Today marks 23 years of peace and democracy in Mozambique. The country has made impressive progress in economic growth, stability, regional cooperation and democratisation. While concerns remain over future development, efforts to build resilience have improved. Ayokunu Adedokun, PhD fellow, takes a closer look at Mozambique’s hard road to peace and democracy, and provides insights for other post-conflict societies.
On all development indicators, Mozambique was not an obvious candidate for peace and democracy when its civil war began winding down in the late 1980s. For one, Mozambique was officially the poorest country in the world, with the lowest level of GDP per capita (averaging -7.7% per year), and very low levels of infrastructure and productive economic assets, both human and physical. For another, Mozambique lacked all the conditions usually held conducive to peace and democracy including strong political institutions, a functioning state bureaucracy, rule of law, democratic experience, a high degree of civic culture, and certain elite agreements. To make matters worse, Mozambique was plagued by one of the most brutal civil wars in Africa that lasted for 16 years (1977-1992) and cost more than 1 million lives and left nearly 6 million people displaced – some 4.5 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 1.5 million refugees.
However, since the signing on 4 October 1992 of a General Peace Agreement (GPA) in Rome between the Government of Mozambique (Frelimo), led by President Joaquim Chissano, and the insurgent force, the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo), led by Aphonso Dhlakama, the country has become relatively stable and ‘democratic’. Mozambique’s post-conflict economy also grew at high rates, with GDP growth at levels averaging 7.5% per annum over 1994-2014, buoyed by high levels of foreign aid and private foreign investment. Again, Mozambique has made a great leap in terms of human development and well-being: infant mortality rates have declined from 175 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1975 to about 70 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2011. Between 1980 and 2013, Mozambique’s life expectancy at birth increased by 7.4 years, mean years of schooling increased by 2.5 years, and expected years of schooling increased by 4.7 years, according to a UNDP report (2014).
In response to these achievements, many analysts have described Mozambique’s transition from war to peace as ‘one of the most successful cases of negotiated civil war settlement in the 1990s’. Others have claimed that Mozambique is a ‘post-conflict poster child’. The World Bank in 2007 talked of Mozambique’s ‘blistering pace of economic growth’. A joint donor-government study in early 2007 said ‘Mozambique is generally considered an aid success story.’ In 2013, a BBC article reported that, starting in 2009, Portuguese had been returning to Mozambique because of the growing economy in Mozambique and the poor economic situation in Portugal.
So here’s the question: How can Mozambique transition from war to peace and democracy and inspire peacebuilding in other civil war affected societies? No doubt, this is a ‘tricky question’. But, before I dive into useful lessons and experiences from the Mozambican peace process; some caveats are in order: (i) For a number of reasons, the case of Mozambique does not lend itself to teaching lessons that could be readily copied and pasted to other post-conflict countries – context matters. (ii) Notwithstanding that Mozambique has made remarkable progress in establishing a considerable degree of peace and stability, Mozambique’s peacebuilding endeavour is hardly a full-blown success, especially given the most recent clashes between Renamo and the military. I will come back to the challenges in a moment.
For now, let me highlight five important lessons that can be drawn from the Mozambican peace process based on my interaction and engagement with key stakeholders in the country. I believe policymakers and development practitioners seeking inspiration and insights for reconstructing other conflict-riddled states, including Ukraine, Syria, and Somalia could benefit from Mozambique’s peacebuilding trajectory, which appears to have charted unconventional territory. Let’s get started.
First, if the Mozambican case teaches anything to other post-conflict societies, it is that Mozambique’s peacebuilding process was endogenous. This means domestic actors took the lead in laying the foundations for a successful transition from war to peace and democracy. Here, key actors include the Christian Council of Mozambique, which consists of the Catholic, Anglican and Protestant Churches, with the constant support of the community of Sant’Egidio, an Italian Catholic NGO, which enjoyed the confidence of both the government and Renamo. Both the Christian council of Mozambique and the Community of Sant’ Egidio played a key role in building trust and confidence at the grass-roots and national levels. They leveraged their familial and church relationships to reach leaders and bring them to the negotiating table. The peace process in Mozambique shows how familial and church-based relationships of trust can be effectively used to create the conditions for successful negotiations. Mozambique shows how the religious community, when it is united by a common cause and grounded in the values of co-existence, can help bring peace to a country at war.
The second lesson from the Mozambican case is that success in peacebuilding operations depends heavily upon credible and impartial international commitment. In Mozambique, the United Nations Observer Mission, UNOMOZ, in partnership with neighbouring states and Mozambique’s major donors – most of which knew the terrain thoroughly and were willing to finance the peace process – provided an effective third-party guarantee of the peace agreement. This means a successful transition requires the cooperation of both regional and global powers. The continued crises in Ukraine and Syria are examples of a lack of regional and global cooperation.
Third, the Mozambican peace process further suggests that a post-conflict bargain that is inclusive of the major contending elites and protects their shared political and economic interests has the best chance to endure over time. While Mozambique is still dominated by a single party (Frelimo), political accountability has been enhanced by internal competition within the party, which is achieved in several ways: (i) the policy of organising contests in primary elections within the party throughout the country resulted in significant rotation of elected officials; (ii) Frelimo permits press freedom which has resulted in substantial criticism of policies and politicians; (iii) Frelimo allows opposition parties to compete for and (when successful in elections) take control of parliamentary seats, provincial assemblies, and local councils. All of these factors are slowly, but progressively boosting checks and balances on both the government and the one-party dominated polity.
Fourth, Mozambique’s peace process demonstrates that disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants before democratic elections can reduce the possibility of a return to violence. In Mozambique, the United Nations oversaw elections after demobilisation was well under way. Because many soldiers had already been demobilised, Renamo had far fewer incentives to return to conflict after the October 1994 elections. By contrast, elections were held before demobilisation in Angola in 1992. When the opposition lost the election, its leader, Jonas Savimbi, rejected the results as fraudulent, refused to participate in the run-off election, and resumed the war. Lesson: ‘demobilisation before democratisation’ is vital to successful transition from war to peace and democracy.
Fifth, and finally, a particularly striking lesson and experience from the Mozambican peace process is that peacebuilding projects take time and no peace is perfect. This is not to disparage Mozambique’s achievements, rather to demonstrate that peacebuilding is not a linear and smooth process, but one that requires flexibility, setting priorities and making tough choices. As is to be expected, building peace and democracy in the aftermath of civil war is by its very nature a highly conflictual and potentially destabilising process. This is because countries emerging from civil war are, by their very nature likely to fall short of fulfilling commonly identified conditions for successful democratisation. The urban transport riots of February 2008 and bread riots of September 2010 and the rural/provincial political violence of 2013 and early 2014 and the way these crises were resolved, suggest that even though Mozambique’s version of peacebuilding came with its own set of problems, it has produced a reasonably functioning state, quite in contrast to the numerous peacebuilding attempts in Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Ukraine among others.
However, despite the lessons and experiences illustrated above, much remains to be accomplished. On the one hand, Mozambique remains one of the world’s poorest countries despite its impressive economic growth rates and the encouraging development progress – the unemployment rate is 17% and 54.7% of the population live on less than $1.25 a day. On the other hand, Mozambique was ranked 119 out of 177 nations by Transparency International’s corruption perceptions index in 2014. Again, Mozambique’s human development index (HDI) value, a measure that gives a snapshot of a country’s success by combining three important indicators: health, education and incomes for 2013 was 0.393 — which was in the low human development category — positioning the country at 178 out of 187 countries. This means that although Mozambique has gone far in protecting its hard-earned peace and democracy, it has yet to expand sufficiently the political and economic opportunities available to a range of social groupings including youths and women, especially those in Mozambique’s rural communities. As long as this situation continues, the possibility of violent conflict cannot be ignored.
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