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Who will lead Renamo?


May 15, 2018 3 min read

3 min read


Following the death of Afonso Dhlakama, who will succeed him as head of the Mozambican party Renamo? The son of a chief and then commander of a guerrilla army, Afonso Dhlakama maintained very tight personal control over Renamo. At the lowest level, when travelling by road, he personally paid for the fuel when the motorcade stopped at a petrol station. Before he retreated to his Gorongosa base camp, he sometimes watched parliament on television and the Renamo member of the presidium could be seen taking mobile phone calls from Dhlakama with instructions.

The 1982-92 war ended in stalemate but with Renamo clearly in the weaker position, forced in the peace accord to recognise the legitimacy of the Frelimo government and national constitution. Renamo became the main opposition political party in parliament, but also retained a small guerrilla army. In the weaker position, Dhlakama used two tactics to put pressure on Frelimo and the government. The first was boycott, regularly walking out of 1992-4 transition talks and subsequently of parliament in an effort to gain concessions, and boycotting local elections in 1998 and 2013. The second was to return to war, in a small way, with attacks on the main north-south N1 road in 2014-6, while maintaining a presence in parliament.
Dhlakama was presidential candidate in all five multiparty elections (1994, 1999, 2004, 2009, and 2014) and only once came close to winning, in 1999 when he gained 48% of the vote. He was convinced he had won all five elections and had been defeated by fraud, but studies at London School of Economics show that while there was fraud, it was never enough to explain Dhlakama's loss. His campaigning became increasingly negative, saying he would never be allowed to become president, which gave the message even to supporters that there was no point in voting for him, and his share of the vote fell to 16% in 2009.


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Despite being convinced that he was always being cheated, he did learn, and after 2009 became a very effective campaigner and speaker. Increasingly he was listening to internal and external advice, and his actions and statements became more positive and forward looking. At the beginning of 2017 he called a cease-fire, and announced Renamo would participate in 2018 municipal elections. Negotiations with President Nyusi became more active and an agreement on decentralisation was tabled in parliament.
Afonso Dhlakama's personal control of the party and marginalisation of possible challengers means he did not nominate a successor, and his death throws into confusion both the negotiations with President Nyusi and Renamo's election planning. A decision on municipal elections and how mayors will be named is necessary within weeks, and a full agreement with government requires details on integrating Renamo guerrilla leaders into positions of authority in the army, police and security services at a time that it is not clear what Nyusi and Dhlakama have agreed so far.
Three candidates have been discussed so far: Ossufo Momade, current acting head, joined the new government army in 1974 and moved over to join Renamo in 1978, becoming a commander and opening the Nampula front in 1983. He was elected an MP in the second elections in 1999 and remains in parliament. He was Renamo secretary-general 2007-2012. Manuel Bissopo, current party secretary general, took over from Momade. He is also a member of parliament. Bissopo was seriously injured in an assassination attempt on January 20, 2016, when a car pulled up beside his car and shots were fired into his car. Ivone Soares, head of the Renamo parliamentary bench since 2015, is a niece of Afonso Dhlakama. She is part of the new educated generation of Renamo leaders. Soares became one of the main links with Dhlakama after his retreat to the bush, and seems to have been influential in his development of more forward looking attitudes. There was an unsuccessful attempt to shoot at Soares' car on September 8, 2016.
The divisions in Renamo in making a choice will be similar to those in Frelimo - age, region and links to the military. The Renamo military remains important, and Dhlakama himself said he was forced by his own generals to return to war in 2014. They are likely to back an older war veteran. But there will be pressure from inside to back a younger more dynamic leader who can mobilise and modernise the party and win elections, and Soares has the advantage of coming from the former chief's family.

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