JOHANNESBURG - After two years in hiding, Mozambique opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama arrived in Maputo on Thursday to "ratify a pact between his Renamo party and the government ending hostilities ahead of an Oct. 15 election," according to reports by Reuters.
If ratified, the peace deal between the government of President Armando Guebuza and its longtime opposition Renamo party, also known as the Mozambique National Resistance Army, could finally clear a major political obstacle in the southern African nation.
Guebuza and Dhlakama are set to meet on Friday in to cement the arrangement that would allow Renamo followers to come out of hiding and participate in politics.
Although Guebuza's longtime ruling Frelimo party, Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, is predicted to maintain the presidency, University of South Africa analyst Shadrack Gutto says the prospective deal has major implications.
“It is important that they are meeting now for the first time after those two years ... because Mozambique does not need another war or conflict," said Gutto, referring to a 17-year civil war between Frelimo and Renamo forces that ended with a 1992 peace agreement, which fell apart after government forces attacked a Renamo base in October 2013, forcing Dhlakama into hiding.
"They need to really focus on participating in elections and let the people decide.”
Renamo has long expressed frustration at being considered an opposition party in the coastal African nation, which discovered massive deposits of natural gas in the last 10 years. The country has "plans to open a liquefied natural gas terminal in 2018 that will be the second-largest export site in the world after Ras Laffan in Qatar," according to Bloomberg News.
Once the deal is ratified, upcoming elections could give Renamo a much-needed chance to win parliamentary seats, giving it more say over the country’s economic future. The former anti-communist rebel group has claimed Frelimo rigged elections and marginalized the opposition.
Dhlakama has run on the Renamo ticket unsuccessfully in every presidential poll since 1994. President Guebuza is constitutionally barred from running again after serving two terms.
Analyst Dimpho Motsamai of the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies says the timing of the agreement is key.
“The point is really to create a conducive environment for peaceful elections by giving Renamo some kind of assurance that [its] demands, which are longstanding, are going to be respected," she said. "It is a strategy to prevent them from disturbing the elections as well. It is also a strategy to try to establish some kind of fraternity in the political environment of the country, which is hardly the case, because you never knew when Renamo would come out of the bush and disrupt political balances or everyday life."
Since its brutal civil war concluded in 1992, Mozambique wrote a constitution and held several elections, becoming a well-known tourist haven that is now poised to reap the economic gains of massive natural gas repositories.
But Motsamai warns a peace deal alone does no guarantee long-term stability.
“Politicians can blame the agreement for their election loss, and on that basis cause post-electoral violence, but that is not the scenario that they would like to see," she said. "Or they could just accept the outcome of elections and they have a reduced majority, and they can use the agreement as the bargaining tool to get more positions and a slice of the economic pie from government.”