The Mozambican government and rebel movement, Renamo, declared a seven-day truce on December 27, 2016 to allow their war-weary compatriots to have Christmas festivities without the fear of being shelled.
Yes, they declared it two days after Christmas Day, but it was a welcome respite after two years of fighting.
On January 3 they extended it by 60 more days, thus the temporary cessation of hostilities is expected to continue until March 4. We are delighted that the ceasefire in our friendly neighbour has held for 50 days although a few localised skirmishes may have occurred.
The Frelimo government and Renamo have shown the human element in them, recognising the suffering that their people are going through amid the insecurity and the need for peace.
Now our question to them is why not make that ceasefire permanent, so to speak?
Mozambique is an important neighbour for Zimbabwe. Both countries are connected through history, culture and geography.
Mozambique supported our liberation struggle, suffering indescribable collateral damage in the process as the colonial regime here mounted numerous deadly raids in that country in attempts to intimidate President Samora Machel’s government to halt its backing for Zimbabwe’s independence war. He refused and the relationship between the two countries has grown.
Mozambique is one of Zimbabwe’s key trading partners in the region. In the economic sphere also, Mozambique offers our shortest route to the sea. Cultural ties between the two neighbours are strong, particularly along the common border.
We will not forget the impact that the 1977-1992 civil war caused in that country and in Zimbabwe. Our government was forced to deploy soldiers there to fight alongside the Frelimo forces. About one million people died, some of them locals.
Since the low-intensity conflict resumed in late 2014, as many as 15 000 Mozambicans have fled to Malawi and Zimbabwe. A sense of insecurity is evident in the Chipinge, Nyanga and Chiredzi areas where Mozambican refugees are living with their relatives.
Because of these factors and more, we take much interest in happenings in Mozambique. That is why we want President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader, Mr Afonso Dhlakama to go beyond merely suspending fighting to permanently ceasing it.
We note that since late 2014, both sides negotiated for peace in Maputo as they fought in the countryside. While we don’t like hostilities of any nature, the fact that they were dialoguing and fighting is encouraging. Both sides want a negotiated settlement, not an all-out military victory which often takes long to come and if it does, comes at a heavy material and human cost.
For some time, representatives of the European Union, Catholic Church and the South African government facilitated the dialogue but 11 days ago, President Nyusi declared his willingness to have direct talks with the rebels.
Prior to the intervention of international mediators, Mozambican civil society groups attempted to bring them to a negotiated deal. It came on the eve of the 2014 elections, but failed to endure. Foreigners got involved in July 2016.
“Today, this phase of the dialogue process involving international mediators comes to an end,” President Nyusi said during celebrations to mark Heroes’ Day in Maputo on February 3.
“Mozambican people are truly grateful and appreciate all efforts made by the mediators to bring together the government and Renamo. Peace is the supreme will of the Mozambican people.”
The belligerents are Mozambicans who want peace in their country. We have no doubt they are committed to it. We trust they have the capacity and will to find each other through the direct negotiations without outsiders pushing them.
In our considered opinion, the differences behind the renewed fighting are not intractable.
Mr Dhlakama is demanding the right to pick governors for six provinces where he claims his party won the highest number of votes in the 2014 elections.
He also wants his fighters to be integrated into the military and the police.
On the other hand the Frelimo government is demanding that he disarms his men first before his demands can be met. It is also rejecting his argument that his party won in the six provinces. There must be a way to reconcile Renamo’s positions and Frelimo’s.
They can learn from the inter-party dialogue between Zanu-PF and the two MDCs from 2008- 2009. For peace and stability to be achieved both sides might want to make a few concessions as parties to our Global Political Agreement did.
But Mr Dhlakama must understand that Mozambique is a unitary state in which the person elected president appoints governors across the country’s 11 provinces. In this case and in terms of their national constitution, President Nyusi is mandated to pick the governors not Mr Dhlakama even if he, as he claims, won in six provinces. This position must continue. In the interest of peace, however, Frelimo might agree to have him pick two governors with strong checks and balances lest, if left alone, he can be tempted to build fiefdoms to cause future instability. On its part, Frelimo should help bring the bandits officially into the security sector. They have to start, as all security personnel do, in junior ranks but with equal chance of progression.
Mr Dhlakama must, also be told that he must not always resort to guns whenever he disagrees with the government in his country. With the benefit of hindsight, we now appreciate the big challenge arising from the failure by the Frelimo government to push more strongly for the total disarmament of Renamo after the 1977-1992 civil war. They must not repeat that mistake this time. Mr Dhlakama needs to know, disarmament is a precondition for integration, in that order not the other way round.
Our message therefore is that the Mozambican political leadership must make the truce permanent no matter how strongly they feel about their parochial views.