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  • Mozambique's President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi arrives for the inauguration of Cyril Ramaphosa as South African president, at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa May 25, 2019.

    Mozambique's President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi arrives for the inauguration of Cyril Ramaphosa as South African president, at Loftus Versfeld stadium in Pretoria, South Africa May 25, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 6 August 2019

With a handshake and a hug, Mozambique's leaders hoped on Tuesday to close the book on a decades-long conflict. However, violence has flared periodically in the years since, especially around elections.

After fighting on opposite sides of a civil war that erupted following independence from Portugal and killed more than one million people between 1977 and 1992, the ruling Frelimo party and former guerrilla movement Renamo signed a ceasefire that ended the worst of the bloodshed.

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President Filipe Nyusi and Renamo leader Ossufo Momade smiled broadly and embraced after signing the deal, which encompasses a permanent end to hostilities and constitutional changes, as well as the disarming and reintegration of Renamo fighters into the security forces or civilian life.

"With this agreement, we are saying that we may disagree, but we always use dialogue to settle our differences," Nyusi said at an event in Maputo's Praça da Paz (Peace Square), in front of dignitaries including South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa and presidents of other neighboring states.

"Never again should election results dictate the state of peace in Mozambique."

Analysts say the new accord offers the best hope yet for a lasting solution to the conflict.

"All of us have to be optimistic because if nobody believes in peace, there will be no peace," said Felipe Donoso, head of mission for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Mozambique.

Nyusi and Momade both hope the deal will score them political points ahead of presidential, parliamentary and provincial elections on Oct. 15.

The poll could make or break the agreement, experts said. It will be the first time Renamo, now the country's main opposition party, can compete for provincial governorships, satisfying demands for political inclusion and control over areas they dominate.

Already, there have been accusations of voter registration fraud.

Renamo's Momade said at the ceremony that the deal sealed a future of peace and reconciliation, but noted that changes in government through free and fair elections should be the rule rather than the exception.

"We have just opened a new page in the history of our country," he said.

The disarmament process will be far from complete by the time of the election. So far about 50 out of more than 5,000 Renamo fighters have been registered, a process that started last week in Gorongosa, where Renamo's headquarters are located.

Both Frelimo and Renamo contain groups of hardliners unenthusiastic about the process. A Renamo general and an uncertain number of other fighters have in recent weeks disavowed Momade, threatening violence and refusing to give up their weapons while he remains in charge.

The split between Renamo and Frelimo has defined Mozambique since the 1970s, when the country was a front in the Cold War.

Located on Southern Africa's Indian Ocean coast, Mozambique is one of the world’s least-developed nations, but is starting to tap huge coal and natural gas deposits.

Residents in the Cabo Delgado region remain mired in poverty, even as a growing number of multinational corporations head there to develop one of the biggest offshore gas finds in a decade — estimated to be worth at least US$30 billion.

"Poverty is the fuel of the present violence in northern Mozambique," said Eleanor Beevor, a research analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.    

"The grievances around this inequality could become much worse if ordinary people don't benefit from the growing oil and gas industries in northern Mozambique."

A lack of economic opportunities in Renamo's central heartland could also fuel violence, much as it has in the north, said Adriano Nuvunga, director of the Center for the Study of Democracy and Development (CEDE) in Maputo.

"This peace, it needs to bring benefits," he told Reuters.

Mirko Manzoni, the United Nations special envoy for Mozambique, who has been closely involved in the negotiations, said most Renamo fighters just want a way to provide a future for their families.

"We would like to make sure this is the last reintegration," he said. "So we are really trying ... to make sure the reintegration will provide a prospect better than guns."

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