Violence has set a tense background to the October 15 General Election in Mozambique, which was hoped to lead to lasting peace and economic recovery in the country.
Stability has eluded the country since independence from Portugal in 1975, despite a semblance of steadiness in the Frelimo party that has been in power since.
That continuity has masked a series of civil wars with the rebel Renamo movemStability has eluded the country since independence from Portugal in 1975, despite a semblance of steadiness in the Frelimo party that has been in power since.ent, which three peace agreements have failed to resolve.
A fourth agreement signed in August, months after the death of veteran Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, has led to hope that the worst could be behind the Indian Ocean island nation.
“The conduct and result of the election will be a litmus test of the durability of the peace deal,” said Ed Hobey-Hamsher, a senior Africa analyst at global risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft in a recent interview.
“A poor election performance by either Frelimo or Renamo will exacerbate existing internal fault lines.”
Despite the leadership of Ossufo Momade, the man who signed the agreement on behalf of Renamo, being challenged by the party’s armed wing led by Mariano Nhongo, analysts expect the peace agreement to hold unless there are glaring irregularities during and after the elections.
Mr Nhongo boasts of a force of 500, observers place it about 100, which has launched a series of attacks on highways and homes especially in central and northern Mozambique.
At one time, the group threatened to kill Mr Momade if he signed the agreement or contested for the presidency. He called their bluff.
The fact that the armed wing did not make good its threats suggests it will be of little value in the run-up to the elections, and that it could be crushed once new governments are set up in the areas the group claims to control.
“The majority of those still fighting are middle-aged, in their 50s and 60s, and are increasingly fatigued by conflict,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at Chatham House. “They are more amenable to finding a pathway towards peace.”
More than 12.9 million voters will participate in presidential, legislative and provincial elections on October 15. At stake is the presidency, for which Mr Momade is challenging President Filipe Nyusi, 10 provincial governorships and assembly members, and 250 members of parliament.
“You have experienced suffering, sorrow and affliction. But you have refused to let human relationships be governed by vengeance or repression,” Pope Francis said when he visited Maputo in September, urging all parties to adhere to the accord.
He was in the country to give hope after the devastation caused by Cyclones Idai and Kenneth within two months of each other, in the first half of the year. That has left a huge humanitarian mission which has encountered difficulty in reaching people in conflict zones.
The country’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday that they had killed several insurgents at Mocímboa da Praia district in Cabo Delgado’s province, but did not disclose the exact figures.
Last month, an attack on Frelimo headquarters in Cabo Delgado province killed 15 people and injured several others. The insurgent attacks in Cabo Delgado Province began in October 2017, carried out by a jihadist group.
Cabo Delgado Province, about 1,600km north of Maputo, is rich in minerals such as gold, grenadines, aquamarines, tourmalines, blue topaz and green tourmalines, and attracts many foreigners. The province borders Tanzania and has a population of nearly two million, many believed to be Renamo-leaning.
On Monday, election observer Anastácio Matavel was killed by a police unit in Gaza province, 6,400 kilometres north of Maputo, which is controlled by Frelimo.
The US embassy in Maputo condemned the killing, while Electoral Observation Platform co-ordinator Hermenegildo Muhlovo said the incident created fear among observers.
“His (Mr Matavel) centre co-ordinated all the observation in the south of the country, and he was a key figure in all the process. In the north and centre of the country, there are still attacks. We fear for our observers’ security,” said Mr Mulhovo, who is also the executive director of the Institute for Multiparty Democracy.
A commonwealth observer mission, led by Kenya’s former vice president Kalonzo Musyoka, was expected in the country on Friday.
The European Union deputy head for election observations in Mozambique Tânia Marques said there are still some questions about how elections will be held in conflict zones.
On Monday, Mozambique’s Co-operation and Foreign Affairs Minister José Pacheco assured observers of security in all districts.
President Nyusi, who is expected to win the polls promised to support sports and youth programmes, if elected.
His main rival Mr Momade had to address supporters from a party compound in Pemba because the preferred venue, a stadium in Cabo Delgado, was cordoned off by ruling party militants. He promised to ease registration of persons and issuance of passports, if elected.