Mozambique on the Brink

Mozambique is in the news. And not for the right reasons.

Renamo, the famed opposition party, declared a 21-year peace treaty over last Tuesday, which has since brought brewing tensions closer to a boil. It’s unclear whether an attack on a police station in Maringue was the cause, or the byproduct of, the ending of the aforementioned treaty (seems like byproduct). No casualties were suffered in that attack, but there has been at least one death and multiple injuries in subsequent skirmishes.

Mozambique had already been catching international interest for completely opposite reasons, due to recent discoveries of coal and gas. A Global Post article reports that GDP growth is expected to be about seven percent this year, and a Wall Street Journal remarks “the country stands on the brink of becoming one of the continent’s big energy producers, with billions of dollars in investment planned by the likes of Italy’s Eni SpA, U.S. firm Anadarko Corp., Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto and Brazil’s Vale.”

Chances are the Renamo attack was prompted by desire for a greater share of the nation’s booming energy market and resulting wealth. Now, foreign companies are warily eying the situation.

Sasol, a South African energy firm with operations in Mozambique, said that while it was “deeply concerned,” it didn’t believe the Renamo conflict posed a countrywide threat. “This is an unfortunate development in an otherwise unbroken period of peace and stability, that has underpinned the high economic growth that the country has experienced,” a Sasol spokeswoman told the Wall Street Journal.

“It’s very unlikely that you are going to see a return to war,” said Aditi Lalbahadur, who conducts research with the South African Institute of International Affairs.

In an article for Zimbabwe’s Times Live, Lalbahadur said war was not in the interests of the government, which had by far the more powerful armed forces. “Mozambique is trying very hard to attract foreign investment so any type of political instability would be to its disadvantage,” she concluded.

The Human Rights Watch report,  “What is a House Without Food?” examines how, in its eagerness to approve mining licenses, the Mozambican government has displaced thousands, moving them from fertile lands and largely self-sufficient farms to arid areas, far from necessary water and markets.

An estimated 1 million died during Mozambique’s protracted and brutal civil war (1976 to 1992). After obtaining independence from Portugal, the Marxist liberation movement Frelimo (the Mozambique Liberation Front) was pitched against the anti-communist Renamo (Mozambican National Resistance Movement), which was backed by white minority regimes in South Africa and Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). The long fight was one of many proxy Cold Wars conflicts that took place in Africa. A peace deal signed in Rome and the inception of a multiparty system ended the war in 1992.

Now that Renamo has proclaimed this twenty-one year deal over, it remains to be seen how relations between the two parties will proceed. Money and violence tend to go hand-in-hand, and Mozambique is on the precipice. Things do not look good right now.