Antonio Muchanga is a spokesperson and parliamentary representative for Resistência Nacional Moçambicana known by its initials “RENAMO” is Mozambique’s largest opposition group. After making peace with the government in 1992, RENAMO fought a brief conflict with the government between 2013-2014.
Muchanga’s career however has focused on RENAMO’s political wing. As a result he was arrested in July 2014 for allegedly inciting violence. He was released just six weeks later following the adoption of an amnesty law as part of a new peace deal between RENAMO and FRELIMO that was reached in September 2014. In January of this year, however, he was rearrested at a gas-station on the outskirts of Maptuo on charges of “inciting violence” and of organising an “illegal demonstration” – charges that his lawyer maintains were themselves illegal, pursued without a warrant, and politically motivated. He was subsequently released and has continued his political work for RENAMO since. Despite winning 89 seats in the last election, RENAMO has refused to take their seats in protest.
Note, this interview took place just prior to the March 5th murder of a Mozambican lawyer Giles Cistas which provoked a new round of tensions not discussed here.
AFRICAN DEFENCE REVIEW: Can you explain how the fighting between RENAMO in 2013-2014 started? This was the most serious flare up in violence between the two parties since 1992.
ANTONIO MUCHANGA: RENAMO has never started or planned any military operations since October 4, 1992. We signed that agreement [which ended the civil war] in good faith. Yet, since that time peace has been maintained at RENAMO’s expense. The FRELIMO government has always discriminated against RENAMO members and RENAMO followers. Even those who were part of the joint Mozambican army were discriminated against. This is in violation of the 1992 agreement. Under the peace agreement the combined forces were to be under the control of a commando of 30 men, 15 from both parties. They would rotate the chair and deputy chair. This arrangement worked until 2000.
ADR: From RENAMO’s perspective, when did this arrangement start to break down?
AM: By 2000, FRELIMO felt they were both safely in power and had earned a strong enough reputation with the international community sufficient to begin working to dissolve RENAMO. FRELIMO began to put in place the same structure [as before 1992] and they wanted to maintain a communist political strategy and army as before 1992. By 2005, only 4 RENAMO commanders were left with the rest were forced to early retirement without following proper procedures. The armed forces law is very clear, officers in such a position can only be retired once they reach the age of 55 or held a position for 10 years. It has been FRELIMO policy to force the retirement of RENAMO officers that are 40 to 45 years and given their age few of these officers had held their ranks for 10 years.
Additionally over time there has been increasing harassment between RENAMO officers and those who had been guerrillas and went into politics. This continued until 2012 when the former guerrillas met in Nampula and with President Dhaklama to find a solution to the continued harassment and discrimination by FRELIMO. Some guerrillas felt betrayed by President Dhaklama because he had conceived of disarmament in 1992 and the peace agreement. These guerrillas asked for solution from RENAMO’s leadership so they could start life as civilians. Those men were accommodated in former RENAMO houses but, then on March 12, 2013 FRELIMO moved to break up this gathering. A member of FRELIMO was killed and numerous RENAMO arrested that is when this recent confrontation started.
ADR: This led to the confrontation in Muxengue?
AM: It was after government forces started breaking up political gatherings in Gorongosa and Muxengue that RENAMO finally responded to these provocations. At Muxengue RENAMO organized themselves and counter-attacked a police station. This RENAMO group was able to take weapons from police and free some colleagues arrested in a police station. From there, similar RENAMO groups spread around the country.
Q: Since the peace agreement in 1992, RENAMO has maintained at least 300 armed fighters, why did RENAMO choose Gorongosa as its staging area during the recent fighting?
AM: President Dhlakama decided to settle in Gorongosa because, strategically speaking, it is easy to survive there. It is a rich region with abundant food and one can also gather firewood there. Centrally located, it was a traditional rallying point for RENAMO marches and gatherings. In 2013, when we planned a large political gathering there, FRELIMO mistakenly thought Dhaklama was planning to attack so they took up defensive positions. While Gorongosa is a rich area, more people wanted to go than there was space [for]. Instead Dhaklama ordered other cadres to organize in their areas. In those areas were armed RENAMO units, members were also ordered to initiate debates about the political process. So having debates with the people, trying to find out what is happening and to try and find a way forward were all areas of focus for RENAMO members during this period.
ADR: In February 2014, this continuation of war ended. Under what circumstances would RENAMO consider disarmament?
AM: As I said early RENAMO has not planned any violence in Mozambique since 1992. However, we remain ready to defend ourselves if attacked by the government. The disarmament of RENAMO can only take place after a disarmament process has been agreed to by all sides. At this moment we don’t know the integration plan status and we don’t know what to expect in the police and the army. Those who [would prefer] a life with a new [non-military] social and economic direction don’t know what to expect. This has not been clarified and the government is not willing to discuss this with RENAMO.
ADR: You have been arrested twice by the government for your political activities can you describe this experience?
AM: I was not the first one of my colleagues arrested – there were several prior arrests. The purpose of these arrests was to intimidate members of RENAMO to not speak out, this is intimidation meant to show there will be practical action against those who speak out against the government. RENAMO will continue to speak out regardless of these incidents. Dhlakama has been holding press conferences on the phone, though [it has] sometimes been difficult to reach him in the jungle. This has at times made for a difficult relationship between the [RENAMO] party and the press.
I was not beaten or tortured during my arrests. Instead, I was humiliated and handcuffed with my car keys in my hand. When I was taken to the police station I was treated with some deference. Both the police and prisoners realized I was a political prisoner and were sympathetic to me and treated me well. In prison I was told numerous times [that] the people want an end to the FRELIMO-RENAMO differences and that arresting RENAMO was counter productive
ADR: RENAMO has been advocating for regional autonomy in recent months. Can you explain that?
AM: Dhaklama’s initial proposal was for caretaker government between RENAMO and FRELIMO. This government would manage the country for a year or two to reform the political institutions and allow for a real democracy with true and fair elections. When president Nyusi started appointing his cabinet, the people realized it was worthless to fight for a caretaker government. Instead we moved to fight for autonomous government for the provinces where RENAMO got more votes than FRELIMO. This is the new approach of RENAMO and is in alignment with what people on the ground are asking for. RENAMO should be able to appoint the governors and officials in the areas that RENAMO won. And this is possible under the Mozambique constitution [as] there are four levels of administrative jurisdiction at this point [but] only two levels are being used in the country: a small level and an intermediary level. But, we can have regional level of jurisdiction as well. We are not suggesting the division of the country, but rather that the provinces have financial and administrative autonomy. The army and police will remain in the hands of the central government.
ADR: There are reports in the media that Dhaklama wanted to create a “Republic of North and Central Mozambique” is this RENAMO’s position?
AM: That has never been an objective of President Dhaklama. It is true most of RENAMO’s support comes from the center and north so people started saying this against RENAMO but this is not true. The administratively there is no “central north region”, [it] does not exist and RENAMO does not wish to create it. RENAMO is focusing on autonomy for the existing provinces and districts within the country.
ADR: Do you think FRELIMO’s goal remains the continuation of a one party state or are they committed to democracy?
AM: FRELIMO’s practice shows they are not willing to establish a democracy in Mozambique – all they are trying to do is play democratic games and show the international community [that they are] interested in democracy. Yet, in reality they are much more interested in continuing the one party state model we see today in China, (North) Korea, and communist countries
We were hoping [with] the new president things would change, but things remain relatively the same. The previous administration established a group of 40 people assigned to participate in television, radio, and the media with the main group of attacking RENAMO and to a lesser extent MDM. [And] in early 2015 this group met again to strategise. This group attacks critics of the regime including Dhlakhama, RENAMO, and also US, UK and Portugal.
The objective of the old government and Nyusi remains the same. The objective is to disarm and crack down on RENAMO. Nyusi had an opportunity to reach out to Dhlakama who got the second most votes, but that did not happen. Instead, Nyusi appointed his cabinet and provisional governors. Yet, usually governors are appointed after the cabinet is approved. Nyusi has momentum [and] has been slowed by the crowds that Dhaklama continues to draw around the country. What happened to Mr. Mubarak [Egypt’s former President] may also happen to him. FRELIMO’s practices show they are not ready to accept democracy in Mozambique.