The Sunday Mail
Lovemore Ranga Mataire
Antonio Emilio Leite Couto, better known as Mia Couto, is a white Mozambican writer and winner of the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature. He is the most prominent writer in Portuguese-speaking Africa whose novels have been translated into several languages.
In the first paragraph of his 2000 publication, “The Last Flight of the Flamingo,” Couto paints a grotesque and implausible complex of war, famine, brutality and poverty in a manner that provokes the sternest of readers out of complacency.
“To put it crudely and rudely, here’s what happened: a severed penis was found right there on the trunk road just outside Tizangara. A large organ on the loose. The locals stood thunderstruck at their discovery.”
This crude depiction of the male organ typifies the traumatic post-war situation in Mozambique where a nameless “everyman” who acts as the translator of Tizangara, an imaginary Mozambican town, describes the fluid state of affairs, the mangled identities and the uncertainty therein ahead.
The narrator portrays Mozambicans as not having “understood the war, and now (they) didn’t understand peace. But everything seemed to be going well, after the guns had fallen silent”.
Couto’s novel remains a crucial reminder of the myriad challenges facing Mozambicans whose leaders recently signed a peace deal that, among other things, allows former rebel unit Renamo to govern six provinces that it claims to have won in the 2014 elections.
Just like Couto’s novel, skepticism runs deep among Mozambicans over this peace deal.
Who would blame them for being cynical given the historical background of the senseless bloodshed that left thousands displaced and close to a million dead?
They still live in fear of sporadic attacks from disgruntled and disillusioned Renamo fighters.
And true to their inherent skepticism, shootings were reported in Manica Province, a day after the signing of the peace deal mediated by several regional and international players led by former Botswana President Quett Masire.
The shooting took place in Chiula, in Barue district in the north of Manica province.
The victims of the attack happened to be a group of journalists travelling to Macossa to cover President Filipe Nyusi’s visit to the districts.
Media reports stated that cars belonging to Radio Mozambique and TVM were fired at, resulting in one occupant receiving a light injury.
It is these sorts of attacks that put a damper on prospects of enduring peace in the former Portuguese colony whose post-independence era has been characterised by civil unrest.
Although acknowledging the signing of a peace deal, the Mozambican government insisted last week that no conclusive decision had been made to allow Renamo to govern Manica, Sofala, Tete, Zambezia, Nampula and Niassa provinces.
The Mozambican government accused negotiators of forcing them to accept a “skewed peace pact”.
While head of the Renamo delegation to the Joint Commission, Jose’ Manteigas, earlier claimed that the Mozambican authorities and opposition party delegations had agreed to find ways for provisional appointment of Renamo governors in the six provinces, the claim was immediately contracted by head of the government delegation Jacinto Veloso.
Veloso said although the parties had reached some understanding on some issues, there remained other sticking matters that needed to be submitted to President Nyusi and Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama.
But Manteigas insisted that: “The issue should be discussed within the framework of national unity and the process of administrative decentralisation, giving greater decision-making powers to local state organs, including financial resources and a decentralised form of elections and appointment of provincial governors.”
He said a sub-committee had been set up to prepare a legislative package before the next elections, and the material is expected to be complete by the end of November and then submitted to parliament.
The legislative provisions will cover the revision of the Mozambican constitution, the law of state organs and their regulations, the law of provincial assemblies and the organisation of the bases of law and functioning of public administration.
Despite the government’s half-heartedness, mediators are hopeful the latest round of talks will yield enduring peace.
The Joint Commission was last week expected to deliberate on cessation of hostilities and the date for the mediators’ visit to Gorongosa where Dhlakama is.
There are a few pointers why despite Couto’s foreboding tone in “The Last Flight of the Flamingo” lasting peace could be beckoning in Mozambique.
Regional and international interest groups are keen on ensuring lasting peace in Mozambique given the huge economic potential the country has shown with the recent discovery of huge deposits of liquefied natural gas.
This is the key to unlocking the peace that has eluded Mozambique since it got independence from the Portuguese on June 25, 1975.
Already, Pemba in northern Mozambique is abuzz with economic activity as multinational companies move in to take advantage of the massive gas finds off the coast.
One of the companies that have started setting up operations, Anadarko, puts the deposits at 50 to 70 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas.
This discovery puts Mozambique in third position globally in terms projected liquefaction capacity after Qatar and Australia.
Besides proven oil and gas reserves, Mozambique also has coking coal reserves of around 23 billion tonnes, and five years ago, Brazilian mining giant Vale opened a US$1,7 billion coal mine there.
According to Standard Bank, Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) will add US$39 billion to the Mozambican economy over the next 20 years, boosting GDP per capita from approximately US$650 in 2013 to US$4 500 by 2035.
Frelimo hardliners see ceding the six provinces to Renamo as literally handing it leverage to harness those resources which would fall under its jurisdiction.
Yet, the same government is in a tight fix to ensure the long-term benefits of the gas fields cascade nationally.
This is impracticable in an environment of civil strife.
Already, the violence has threatened critical transport routes and links for mining companies and slowed down trucks en route to neighbouring countries carrying goods imported through Mozambican ports.
Just simple administering of the country is proving a hard task given escalating attacks that have over the last few weeks focused on police stations, district government facilities, health centres and columns of civilian vehicles.
Both government and the opposition are aware of the huge potential of gas reserves.
It is for this reason that investors and other international players, particularly the United States and the European Union are pushing the government to accept Renamo demands.
Their eyes are on the gas and oil reserves.
However, besides pacifying Renamo, several cardinal interlinked areas form the basis for lasting peace in Mozambique.
These include putting in place grassroots peace-building structures, setting up a reliable and inclusive security sector, laying solid economic foundations through investments and mapping the way for inclusive politics based on mutual trust and dealing with residual political mistrust among the people.
While hardliners from both parties have previously stalled peace, President Nyusi seems to have taken a less adversarial stance towards his opponent Dhlakama whom he has invited several times for face-to-face talks.
He has also assented to the demands of Renamo to have the Catholic Church, European Union and South Africa’s involvement in the mediation process.
The panacea to peace in Mozambique lies in economic revival.
Mozambique needs urgent peace to address poverty and roads, telecommunications, railways and electricity to keep up with the demands of investors and population growth.
The major challenge confronting the Mozambican government is lack of a large scale revenue base and the constrained tax base hampers efforts to address economic disparities.
If relations between Renamo and Frelimo improve, international agencies, no doubt, stand ready to support faith groups and non-governmental organisations in disarmament and peace-building, especially in the volatile Manica and Sofala regions.
A peaceful Mozambique augurs well for the economic turnaround of some southern African countries that are having to use longer routes to more expensive South African ports.
It remains to be seen whether the latest talks will indeed usher in the much-sought-after peace, or they will remain a morbid initiative described by Couto as a “cry against the debasements of politics and the imaginative failures that masquerade as visionary reforms”.