In 2012, Mozambique appeared on the list of the 50 most peaceful countries in the world in a report published by UK organisation Global Peace Index.
One year later and it is on the verge of a new civil war that could slow down progress in a country already considered by the UNDP to be the third poorest in the world.
In 1975 Mozambique gained independence from Portugal and the following year witnessed a civil war between government forces led by Frelimo and a rebel movement Renamo that lasted for 16 years. The internationally-brokered 1992 Rome Peace Accords signalled the end of civil war and since then, peace has prevailed for 21 years.
But the peace that Mozambicans tried to preserve, and have so prided themselves on over the years, is at risk of collapsing due to armed conflict between Renamo’s ex-fighters and government troops in the Sofala province. Although Renamo does not take responsibility for the violent attacks, dozens have been killed, including many civilians, and hundreds of families have been forced to leave their homes to take shelter in the bush.
In the largest cities in the country, at the end of October and the beginning of November, citizens from all over the country organised marches calling for the end of hostilities and a return to stability. But the voices of citizens appear not to have moved politicians who have demonstrated little interest in putting an end to the political-military crisis in the country.
With the intent of reaching an understanding, the Frelimo government and Renamo have completed 21 rounds of negotiations, but none have produced any real result.
Religious institutions, civil society and the international community have done little to nothing to help end the political crisis in Mozambique. One of the few international figures publicly involved in searching for a way out of armed conflict is Swedish Ambassador to Mozambique Ulla Andrea, who confirmed on Twitter she has been in contact with members of government to discuss a way out of the current situation, but that few had really lent their ears.
The fear of a new war is evident. It threatens to come at a moment when the country has experienced huge discoveries of coal, natural gas and petroleum that could change the lives of a large part of the population who live in extreme poverty. The economy has been boosted by the entry of large projects dedicated to the exploitation of mineral resources, that have employed thousands of Mozambicans. It also comes at a time when the first generation born after the civil war voted for the first time, in November’s municipal elections, which were boycotted by Renamo.
Mozambique has been a success story in terms of its preservation of peace, and now it runs the risk of becoming a failed state. Absolute poverty (people living on below $1 per day), which affects 59,6% of the population, could get worse if nothing is done to reduce tensions.
An armed conflict would have major implications at regional and international levels since Zimbabwe, Malawi and Zambia depend extensively on Mozambican ports. An armed conflict would also undermine all foreign investment in Mozambique that has been significant in recent years. The United States has invested billions of dollars in oil exploration in northern Mozambique and there has been a major foreign investment in the heavy mineral sands in Nampula Province . Mozambique could lose all it gained with real effort in recent years.
One of the first measures needed to overcome the crisis is a serious dialogue and a commitment by the two sides. Inclusive political dialogue, where representatives of civil society and religious institutions can take part, is needed.
The international community, that contributes more than 40% to Mozambique’s state budget, can exert pressure on the government to propose an urgent solution for the conflict. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union, the European Union, the UN and so many other international organisations can equally play an important mediating role in negotiations between the government and Renamo.
These organisations cannot just sit by and watch the country that is considered the “pearl of the Indian Ocean” to sink into a new civil war. Mozambique is not a country isolated from the rest of the world, and the need to consider international intervention in mediation stems from this. A new war would have regional and continental implications, causing a flux of refugees to neighbouring countries and forcing Africa to shift its attention from fighting poverty and promoting economic development to solving yet another armed conflict. The world would witness yet another sad episode of civil war in the 21st century.
So there is a great and urgent need for intervention not only from national actors and institutions, but from international ones, to find a solution to the political and military crisis that comes from dialogue and not military action.
• This article was amended on 18 December 2013. The headline was changed.
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