Manthorpe on Mozambique’s ageing rebels

Brutal politics and governance in Mozambique are worthy of a Greek tragedy or Game of Thrones-type saga, all on their own. With supporting roles played by a rotating cast of Portugal, Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, South Africa and America’s puritanical Christian Taliban, the country previously descended into the macabre. International affairs columnist Jonathan Manthorpe examines the possibility that recent rebel actions will spark another all-out war.


Threats of a return to one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars came to a head this week when government troops in Mozambique overran the mountain forest base of opposition Renamo rebels.

Afonso Dhlakama, 60-year-old leader of Renamo, the Mozambican National Resistance Movement, escaped with several hundred of his followers into the surrounding forest of the Gorongosa mountains, which have been the group’s headquarters and sanctuary since their founding in 1975.

The following day Renamo fighters attacked a police station in the nearby town of Maringue. Dhlakarma also announced that Renamo will no longer honour the 1992 peace deal, which ended the civil war and brought the rebel group into a multi-party political system.

This climax has been brewing for a year amid Dhlakama’s growing frustration with the political system, which he says favours the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) of President Armando Guebuza.

There have been numerous attacks and acts of sabotage by Renamo fighters on infrastructure and government outposts in the last 12 months. The escalation of petty violence has sent a frisson of apprehension coursing through the boardrooms of the companies involved in Mozambique’s economic boom, fuelled by the natural gas, coal, tourism and agriculture industries.

Those anxieties are natural. Mozambique’s 17-year civil war was one of the most bitter and deadly in recent African history. At least a million people died, and millions more were left destitute or fled into exile in neighbouring countries.

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