarko are among the major investors in Mozambique looking to develop some of the world's largest untapped reserves of coal and gas.
 
A scenario of war?

After first ignoring Renamo's demands for a more balanced electoral body and integration of its fighters into the army and police, the Frelimo government opened talks after the attacks.
 
“For Frelimo, a military solution is not desirable,” party spokesman Damiao Jose told Reuters. Nevertheless, the army destroyed a Renamo bush camp in Sofala province on July 6.
 
Longtime Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, now 60, returned in October with a band of guerrilla veterans to his civil war base in the forested Gorongosa region of central Mozambique.
 
This seemed a largely symbolic gesture. Few diplomats and analysts believe Dhlakama, whose militia is thought to number at least several hundred, has the capacity, support, or even the will, to resume all-out war.
 
But in a country where infrastructure is poor, a few insurgents can disrupt road and rail corridors through the thick bush of Sofala province that link the central and northern interior with the coast and the south.
 
If this chokehold is tightened, it could effectively cut Mozambique in half in terms of land transport.
 
Around Bobole, where abandoned shells of homes remain in the bush as a reminder of the war, there is heartfelt opposition to any slide back to conflict.
 
“Both sides should talk, they should be thinking about us,” Mabjaia said at her kiosk. “Mozambique just wants peace.”
 
Renamo accuses Guebuza's government of “designing a scenario of war” by sending troops to Gorongosa to surround the area where Dhlakama is camped.
 
Renamo spokesman Fernando Mazanga said Dhlakama's return to his Sathunjira base on Oct. 17 last year followed threats and harassment by Frelimo security forces and militants.
 
He cited the storming by police in March last year of Renamo's headquarters in the northern city of Nampula where 300 armed supporters were based, according to police. At that time, Dhlakama was also living in Nampula.
 
“Renamo has been patient for 20 years,” Mazanga said.
 
Frelimo, the former liberation movement which has ruled Mozambique since independence in 1975, jettisoned Marxism-Leninism in 1990 to embrace multi-party politics. It crushed Renamo in the last 2009 election by winning more than a two-thirds majority in parliament.
 
Dhlakama, who has challenged all his election losses,  rejected the 2009 result as fraudulent but his party held on to 51 seats in parliament.
 
Frelimo accuses Renamo of resorting to violence to make up for its political weakness. “Renamo must change its attitude and conform to the rules of play of democracy,” spokesman Jose said.
 
Authorities arrested Renamo's information chief Jeronimo Malagueta last month after he said the group would target “logistics.” He faces charges of inciting violence.
 
Guebuza and Frelimo are expected to try to pacify Dhlakama and his Renamo partisans with a settlement that includes more state jobs and patronage, but the two sides are still bickering over where their leaders should meet.
 
Diminished democracy

While Dhlakama is widely viewed as a spent force, other opposition politicians share his complaints that Guebuza and Frelimo are imposing a virtual one-party rule under a mantle of democracy.
 
“The regime is being very arrogant... There is political exclusion,” said Lutero Simango, a leader of the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), which holds 8 seats in parliament compared with Renamo's 51 and Frelimo's 191.
 
MDM, which was formed by Renamo dissidents and holds the mayorships of the port cities of Beira and Quelimane, has also long denounced harassment and arrests of its members by Frelimo.
 
U.S. diplomatic cables from Maputo, revealed by WikiLeaks, have long expressed concerns about Guebuza's leadership style and Frelimo's domination of all branches of government through its centralized party structure.
 
“A tough, heavy-handed man who likes to have his way,” was how one 2005 U.S. Embassy report described Guebuza, a former hardline interior minister for Frelimo who is now aged 70.
 
A 2010 cable said he had an “authoritarian streak” and was “centralizing power,” a view still expressed in private by some diplomats from the G19 group of Mozambique's principal donors.
 
Frelimo's Jose rejected all these allegations as untrue.
 
Popular resentment is also growing about inequalities in Mozambique, where more than half the population still lives below the poverty line, and over perceived rampant corruption in the government and Frelimo.
 
“People are openly speaking against Guebuza,” a donor country diplomat told Reuters, asking not to be named.
 
In Maputo, gleaming new office blocks, hotels and shopping malls have sprouted among faded colonial era buildings along the Indian Ocean, contrasting with poor neighborhoods of tin-roofed homes mushrooming up in the dusty suburbs.
 
The president, an independence veteran turned businessman who was re-elected to a second five-year term in 2009, is one of Mozambique's richest men. The constitution bars him from a third term but Frelimo has not designated a likely successor.
 
Guebuza is criticized by opponents for using his position to expand his family's business empire, which ranges from ports and logistics to construction, tourism and publishing. One popular nickname for him is “Guebusiness.”
 
A 2009 U.S. Embassy cable quoted former foreign minister Leonardo Simao as saying Guebuza “runs the party like the mafia.”
 
The Guebuza family's commercial clout stretches to the president's youngest daughter Valentina, a civil engineer in her early 30s. She was elected to Frelimo's Central Committee last year and featured in a 2012 Forbes Africa magazine article as Mozambique's “Millionaire Princess.”
 
Some compare this with another former Portuguese colony in Africa, oil producer Angola, where long-serving President Jose Eduardo dos Santos and his family are also accused by rights groups of running a monopolistic system that controls the national wealth. “We are going towards the Angolan model: one party, one person, one family,” said OSISA's Amaral.

High expectations

Social tensions caused by rising living costs and economic injustice have already led to protests. These have ranged from local people in the coal producing Tete province complaining about conditions of resettlement to make way for mining facilities, to urban riots in 2008 and 2010 over rising food prices and other living costs.
 
Mozambique's resources potential has created expectations among the population of 23 million that their lives will soon change for the better. But these may not be quickly met, even though four of the world's five largest oil and gas discoveries last year were made off the Mozambique coast.
 
“There is a gap between expectations and cash flows... From coal, the cash flow is minimal at the moment and there is a bottleneck with the logistics,” the donor nation diplomat said.  “There are big expectations and the oligarchy is not yet ready to manage it.”
 
This gap is even greater for the expected bonanza from development of liquefied national gas (LNG), forecast by experts to be a “revenue game-changer” for Mozambique, which languishes near the bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index.
 
UNICEF's Senior Social Policy Specialist in Maputo, Lisa Kurbiel, said this should be a “transformational opportunity” to tackle badly lagging education and health indicators - about 44 percent of Mozambique's children suffer from stunted growth, one of the highest rates in the world.
 
But a survey of Mozambique's Rovuma Basin gas prospects prepared for the U.N. children's agency cautions that the high investment levels and long time needed for LNG development mean “it is nearly impossible for gas exports to begin before 2019.”
 
Unfulfilled expectations, coupled with the spreading malaise of corruption and a flawed electoral democracy, could pose more of a short-term threat to Mozambique's peace than the actions of a former rebels with reduced political support.
 
Bobole resident Salvador Zandamela, 75, who lost two sons aged 12 and 15 in the civil war, said he still had nightmares about marauding gunmen “hunting people like animals.”
 
“So when I hear that things could be starting again, I'm afraid,” he told Reuters, carrying a hoe for tilling his fields.

You May Like

Changing Under Pressure, IS ‘Potent’ as Ever

US intel officials describe Ramadi's fall as concerning, but say it isn't emblematic of larger effort to degrade IS capabilities More

Nigeria Fuel Shortage Shows Fragility of Africa’s Oil Giant

Although it is the largest oil producer in Africa, country has nearly ran out of fuel it needs to power its generators, cars and airplanes over the past week More

Arrested Football Officials Come Mainly From the Americas

US Justice Department alleges defendants participated in 24-year scheme to enrich themselves through corruption of international soccer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Cari
|| 0:00:00
...    
🔇
X
George Putic
May 27, 2015 9:31 PM
Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video 3D Printer Makes Replica of Iconic Sports Car

Cars with parts made by 3D printers are already on the road, but engineers are still learning about this new technology. While testing the possibility of printing an entire car, researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy recently created an electric-powered replica of an iconic sports roadster. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video US Voters Seek Answers From Presidential Candidates on IS Gains

The growth of the Islamic State militant group in Iraq and Syria comes as the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign kicks off in the Midwest state of Iowa.   As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, voters want to know how the candidates would handle recent militant gains in the Middle East.
Video

Video A Small Oasis on Kabul's Outskirts Provides Relief From Security Tensions

When people in Kabul want to get away from the city and relax, many choose Qargha Lake, a small resort on the outskirts of Kabul. Ayesha Tanzeem visited and talked with people about the precious oasis.
Video

Video Film Festival Looks at Indigenous Peoples, Culture Conflict

A recent Los Angeles film festival highlighted the plight of people caught between two cultures. Mike O'Sullivan has more on the the Garifuna International Film Festival, a Los Angeles forum created by a woman from Central America who wants the world to know more about her culture.
Video

Video Kenyans Lament Losing Sons to al-Shabab

There is agony, fear and lost hope in the Kenyan town of Isiolo, a key target of a new al-Shabab recruitment drive. VOA's Mohammed Yusuf visits Isiolo to speak with families and at least one man who says he was a recruiter.
Video

Video Scientists Say Plankton More Important Than Previously Thought

Tiny ocean creatures called plankton are mostly thought of as food for whales and other large marine animals, but a four-year global study discovered, among other things, that plankton are a major source of oxygen on our planet. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video US-led Coalition Gives Some Weapons to Iraqi Troops

In a video released Tuesday from the Iraqi Ministry of Defense, Iraqi forces and U.S.-led coalition troops survey a cache of weapons supplied to help Iraq liberate Mosul from Islamic State group. According to a statement provided with the video, the ministry and the U.S.-led coaltion troops have started ''supplying the 16th army division with medium and light weapons in preparation to liberate Mosul and nearby areas from Da'esh (Arabic acronym for Islamic State group).''
Video

Video Amnesty International: 'Overwhelming Evidence' of War Crimes in Ukraine

Human rights group Amnesty International says there is overwhelming evidence of ongoing war crimes in Ukraine, despite a tentative cease-fire with pro-Russian rebels. Researchers interviewed more than 30 prisoners from both sides of the conflict and all but one said they were tortured. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Washington Parade Honors Those Killed Serving in US Military

Every year, on the last Monday in the month of May, millions of Americans honor the memories of those killed while serving in the armed forces. Memorial Day is a tradition that dates back to the 19th Century. While many people celebrate the federal holiday with a barbecue and a day off from work, for those who’ve served in the military, it’s a special day to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Arash Arabasadi reports for VOA from Washington.
Video

Video Kenya’s Capital Sees Rise in Shisha Parlors

In Kenya, the smoking of shisha, a type of flavored tobacco, is the latest craze. Patrons are flocking to shisha parlors to smoke and socialize. But the practice can be addictive and harmful, though many dabblers may not realize the dangers, according to a new review. Lenny Ruvaga has more on the story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya.
Video

Video Rolling Thunder Run Reveals Changed Attitudes Towards Vietnam War

For many US war veterans, the Memorial Day holiday is an opportunity to look back at a divisive conflict in the nation’s history and to remember those who did not make it home.
Video

Video Female American Soldiers: Healing Through Filmmaking

According to the United States Defense Department, there are more than 200-thousand women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.  Like their male counterparts, females have experiences that can be very traumatic.  VOA's Bernard Shusman tells us about a program that is helping some American women in the military heal through filmmaking.

VOA Blogs