The announcement last week of a long-awaited deal between the Mozambican government and its long-time opponent may have raised more questions than answers — and it’s too early to say whether it will bring stability and a "peace dividend" to the country.
Ruling party Frelimo and opposition Renamo fought on opposing sides of Mozambique’s long civil war.
The country has effectively been at peace since December 2016, but the conversion of the truce into a permanent deal has been dependent on the two sides reaching agreement on two thorny issues: the devolution of power to provincial governors, some of whom should be opposition politicians; and the proper integration of Renamo into the country’s defence forces, accompanied by Renamo’s disarmament — which was supposed to have happened following the 1992 peace agreement, but did not.
Speaking in Maputo last week, President Filipe Nyusi announced that agreement has been reached on the question of devolution. Provincial governors, until now appointed by the president, will henceforth be chosen by the party that polls highest in the provincial assembly election. Similarly, mayors of municipalities will be chosen by the municipal assembly, rather than being directly elected as they are at present; and the same system will be rolled out at the district level in 2024.
The deal cements power between the two main parties — "Frenamo", as they have become collectively known — and has disappointed those who had hoped that provincial governors would be directly elected. That disappointment has turned to anger for politicians outside the two main parties, who will now find it even harder to get elected at municipal level.
Executive director of risk intelligence firm EXX Africa, Robert Besseling, says the peace deal is the only bright light in Mozambique’s otherwise dreary outlook for this year.
"President Nyusi is staking all his political capital on the agreement," he says.
"In fact, Nyusi’s credibility and political future is pegged to the success of the peace deal, as his administration has failed in Mozambique’s other main challenges, such as prosecuting those responsible for secret debt deals or facilitating an economic recovery."
Questions remain over whether the deal will be acceptable in the long term to Renamo, too. The new provincial governors will have to work alongside a presidential appointee, known as the state secretary, who will retain power over areas such as mineral rights and taxation.
"My biggest concern is this double system, because it seems that the government representative rather than the governor will have control," says businessman Kobus Botha. "Upfront, it looks as if it will be power sharing, but when you start looking closely at the strategic things in Manica or Tete province, if [the governor] is not in charge of land distribution or mineral rights, what power does he really have?"
Mozambican businessman Carlos Henriques says Mozambicans will probably settle for the deal, though it’s far from perfect.
"People are so fed up with this war that is not war, that people just want a bit of light at the end of the tunnel, so they’ll say ‘well, this is better than nothing’," he tells the Financial Mail.
The deal still has to make it through parliament, but it should do so easily thanks to the super-majority that "Frenamo" have between them.
However, says Henriques, "this is an agreement between two organisations, and that worries me".
Moreover, he says, "I think we’re losing when we have the power now concentrated in the parties, and I’m not able to vote directly for Mr A, B, or C to be the mayor of my town. I really don’t think that’s acceptable."
Botha agrees: "My other concern is that we’re going to end up in a two-party state," he says, with "no place for a charismatic MDM-type leader" — referring to Mozambique’s third largest party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement, led by the mayor of Beira, Daviz Simango.
Standard Bank, in a report which came out shortly before Nyusi’s announcement, expected the legislative package to include directly elected provincial governors, saying: "Renamo would probably see this as an important step towards decentralisation," but pointing out that "the integration of Renamo security forces into the army and police is another critical factor."
Renamo has been a thorn in the side of the Frelimo government for 40 years, and the country badly needs to put the issue to bed to be able to focus on the challenges and opportunities of the future. But it remains to be seen whether this solution will be the one that sticks.