Preserving Peace in Mozambique

Start by Reining in Corruption

Fishing boats sit beneath the skyline of Mozambique's capital city of Maputo, April 2016.  Grant Neuenburg / REUTERS

When the United Nations Operation in Mozambique (ONUMOZ) officially ended in 1994, it was widely considered a peacekeeping success story. After two years in operation, it had brought to an end a long-running and vicious civil war and guided Mozambique through its first democratic elections.

Over 20 years later, the country suffers from a low-grade version of that earlier conflict. A number of officials from the former rebel movement the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) have been assassinated, presumably by government agents. In response, RENAMO has carried out attacks on highways and rail lines that have caused multiple casualties. Major scandals involving corruption and drug smuggling implicate senior officials in a government that has been completely dominated by one political party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), since independence was obtained in 1975. 

There is no shortage of individuals and institutions to blame for Mozambique’s situation, but one thing is clear: if it continues on its present course, the UN’s accomplishments will have bought only a temporary pause in a humanitarian disaster and the efficacy of peacekeeping itself will be once again questioned.


ONUMOZ was considered a success because it fulfilled its mandate in only two years and cost a mere half billion dollars (although billions more were spent on separate humanitarian assistance initiatives during its course). The operation had a complex mandate—namely, to monitor and verify the cease-fire and to oversee the separation and concentration of forces, their demobilization, and the collection, storage, and destruction of weapons. It provided security for transport corridors and other vital infrastructure as well as for the peacekeepers themselves. It managed the disbanding of irregular armed groups, provided technical assistance and monitoring for the country’s first democratic elections, and coordinated humanitarian assistance operations. Overall, ONUMOZ disarmed about 76,000 fighters, collected 155,000 weapons, and helped train 10,000 soldiers for the new, unified national army. It also helped some five million refugees and displaced persons return to their homes. Moreover, the departure of the peacekeepers did not signal an end to

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