This week a fuel scarcity scare prompted authorities to issue a statement to dispel the spectre of the country running out of fuel.
The scare came from fears that Mozambican militias are ambushing fuel tankers, a development that has already seen four fuel tankers attacked and burnt in Mozambique. I have it on authority that some unscrupulous fuel tankers are taking advantage of the attacks to sell fuel and fake ambushes.
The fuel scarcity scare may indeed have been exaggerated and obviously sent wrong signals to Malawi. The assurance was to the effect that apart from the Beira route, through which Malawi gets 65 percent of its fuel, the country also receives fuel through Nacala (20 percent) and Dar es Salaam (15 percent) ports and that the country was sitting on 15 days stocks of fuel.
But the assurance that Malawi gets its fuel through two other routes apart from Beira does not detract from the country’s precarious overdependence on Mozambique’s sea ports for its fuel imports.
Whatever strategies Malawi can devise for managing its fuel storage facilities, a lasting solution to sustainable fuel supply depends on her neighbours—Mozambique and Tanzania—being at peace internally. Malawi’s hope and prayer, therefore, can only be that Mozambique, through which Malawi gets 85 percent of its fuel, will be at peace with the opposition Mozambique Resistance Movement (Renamo) at all times.
Unfortunately for Renamo, Mozambique follows the first-past-the-post and winner-takes-all electoral system just like Malawi. Hence the party’s political isolation which is the proximate cause of the renewed insecurity of the Beira route.
It must be understood that after the 2014 elections, Renamo accused Frelimo of vote rigging and rejected the electoral outcome, despite the increasing number of seats the party gained in the legislative branch.
President Filipe Nyusi won the presidency with 57 percent of the popular vote against Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama’s 36.61 percent and Daviz Simango’s of Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) who won 6.36 percent. In terms of seats in the legislative assembly, Frelimo has 144 against 89 for Renamo and 17 for MDM.
Hostilities between Frelimo and Renamo peaked in March 2015, when Dhlakama declared its traditional power base—six central and resource-rich northern provinces, which include Manica, Sofala, Tete, Zambezia, Nampula and Niassa shall be governed by Renamo.
It is for this reason that whether the Frelimo government likes it or not, it should acknowledge Renamo as a force that should at all costs be brought to a negotiating table rather than wished away.
And as an interested party, Malawi’s role (and probably Zimbabwe’s and Zambia’s as well) should be to support this cause and roadmap.
Memories are still fresh of how the 16-year civil war from 1976 to 1992 between the two factions paralysed Malawi’s traditional routes to the sea—the Nacala railway line—and greatly harmed not only Malawi’s but also Mozambique’s economy.
The good news now is that Nyusi is willing to hold talks with Dhlakama and end the conflict with Renamo, unlike Nyusi’s predecessor Armando Guebuza who advocates an uncompromising position with Renamo. Frelimo’s position over the reopening of negotiations with Renamo has, however, wavered under Nyusi’s presidency only because of differences on strategy and approach rather than principle.
The problem is that while Dhlakama has agreed to return to the negotiating table with the South African president Jacob Zuma, the Vatican and the European Union acting as mediators, Nyusi prefers bilateral negotiations.
The 1992 peace agreement was mediated by the Italian Santo Egidio Catholic community and the Catholic Church of Mozambique.
So to the extent that there is hope for negotiations, one can say there is light at the end of the tunnel.
It is understandable why Dhlakama prefers external mediation, he is uncomfortable with Nyusi’s internal opposition loyal to Guebuza (which is against negotiations with Renamo), and secondly, Renamo cannot stand a large-scale insurgency due to its limited military capabilities.
All said, Mozambique’s future prospects—and by extension Malawi’s sustainable fuel supplies—rely on whether the ruling Frelimo and opposition Renamo will be able to settle their differences peacefully and agree on a shared political roadmap. And the sooner this is done the better for Malawi. n