Mozambique’s RENAMO Party: Walking On Thin Ice

If the leader of Mozambique’s second largest political party is to be believed, things are about to get serious. Afonso Dhlakama, the leader of RENAMO, has vowed to forcibly take over 6 of the country’s 11 provinces, essentially threatening to plunge the country into civil war. But can he really manage the feat? Considering that he has been threatening war for years, his threats should be taken with a grain of salt. Nevertheless, this is one of the most alarming reflections of an ongoing trend of increased tension between RENAMO and Mozambique’s ruling party, FRELIMO.

To provide some context, Mozambique is a nation located on the southeast coast of Africa. It borders South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania. Although it shows high levels of sustained economic growth, it has one of the lowest per capita GDPs in the world. Many of its around 25 million people live in deep poverty. Rated by the Freedom House as “Partly Free,” Mozambique’s government is a deeply flawed democracy. Its elections are generally considered to be fair by international observers, but the government is rife with irregularities and corruption. Most of the power is concentrated in the hands of FRELIMO, which holds the presidency and a majority in the legislature, but RENAMO and another party, MDM, are unrestricted by the government and hold minorities in the legislature.

Mozambique, dark blue, in the African Union, light blue.
Mozambique, dark blue, in the African Union, light blue.

Now you may be wondering why RENAMO and FRELIMO have become so hostile that one is threatening civil war. Well, this isn’t the first time that they’ve disagreed. In fact, most of Mozambique’s first two decades in existence were marred by a civil war between the two groups. It was FRELIMO that fought for the country’s independence from Portugal in 1975, taking power and setting up a one-party Marxist government. Soon after independence, RENAMO was founded to oppose the communist government. A 15 year civil war ensued, finally ending when FRELIMO transitioned the country to a multi-party democratic state in 1992. At this time, RENAMO transitioned from a militant group to a legitimate political party and FRELIMO transitioned from a Marxist group to a democratic-socialist political party that has ruled the country ever since.

Considering the history of Mozambique’s government, the current resurgence of tensions may seem bizarre. The country has already emerged from a civil war, transitioned from a repressive authoritarian state to a partial democracy, and incorporated the opposing parties into a multi-party system under which each is represented. The problem, I believe, is that RENAMO has come to understand that it cannot gain power through the democratic system. FRELIMO has won every election since the end of the civil war, and RENAMO has repeatedly cited electoral fraud as the reason. While there have been electoral irregularities, international observers believe that FRELIMO’s sustained governance does, in fact, represent the will of the people. Dhlakama, the leader of RENAMO, unwilling to accept his party’s failure to gain power democratically, has begun to search for alternatives.

As a result, Dhlakama has become increasingly violent in recent years. He withdrew from his government posts and founded a new base of operations. He is now training soldiers who have, since the resurgence of violence began in 2013, attacked government forces and motorcades. He often threatens to bring destruction to the country and to restart the civil war. When the Mozambican government raided one of his military camps, he declared void the peace accord that ended the civil war. Thus his recent vow to take over much of the country, which he declared in retaliation to an assassination attempt on one of RENAMO’s leaders, is not as serious as one might expect. If he had the resources to move beyond the low-level insurgency that his party has been waging for the past few years, it is likely that he already would have done it. Thus it is unlikely that Mozambique is going to plunge into a full-blown civil war in the next few months, although the country will likely face a sustained low-level insurgency that will undermine rule of law and cause suffering among civilians. Therefore, both RENAMO and FRELIMO must work to resolve this escalating conflict.

RENAMO has put itself in a fragile situation by returning to its roots as a militant group. It now exists simultaneously as a legitimate participant in a multi-party democratic system and a rogue insurgent militia trying to destroy that system. It cannot continue to be both at the same time. If power is what Dhlakama and RENAMO seek, they must choose to seek it democratically. In order for this to happen, FRELIMO must reassure them that it is willing to commit to the pursuit of a more inclusive and effective democracy. But they will not do so if RENAMO insists on continuing its insurgency and thereby directly threatening the country’s people and integrity. Therefore, RENAMO must lay down its weapons in exchange for a promise from FRELIMO that the government will be bilaterally reformed. Achieving a compromise like this must be a priority, or else this escalating conflict may have time to evolve into something much uglier than it is now.


Vietnam’s 12th National Party Congress: An Explanation

Today was a big day in Vietnam. Why Vietnam? Because today marked the end of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s 12th National Congress. The congresses, which occur every five years, are without a doubt the most important political events in the country. They mark the complete reorganization of the Vietnam’s leadership structure, which has enormous ramifications for the direction that the country will follow for the next 5 years. The most significant result of this year’s congress was the maintenance of Nguyễn Phú Trọng as the General Secretary of the Communist Party. What does that mean, you ask? Well, to answer that question, an understanding of Vietnam’s political structure is needed. In the stories by popular international media outlets like the New York Times, the basic implications of this event are mentioned, but they don’t go into enough detail to truly explain how Vietnam’s political system works. That’s what I’m going to do in this post!

First, for those who are unfamiliar with Vietnam, I’m going to provide some context. Vietnam is located in Southeast Asia, bordering China, Laos, and Cambodia. With 90 million people, its population is significantly larger than those of Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Like China, Vietnam is a one-party state ruled by a communist political party. While it is less developed economically than China, it, too, has introduced capitalist market policies that have allowed it to build one of the fastest growing economies in the world. This means that, geopolitically, what happens in Vietnam matters to the rest of the world!

This photo shows Vietnam's location in Southeast Asia.
This photo shows Vietnam’s location in Southeast Asia.

So what exactly happened in Vietnam this week? Essentially, the Communist Party decided on its new leaders, who in turn will decide on the path forward for the Party, and consequently the country, over the next five years. In most western democracies, it is hard to imagine one political party having so much influence on a country’s policies. But because Vietnam is a one-party state, the governing structures of the Communist Party are intimately intertwined with the governing structures of the country as a whole. So what are some of these primary governing structures? Just to shoot out some names: the President, the Prime Minister, the Central Government, the National Assembly, the Central Committee, the General Secretary, the Politburo, and the Secretariat. Yep, these are all individuals or groups of individuals responsible for the government of Vietnam. Confusing, right? Well, I’ll try to explain it. I’ll start by distinguishing bodies of the Communist Party from bodies of the state.

The first four bodies in the list; the President, the Prime Minister, the Central Government, and the National Assembly; are all organizations of the state. The National Assembly is the country’s legislative body. Its members are elected by the people and its duties include making laws and appointing both the President and Prime Minister. The President is the head of state and commander-in-chief, entrusted to “represent the Socialist Republic of Việt Nam internally and externally” ( The Prime Minister, currently Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, is the head of government and is responsible for overseeing and directing the Central Government. The Central Government is simply a council of ministers that is responsible for implementing the policies of the National Assembly and Communist Party.

The Communist Party is made up primarily of the Central Committee, the Politburo, the Secretariat, and the General Secretary. The Central Committee is 175 member political body that meets twice per year and sets the policy of the Communist Party. The Politburo, whose 19 members are decided by the Central Committee, is sort of like an elite group that is responsible for enacting the policies set by the Central Committee. The Secretariat is another small group that has administrative responsibilities within the Party. The General Secretary of the Central Committee is the highest ranking member of the Central Committee, Politburo, and Secretariat, essentially leading the Communist Party.

The thing is, none of these organs of the Communist Party technically decide the policies of the state. They only decide the policies of the party. But because Vietnam is a one-party state, these organs are immensely powerful and are intertwined with the affairs of state organizations. Because both the President and Prime Minister are high-ranking Politburo members, and because the National Assembly is filled with members of the Communist Party, the leaders of the Communist Party make the decisions that determine the policies of the State. Therefore, decisions are often made collectively and the members of the Politburo are the most influential in setting the country’s policies. The General Secretary is considered the most powerful person in the country, surpassing even the President and Prime Minister. Thus the importance of the 12th Part Congress is very clear. While it did not involve the state bodies, delegates in this congress decided the members of the bodies of the Communist Party, including the Politburo and the General Secretary. They were consequently responsible for determining Vietnam’s direction over the next five years.

And what are the possible directions that they could have chosen? The two main competitors for the position of General Secretary were the incumbent,  Nguyễn Phú Trọng, and the current Prime Minister, Nguyễn Tấn Dũng. Nguyễn Phú Trọng represents a more conservative section of the party. He is reluctant to stand up to China, which often encroaches on Vietnam’s maritime territory, and is weary of market-based reforms that will result in a more capitalist system. Nguyễn Tấn Dũng, on the other hand, is more open to reform and favors closer cooperation with Western countries like the United States. During the recent congress, Nguyễn Phú Trọng remained the General Secretary.

So what does this mean? Well, Nguyễn Tấn Dũng is ineligible for becoming Prime Minister again, so the country will likely shift further towards the conservative position. It will be more reluctant to enact reform and will not seek to favor the United States over China. Nevertheless, both factions within the party recognize the importance of growing the economy and resisting China’s expansionism, as is evidenced by the fact that Vietnam is already a member of the American-led economic agreement, the Trans-Pacific-Partnership. In the end, with Nguyễn Phú Trọng remaining the General Secretary, the status quo in Vietnam has not shifted radically, but it may have tilted slightly towards a greater reluctance to pursue reforms.

Thank you for reading! I hope that this post has helped you understand the world a little bit better!

Welcome to NewsAware!

Welcome everyone! I’m very excited to be writing NewsAware’s first post! This post will simply be an explanation of what NewsAware aims to be and what you can expect from future posts. NewsAware was born out of my desire to better understand the world. As the name suggests, its focus is on the news and current events. But, unlike traditional news outlets, it is not driven by viewer ratings and consequently does not intend to comment on the biggest story of the day. On the contrary, the entire purpose of NewsAware is to dig deeper, to find international stories that don’t make the front page of the mainstream media, and to truly understand them.

If you, like me, truly want to understand the world, then this is the place to be. If you, like me, are tired of seeing important stories from around the globe go either unreported or underreported, then look no further. Because that’s why NewsAware was created. It was created to find important but underreported stories, to synthesize local material on those stories, to research their historical contexts, to generate meaningful analysis, and to present all of that information here–to you. NewsAware is here to go beyond the front page–and to make understanding what goes on in the world a little bit easier.