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Mozambique: Can Aid Donors Buy Peace and Democracy?


A long civil conflict ended in Mozambique in 1992, soon after the Soviet Bloc collapsed, and when the transition to majority rule in South Africa was beginning to appear certain. Timing was all important. For the civil war had been largely fuelled, and entirely funded, by foreign governments and organisations fighting two intersecting conflicts: the Cold War, and the struggle against Apartheid. The ruling Frelimo party was a client of the Soviet Bloc and of Nordic governments and organisations confronting Apartheid. The insurgent Renamo party was funded and supported from South Africa and the United States. When those two conflicts faded, funding to pursue the civil war dried up. At the same time, the new Western aid donors' concerns with good government and democracy meant that there was money to support democrats and peacemakers. Given the ruin of the Mozambique economy and the enormous volume of aid funds, the incentives for Frelimo and Renamo to fall in line were very powerful. Mozambique has since become one of the 'best performers' in the aid business. The peace has held. The formalities of democracy are observed, with Renamo sitting in Parliament as the formal opposition to the Frelimo government. And the economy has been growing very fast.

Carrie Manning explains that formal democracy barely screens a very different reality of power. The aid donors play a major role in funding and policing a continuing bargaining process between the leaderships of the two parties. Renamo in particular is barely a political party in the normal sense of the term. It has little grassroots presence in most of Mozambique, and a rudimentary organisation. It is highly centralised around its long-term leader, Dhaklama. Its considerable power lies in its continuing control of some localities and its capacity to threaten to bring down the current political accommodation - and Mozambique's claim to be a democracy - by withdrawing from the formal institutions and the electoral process.

Is this a sustainable arrangement? Instinct and conventional wisdom make us very sceptical. How can one institutionalise peaceful, democratic governance if the real decisions are taken informally, by small elites, and motivated in large part by donor funding? Manning suggests that the issue is still in the balance. For while scepticism is clearly justified, something more positive is also going on: the political elites are learning to negotiate with and perhaps even to trust one another. This at least provides a potential basis for a more genuine democracy. In the short term, decision making through elite bargaining means that there is very little accountability to the public.

The deep involvement of aid donors in attempts to secure and sustain (democratic) peace in Africa is always going to be controversial on ethical, ideological and legal grounds. Many 'realists' however argue that such engagement may be virtually inevitable if aid donors are to play any constructive role in Africa. Many opinions will be swayed by the evidence on whether 'deep engagement' works. In its military form, it was a disaster in Somalia. The Sierra Leone case, of limited and patient military engagement as part of a range of interventions, looks more encouraging. What light does the Mozambique case throw on this broad question? Manning's article does not directly address this issue, but clearly suggests that it is too early to form a definite judgement. The particular historical context, outlined above, may have been especially conducive to a favourable outcome so far. Frelimo and Renamo were both heavily dependent on external funding to pursue their war. Their funding environment changed very fast in the early 1990s, but provided both with an opportunity to continue to prosper financially in more peaceful roles.

Source: Carrie Manning, 2002, 'Conflict Management and Elite Habituation in Postwar Democracy: the Case of Mozambique', Comparative Politics, Volume 35, Number 1: 63-84. Comparative Politics is published quarterly by the City University of New York (

Keywords: conflict, elites, democracy

Commentator: Mick Moore, IDS, (October 2002)

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