Peace Is a Losing Strategy in Mozambique

Why Elections Could Cause Another Civil War

Campaign posters for the ruling party Frelimo in Maputo, Mozambique, August 2019 Reuters / Siphiwe Sibeko

On August 6, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and Ossufo Momade, leader of the rebel group turned opposition party Renamo, signed a peace deal that ended the most recent flare-up in an intermittent civil conflict dating back four decades. Signed in the presence of foreign dignitaries in the capital’s Peace Square, the accord buttressed recent efforts by the ruling Frelimo party to decentralize power and established a process through which Renamo rebels can hand in their weapons and join more inclusive national military and police forces.

The deal was an important step in the southern African country’s halting march toward peace, but it was far from a guarantee of stability. By enabling general elections to go ahead as planned on October 15—but without ensuring they will be free and fair—the accord could end up triggering yet another round of conflict. If Renamo emerges from the election feeling thwarted by the political process, the party will likely revert to the one strategy that has worked for it time and again: violence.


The August peace deal is the country’s third since 1976, when civil war broke out between Frelimo, which came to power after leading the independence struggle against Portugal, and Renamo, whose support base consisted of traditional authorities and farmers who opposed Frelimo’s efforts to create a socialist, one-party state. Driven by local grievances as well as Cold War meddling—the Soviet Union backed Frelimo while Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa backed Renamo—the war claimed more than a million lives and destroyed much of the country’s infrastructure. The first peace accord, signed in 1992, laid out the terms for postconflict politics in Mozambique: equal participation by Renamo and Frelimo in a multiparty, representative democracy.

But that formula never held. Frelimo, which had dominated the state since independence, never loosened its chokehold on power. It consistently engaged in ballot stuffing, improper nullification of opposition ballots, and opaque vote tabulations to maintain its electoral advantage. Renamo responded with protests, election boycotts,

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