Mozambican Opposition Leader's Death Risks Stalling Peace Accord

(Bloomberg) -- The death of Mozambican opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama risks stalling the signing of an accord that seeks to permanently end years of intermittent political violence.

Dhlakama, who led the Mozambique National Resistance, or Renamo, for nearly four decades, died Thursday at the age of 65. The ruling Frelimo party blamed Renamo for a series of attacks on roads and rail lines in central Mozambique between 2013 to 2016, an allegation it denied. The parties reached a temporary truce, agreed to constitutional changes that would devolve more power to the provinces and were due to sign a peace deal soon.

"There is now uncertainty about the future of peace processes, the continuity or not of his ideas, as well as the emergence of a new party leadership and order in Renamo," said Adriano Nuvunga, a political science professor at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo, the capital.

Hostilities run deep between Frelimo and Renamo, which was created by the security forces in then white-ruled Rhodesia and was later backed by apartheid South Africa. They fought a 16-year civil war that claimed as many as a million lives before a peace deal was struck in 1992.

Marginalized Opposition

Elections were held two years later, and Renamo became the main opposition. It complained that Frelimo exerted excessive control over the government and military, which ensured the opposition was marginalized and prevented from winning subsequent votes.

Dhlakama’s death was “bad timing,” Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said in comments broadcast on state television on Thursday. “I hope that we Mozambicans are able to continue doing everything so that things don’t deteriorate.”

Gary van Staden, an analyst at Paarl, South Africa-based NKC African Economics, said Dhlakama’s death won’t necessarily derail the peace process.

“There is even a case to suggest that the death of the belligerent Renamo boss may in fact speed up the peace process once the formalities of his death have been finalized, as was the case in Angola where the death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi ended that country’s long-standing civil insurrection almost overnight,” Van Staden said in an emailed note.

Debt Restructuring

Mozambique, which the World Bank ranks as one of the world’s 10 poorest countries, can ill afford renewed instability. The government is currently negotiating with foreign creditors to restructure its debt and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. is on the verge of taking a final decision on whether to proceed with a $20 billion natural gas project in the north of the country. Municipal elections are scheduled to take place in October this year and a presidential vote a year later.

Dhlakama’s most likely successors are his niece Ivone Soares, who heads the party’s parliamentary bench, and Manuel Bissopo, the party’s secretary-general, according to Seamus Duggan, southern Africa analyst at Control Risks. He sees some risk of Renamo splitting, but considers a renewed insurgency by some party members as unlikely because it is militarily weak and would probably be defeated.

“Talks over a peace deal are unlikely to resume until Dhlakama’s successor has been appointed,” Duggan said. “This is likely to cause a slight delay in the negotiations, and may hamper the government’s desire to reach a deal before the 2018 elections.”

José Jaime Macuane, a political science professor at Eduardo Mondlane University, said parts of the planned peace accord may have to be reworked with Renamo’s new leadership.

"Dhlakama was the central counterpart of the process and with his death this naturally radically changes the direction of negotiations,” he said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.