Uncertainty remains in Mozambique as there are suggestions of talks between President Felipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, but fighting between the two sides and attacks on vehicles and civilians continue. The government has been deploying the police force (rather than the military) to combat the rebels, and in an interview, Dhlakama explained – among other things – why this was the case, countering the common suggested explanation. Mozambique Politics & Security looks into Dhlakama’s suggestion.

Incumbent President Filipe Nyusu with rival opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama. (Feb, 2015)

Incumbent President Filipe Nyusu with rival opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama. (Feb, 2015)

On Monday, 14 March, Afonso Dhlakama gave an interview to German broadcaster DW’s Portuguese service, in which he tackled allegations of having targeted civilians.

In the case of the attack on the bus in Honde, Dhlakama said the bus was ‘full of ‘fademos’’, a term used for members of the armed forces, the FADM. The Renamo leader admitted that the driver was killed, but claimed that 39 soldiers who were on the bus were also killed.

Dhlakama explained that the reason behind all of Renamo’s highway attacks was the same. Renamo’s defence department, he told DW, carried out ambushes between the River Save and Muxúnguè; between Chimoio and Tete; and between Gorongosa and the River Zambezi, at Caia, in order to intercept what he describes as Frelimo ‘kidnappers’.

Dhlakama also used his interview with DW to challenge the traditional interpretation of why the government uses the police, rather than the military, in the fight against Renamo. Normally, this is understood to be because using the military would be an admission that the country is at civil war. Instead the deployment of the police force gives the impression that Renamo’s actions represent a small domestic disturbance by ‘bandits’, the preferred term to describe the rebels during the 16-year war which ended in 1992.

However, Dhlakama says that the real reason for doing so is that, in accordance with the 1992 peace accords, some Renamo elements have been integrated into the armed forces – meaning that the government cannot trust it to do its dirty work.

Instead, the government uses the Força de Intervenção Rápida (FIR), now formally called the Unidade de Intervenção Rápida (UIR). This is a so-called elite group within the police which, along with the Grupo de Operações Especiais (GOE, another police unit), represents the government’s shock troops in what is now increasingly being described as a civil war.

The Mozambique army has indeed absorbed more former Renamo fighters than the police force has, which suggests there may be some truth in Dhlakama’s statement, and that the government may not be able to rely on some parts of the military. However, the police is also considered generally more reliable than the country’s army, which may help explain the administration’s preference for deploying the police’s elite forces.

A sign of the current administration’s discomfort with Renamo elements in the military came with the dismissal on 14 March of the commander of the Air Force, Luis Raul Dique. Dique was appointed in 2008, after having been integrated into the armed forces, having previously been a member of Renamo’s forces. He is the brother of a former head of Renamo’s parliamentary party, Angelina Inoque, according to weekly newspaper Magazine Independente.