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Date: 2024-03-03 Page is: DBtxt001.php txt00011672

Country ... Mozambique
Unrest ... 2016

Africa / African News ... Renamo attacks push Mozambique towards an ugly past


Peter Burgess

Africa / African News

Renamo attacks push Mozambique towards an ugly past

Mozambique has resorted to arranging army escorts for trucks in the Nhamapaza region as clashes between Frelimo and Renamo intensify. Picture: SOWETAN

IN MOZAMBIQUE’s central Nhamapaza region, about 150 cars stand idle on the country’s main highway, waiting for a military convoy to escort them north.

'You now need four days instead of two to travel to Nampula (in the north) from Maputo,' says a bus driver, who declines to give his name.

'You have to take two military convoys ... and it takes three hours to drive 100km,' he says.

This is the new normal in a country in which clashes between Frelimo, the governing party, and Renamo, a movement that operates as both an armed insurgent group and an elected opposition party, have intensified, reviving the spectre of a civil war that ended more than 20 years ago. Frelimo and Renamo fought a bloody civil war between 1976 and 1992 that claimed 1-million lives.

Since 2013, tensions have risen and Renamo fighters have again taken up arms in a battle that it says is against a Frelimo elite that has enriched itself at the expense of the country.

Starting with a low-level insurgency, attacks escalated from late in 2015, forcing thousands to flee to Malawi.

That came as the country’s economy was jolted by a drop in global prices for commodities. The metical currency plunged in value by more than 40% against the dollar last year.

Meanwhile, donor nations and institutions that contribute to Mozambique’s state budget recently suspended their support over disclosures that the government hid $1.4bn in debt, much of it for a fleet of naval vessels that had originally been presented as a loan for fishing boats.

In the second half of May, Renamo carried out 18 attacks on the main road, killing seven people and leaving more than 30 wounded, police say.

The disgruntled driver had parked his red bus, full of passengers, in the middle of the line of cars, its windshield cracked in four places from the impact of bullets during a recent Renamo attack.

'Men from Renamo came out of the forest and shot at the bus,' the driver says. 'Thank God, they missed me and I’m still alive.'

To get to Maputo from the north — a trip of about 2,000km, has become a high-stakes challenge.

The military has put in place armed convoys to provide protection for trucks and travellers, but they are criticised for not being frequent enough or fast enough to support the economy.

'These military convoys have led to a decline in economic activity in a country that sorely depends on imports,' economic analyst Joao Mosca says. 'Products arrive late, companies are no longer able to produce, and consumers stop buying.'

On the main road, a few cars down from the bullet-riddled bus, Eliseu Nalhwali, a poultry farmer, bides his time.

Nalhwali spent the night waiting for the military convoys. He has no choice but to make the journey north in the sweltering heat, which threatens his cargo.

'I’m transporting live chickens and some will die because of the heat,' Nalhwali says.

'You can lose up to 400 chickens on a drive like this.' That is about 40% of what he is carrying.'

It is a little after 9am in Nhamapaza when two military vehicles wind their way to the front of the convoys, where the line of cars and trucks is idling. Two police cars round out the line at its tail, while more soldiers will ride in various cars inside the convoy to provide another measure of security.

A hundred kilometres north, in Caia, they will make a U-turn and escort the vehicles heading south. This has become the daily routine.

Once the convoy gets going, the road will be impassible: vehicles will have to wait for the next convoy, 24 hours later.

Rotting foodstuff, coupled with the cost of transport that rises with the length of the journey, have had a crippling effect. In certain villages hit by the renewed conflict, market stalls stand empty and houses are abandoned.

The centre of Mozambique, a country already classified as one of the world’s poorest, has no public services in many places. The hospital in Canda, a village near the main highway, has been pillaged and the school is all but empty.

Teachers and school administrators, afraid of staying in the village, leave the school early each day.

'When people see the military come through the village, they run here to get their children,' says Jafar Estevao, a former guide who is now unemployed because there are no longer any tourists visiting the picturesque mountains of Gorongosa, also the site of a leading wildlife park.


Related articles Mozambique leader agrees foreign mediation in Renamo talks Military escort for trucks on Beira road Mozambican leader blames security threat for decision to hide debt from IMF

JUNE 20 2016, 06:08
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