Ossufo Momade was on January 17 elected leader of the opposition Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) party at a leadership congress held at the party’s headquarters in the country’s central Gorongosa highlands. Momade’s election makes permanent the interim leadership role he has held since the natural death of long-time RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakama in May 2018.
Momade’s leadership election, during the final day of the three-day congress, in which he defeated second-place rival Elias Dhlakama (Afonso Dhlakama’s brother) by almost twice as many votes (410 to 238), affirms the role of constructive engagement he has presided over to elevate the political participation of and the demilitarization, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of the historic opposition party into Mozambique governing structures alongside the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) party.
Mozambique’s DDR program, negotiated and launched in October 2018, is now almost halfway through to completion, with a goal of May 6 of coordinating the joint operational control of the country’s military and police forces involving leadership and membership from Mozambique’s two historic and principal political parties. The national security-oriented program follows a significant political decentralization accord negotiated with the FRELIMO party leader and Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi that resulted in pro-opposition concessions substantiated through a constitutional amendment, thus safeguarding efforts at political cohabitation from an executive or partisan interference.
The importance of constructive engagement between RENAMO and FRELIMO in Mozambique, in the shape of participating in structures of government decentralization, and through the demilitarization, demobilization, and reintegration of opposition military forces, is that it provides for national political stability crucial to support the country’s return as a credible international finance borrower as well as a secure destination for very sizeable foreign direct investments being planned for.
The Mozambique government under Nyusi’s predecessor, Armando Guebuza, who governed over the country from 2005-2015, borrowed heavily from international creditors to finance projects aimed to raise the country’s economic development level. But poor and non-transparent governance, corruption, and misplaced priorities led to unsustainable debt levels, defaulted debt payments and a sovereign credit rating at sub-investment grade status. The Nyusi administration has negotiated to secure final investment decisions expected in 2019 from oil industry majors, notably led by ExxonMobil and Anadarko, to develop the country’s sizeable natural gas deposits found off the coast of the country’s northeastern Cabo Delgado province. And not only Cabo Delgado, but exploration concessions have also recently been acquired in Mozambique’s north-central Angoche (by Italy’s Eni) and central Zambezi basins (by a consortium led by ExxonMobil). But no matter the final investment decisions, pending offtake sales agreements from global buyers so as to underwrite borrowing obligations, which will exceed $20 billion and result in significant new government revenues, the Mozambique government’s credit trustworthiness remains constrained by concerns of excessive debt and a track record of default.
Which brings us back to Momade’s election as the substantive RENAMO leader. Momade’s election means continuity to opposition accords aimed at political and security cohabitation with the Nyusi-led Mozambique government. RENAMO’s participation in political decentralization and military DDR agreements raises accountability and transparency on the debt-stressed Mozambique government. Furthermore, RENAMO’s democratic and non-violent engagement strategy reduces the threat of violence aimed to potentially disrupt important investments being mobilized for areas under the oppositional influence. Lastly, with regards to Cabo Delgado, which is not necessarily a RENAMO stronghold, the province has experienced a nascent militancy campaign by suspected Islamist terrorists. The Mozambique president has called on RENAMO to deploy its militia members experienced in insurgency warfare to counter the suspected Islamist terrorists who are destabilizing local area civilian communities in the far northern province.