History Of Malawi

Mozambique: Parliament rejects Renamo autonomous province proposal

Joseph Hanlon

Parliament on 30 April rejected Renamo’s proposal to create “autonomous provinces” (autarquias provinciais) similar to the elected municipalities. The vote was 138 to 98, with Frelimo voting against and Renamo and MDM voting for.

The bill had already been discussed by two parliamentary committees, Constitution and Public Administration.O Pais (30 April) published ten questions asked by the committees and the Renamo replies. The justification of the bill was purely political: the 15 October elections were not free, just or transparent; the count did not follow the law; the National Elections Commission was divided on accepting the final result; Renamo won in six provinces and this was an “electoral coup”; and Dhlakama has said “we want to govern where we were elected”.

But Renamo did justify the constitutionality at least of the broad proposal. It said the constitution calls for local power and the Renamo proposal was similar to elected municipal governments. It said that municipalities had followed the policy of “gradualism”, with new municipalities being added in each election, and thus its proposal to start with the six provinces it claims to have won follows the gradualism policy.

Comment: In their 9 February meeting, President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo head Afonso Dhlakama agreed that Frelimo in parliament would “take seriously” Renamo’s proposal for “autonomous provinces”, and not reject it out of hand. That did not happen. Instead Frelimo MPs made clear they were rejecting the bill because it did not say how much it would cost – which is required for all bills presented to parliament – and because it was argued that the proposal, as written, was unconstitutional. Both were true, but no attempt was made to resolve the problems.

Indeed, in the month before the parliamentary vote, Nyusi returned to the rhetoric of his predecessor, Armando Guebuza, that the proposal was unconstitutional and would divide the country. The new openness and flexibility shown by Nyusi in the February meetings has evaporated, and Nyusi is increasingly being accused of lacking a strategy to deal with Dhlakama.

For his part, Dhlakama responded with an increasingly hard line – that the bill must be accepted unchanged or Renamo will return to war. And in the Monday talks, Renamo continued to add new demands.

Both sides have valid arguments. Frelimo’s obsession with national unity is justified in the face of problems caused elsewhere in Africa by regional and language differences.  But some decentralisation is clearly needed, to take more account of local differences. A real debate in parliament on how to balance the two would have been useful. Similarly, the Renamo demand that the President not be involved in any party activity during the working day is excessive but not totally unworkable; it could have been accepted, and it would actually have been symbolically useful if the Frelimo Political Commission could only meet after 3.30 pm.

But the rigidity of both sides makes negotiation virtually impossible. Issues on both sides now add to the paralysis. After Dhlakama’s higher than expected votes in presidential elections, Frelimo is very frightened about agreeing anything that is not totally proposed from within the party; Dhlakama cannot be allowed to take credit for decentralisation and reducing the role of Frelimo in the state. On his side, since the failed negotiations of 2000, Dhlakama has always wanted patronage power – the right to appoint governors and district administrators – which Frelimo will never agree.

The hardening positions on both sides do not bode well for negotiations. But are the two sides willing to risk confrontations? Nyusi as defence minister did not create an army capable to beating a handful of Renamo guerrillas. But Dhlakama must also know that his boasts of being able to mobilise thousands of young people to create an “Arab spring” are also exaggerated. Thus, most likely is several more months of rigidity and posturing.

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