* Renamo attacks revive unwelcome spectre of past war
* Rebel chief seen as weak but his fighters can disrupt
* Frelimo president accused of graft, hogging power
* Coal, gas bonanza inflates risk of unmet expectations
By Pascal Fletcher
BOBOLE, Mozambique, July 23 At Bobole, a
bustling refreshment stop on Mozambique's north-south highway,
brightly-painted kiosks lined with bottles offer drinks to
thirsty travellers while hawkers sell bananas, paw-paws and
carrots in a typical African roadside scene.
But memories remain fresh of when Bobole lay in the "death
corridor" of a civil war that cost nearly one million
Mozambicans their lives until it ended two decades ago.
This year, a series of hit-and-run raids by opposition
Renamo gunmen about 600 km (375 miles) further north has
rekindled fears of a return to all-out conflict in what has
become one of Africa's economic growth stars, where
international investors are developing multi-billion-dollar coal
and gas discoveries.
"What we saw here, we don't want our children to see," said
Rogeria Mabjaia, who owns a kiosk in Bobole, an hour's drive
north of the capital Maputo. She remembers hiding in the bush
from the "bandidos", the name Mozambique's Frelimo government
gave the Renamo guerrillas during the war of 1975-1992.
Back then, motorists and residents at Bobole faced ambushes
day and night by armed raiders who stole livestock and food,
burned homes and vehicles, and killed without mercy.
By comparison, the raids this April and June in central
Sofala province look minor, although at least 11 soldiers and
police and six civilians were killed.
Nevertheless they caught the Frelimo party government and
its international backers by surprise, forcing a temporary
suspension of some coal exports to the coast by rail, reducing
north-south road traffic and causing tourist cancellations.
Unrest before local elections in November and a presidential
vote next year could dislodge the former Portuguese colony from
its pedestal as a "donors' darling", showered with foreign aid.
It could also derail the expected resources investment bonanza
in a country that remains desperately poor.
Renamo was formed as an anti-communist rebel group in the
1970s by the secret service of neighbouring Rhodesia, in
retaliation for Mozambique sheltering guerrillas fighting the
white-minority government of what is now Zimbabwe.
It was later adopted by the apartheid-era South African
military but abandoned the war in a 1992 peace pact to become
Mozambique's leading opposition party.
Renamo has lost every election to Frelimo since then, but
accuses President Armando Guebuza and his ruling party of
hogging political and economic power through a one-sided
electoral system and by harassing its opponents.
Mozambique needs some kind of accommodation, said Leopoldo
Amaral, human rights programme manager for the Open Society
Initiative for Southern Africa (OSISA) in Johannesburg, a
pro-democracy network founded by financier George Soros.
"They are at a crossroads. If they don't reach a deal,
things are likely to degenerate," he said. "You don't want a
militarised country that will scare businessmen, investors."
Brazil's Vale, London-listed Rio Tinto,
Italy's Eni and U.S. oil firm Anadarko are
among the major investors in Mozambique looking to develop some
of the world's largest untapped reserves of coal and gas.
"A SCENARIO OF WAR"?
After first ignoring Renamo's demands for a more balanced
electoral body and integration of its fighters into the army and
police, the Frelimo government opened talks after the attacks.
"For Frelimo, a military solution is not desirable," party
spokesman Damiao Jose told Reuters. Nevertheless, the army
destroyed a Renamo bush camp in Sofala province on July 6.
Longtime Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama, now 60, returned in
October with a band of guerrilla veterans to his civil war base
in the forested Gorongosa region of central Mozambique.
This seemed a largely symbolic gesture. Few diplomats and
analysts believe Dhlakama, whose militia is thought to number at
least several hundred, has the capacity, support, or even the
will, to resume all-out war.
But in a country where infrastructure is poor, a few
insurgents can disrupt road and rail corridors through the thick
bush of Sofala province that link the central and northern
interior with the coast and the south.
If this chokehold is tightened, it could effectively cut
Mozambique in half in terms of land transport.
Around Bobole, where abandoned shells of homes remain in the
bush as a reminder of the war, there is heartfelt opposition to
any slide back to conflict.
"Both sides should talk, they should be thinking about us,"
Mabjaia said at her kiosk. "Mozambique just wants peace".
Renamo accuses Guebuza's government of "designing a scenario
of war" by sending troops to Gorongosa to surround the area
where Dhlakama is camped.
Renamo spokesman Fernando Mazanga said Dhlakama's return to
his Sathunjira base on Oct. 17 last year followed threats and
harassment by Frelimo security forces and militants.
He cited the storming by police in March last year of
Renamo's headquarters in the northern city of Nampula where 300
armed supporters were based, according to police. At that time,
Dhlakama was also living in Nampula.
"Renamo has been patient for 20 years," Mazanga said.
Frelimo, the former liberation movement which has ruled
Mozambique since independence in 1975, jettisoned
Marxism-Leninism in 1990 to embrace multi-party politics. It
crushed Renamo in the last 2009 election by winning more than a
two-thirds majority in parliament.
Dhlakama, who has challenged all his election losses,
rejected the 2009 result as fraudulent but his party held on to
51 seats in parliament.
Frelimo accuses Renamo of resorting to violence to make up
for its political weakness. "Renamo must change its attitude and
conform to the rules of play of democracy," spokesman Jose said.
Authorities arrested Renamo's information chief Jeronimo
Malagueta last month after he said the group would target
"logistics". He faces charges of inciting violence.
Guebuza and Frelimo are expected to try to pacify Dhlakama
and his Renamo partisans with a settlement that includes more
state jobs and patronage, but the two sides are still bickering
over where their leaders should meet.
While Dhlakama is widely viewed as a spent force, other
opposition politicians share his complaints that Guebuza and
Frelimo are imposing a virtual one-party rule under a mantle of
"The regime is being very arrogant ... There is political
exclusion," said Lutero Simango, a leader of the Mozambique
Democratic Movement (MDM), which holds 8 seats in parliament
compared with Renamo's 51 and Frelimo's 191.
MDM, which was formed by Renamo dissidents and holds the
mayorships of the port cities of Beira and Quelimane, has also
long denounced harassment and arrests of its members by Frelimo.
U.S. diplomatic cables from Maputo, revealed by WikiLeaks,
have long expressed concerns about Guebuza's leadership style
and Frelimo's domination of all branches of government through
its centralised party structure.
"A tough, heavy-handed man who likes to have his way," was
how one 2005 U.S. Embassy report described Guebuza, a former
hardline interior minister for Frelimo who is now aged 70.
A 2010 cable said he had an "authoritarian streak" and was
"centralising power", a view still expressed in private by some
diplomats from the G-19 group of Mozambique's principal donors.
Frelimo's Jose rejected all these allegations as untrue.
Popular resentment is also growing about inequalities in
Mozambique, where more than half the population still lives
below the poverty line, and over perceived rampant corruption in
the government and Frelimo.
"People are openly speaking against Guebuza," a donor
country diplomat told Reuters, asking not to be named.
In Maputo, gleaming new office blocks, hotels and shopping
malls have sprouted among faded colonial era buildings along the
Indian Ocean, contrasting with poor neighbourhoods of tin-roofed
homes mushrooming up in the dusty suburbs.
The president, an independence veteran turned businessman
who was re-elected to a second five-year term in 2009, is one of
Mozambique's richest men. The constitution bars him from a third
term but Frelimo has not designated a likely successor.
Guebuza is criticised by opponents for using his position to
expand his family's business empire, which ranges from ports and
logistics to construction, tourism and publishing. One popular
nickname for him is "Guebusiness".
A 2009 U.S. embassy cable quoted former foreign minister
Leonardo Simao as saying Guebuza "runs the party like the
The Guebuza family's commercial clout stretches to the
president's youngest daughter Valentina, a civil engineer in her
early 30s. She was elected to Frelimo's Central Committee last
year and featured in a 2012 Forbes Africa magazine article as
Mozambique's "Millionaire Princess".
Some compare this with another former Portuguese colony in
Africa, oil producer Angola, where long-serving President Jose
Eduardo dos Santos and his family are also accused by rights
groups of running a monopolistic system that controls the
national wealth. "We are going towards the Angolan model: one
party, one person, one family," said OSISA's Amaral.
Social tensions caused by rising living costs and economic
injustice have already led to protests. These have ranged from
local people in the coal producing Tete province complaining
about conditions of resettlement to make way for mining
facilities, to urban riots in 2008 and 2010 over rising food
prices and other living costs.
Mozambique's resources potential has created expectations
among the population of 23 million that their lives will soon
change for the better. But these may not be quickly met, even
though four of the world's five largest oil and gas discoveries
last year were made off the Mozambique coast.
"There is a gap between expectations and cash flows ... From
coal, the cash flow is minimal at the moment and there is a
bottleneck with the logistics," the donor nation diplomat said.
"There are big expectations and the oligarchy is not yet ready
to manage it."
This gap is even greater for the expected bonanza from
development of liquefied national gas (LNG), forecast by experts
to be a "revenue game-changer" for Mozambique, which languishes
near the bottom of the U.N. Human Development Index.
UNICEF's Senior Social Policy Specialist in Maputo, Lisa
Kurbiel, said this should be a "transformational opportunity" to
tackle badly lagging education and health indicators - about 44
percent of Mozambique's children suffer from stunted growth, one
of the highest rates in the world.
But a survey of Mozambique's Rovuma Basin gas prospects
prepared for the U.N. children's agency cautions that the high
investment levels and long time needed for LNG development mean
"it is nearly impossible for gas exports to begin before 2019".
Unfulfilled expectations, coupled with the spreading malaise
of corruption and a flawed electoral democracy, could pose more
of a short-term threat to Mozambique's peace than the actions of
a former rebels with reduced political support.
Bobole resident Salvador Zandamela, 75, who lost two sons
aged 12 and 15 in the civil war, said he still had nightmares
about marauding gunmen "hunting people like animals".
"So when I hear that things could be starting again, I'm
afraid," he told Reuters, carrying a hoe for tilling his fields.