JOHANNESBURG - The sudden death of Mozambique's longtime rebel leader and opposition chief has caused shock and concern in the southern African nation and in the region, analysts say.
Afonso Dhlakama, who died Thursday at the age of 65, was never far from the action in Mozambique. He led the Renamo rebel group through a bruising 16-year civil war that ended in 1992. He then led Renamo's transformation into a political party, and ran for president, unsuccessfully, five times.
In 2013, frustrated with what he said were attempts by the ruling Frelimo party to stymie the opposition, Dhlakama retreated to the bush in northern Mozambique and led his supporters in a low-level insurgency. In the months before his death, he and President Filipe Nyusi were making progress on a peace deal.
Nyusi confirmed Dhlakama's death on national television late Thursday. Nyusi said he had been told Dhlakama was ill, and had attempted to send him abroad for treatment the day before he died. Nyusi did not provide details on the illness.
Journalist and commentator Fernando Lima said the nation was stunned by the news.
"To lose such a person, such a kind of energizing person, is a big, big loss," he told VOA. "And so I would say that we are, in terms of the country, we are almost in a state of coma, in shock."
Analyst Liesl Louw-Vaudran of the Institute for Security Studies said Dhlakama's death also leaves unanswered many serious questions. Dhlakama led Renamo since 1979, and did not leave a clear successor.
"His death — his untimely death, really — puts a question mark over this peace deal and whether it will not be implemented," she told VOA.
The U.S. State Department, among others, accused Renamo of committing crimes against humanity, including mass killings, mutilations, forced labor and recruitment of child soldiers, in its war effort.
But Lima said that Dhlakama's legacy is ultimately a positive one, despite the serious allegations.
"If it would not be for a person such as Dhlakama, the civil liberties in this country would be much more jeopardized," he said. "I cannot have the media I have and the freedom I have if it would not be for Dhlakama and what he has done for this country, despite [the fact that] he carried this message through a really violent and bloody insurgency, but we have those achievements, and everybody benefits from those achievements."
Louw-Vaudran said economic implications are at stake in the wake of Dhlakama's death, as Mozambique's natural gas wealth is being developed.
"Much of this political strife these last couple of years should also be seen in that context, where here you have an expectation of new wealth in Mozambique, but you have a lot of corruption — the Frelimo government has been racked by one scandal after the other — so within that backdrop, it really is very important for stability to return to Mozambique," she said.