Afonso Dhlakama: "A long-distance runner, a survivor."
Misanet / Savana, 19 January - Despite more or less fraud, Mozambique's opposition leader Afonso Dhlakama lost the presidential poll in December 2004. It was also his worse result since 1994. In Western democracies it is habitual that defeated leaders resign. But in a country where the political elite remains glued to its positions, it is not very probable that this will happens.
These rules of the game are not even followed by those habitually liking to be described as the founding fathers of the emerging Mozambican democracy.
To be truthful, it must be said that Mr Dhlakama is not just anyone. He is a long-distance runner, he a survivor. Since the internal fights of his RENAMO party that led to the assassination of Orlando Cristina, his strategy has been to create a leadership based on the imprisoned dissidents of the ruling FRELIMO party in the northern province of Niassa and polishing up his former rebel movement to be able to attract Mozambican dissidents in Europe and the United States.
Mr Dhlakama, thus leader of the RENAMO rebels, survived the 1980 independence of Zimbabwe, which under the colonial name of Rhodesia had been his main ally. He survived the death of Mr Matsangaíssa and the massive bombings undertaken by the troops of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
With the peace accord of 4 October 1992, a ceasefire was established between RENAMO and FRELIMO and Mozambique's long civil war finally ended. It was also the time when the detractors of Mr Dhlakama insisted on him turning over control over the rebel movement.
In Lisbon, after 1994 elections, specialists from a company dedicated to communication and imaging declared that Mr Dhlakama was a true "political animal".
If that is what he is, he will have to start demonstrating it again, because he was not able to take advantage of the media during the last electoral campaign. It might have been the lack of goodwill from the media, but he failed to communicate his leadership powers to the electorate.
There are wounds within the party that sooner or later have to be healed. RENAMO's continued failure in southern Mozambique - which has a key electorate that is equally tired of the incumbent leadership as the rest of the country - must be overcome. The south was FRELIMO-land during the war, with the north under RENAMO's control.
The inheritance from the war is still present in the south, and it continues to be a disadvantage for the opposition's potentials here. RENAMO has had to form an electoral union with other parties to be able to secure parliamentary seats from the region.
The way out may be that the RENAMO leader soon transforms the ex-rebel movement into a modern conservative party in line with developments in other countries. Another option for Mr Dhlakama is turning RENAMO into a leftist and populist party, which may seem more realistic given the ruling FRELIMO's newfound conservative ideology.
Exercising leadership will not be problematic. Power and its use existed in Africa long before the arrival of the colonialists. Today's power exercise is characterised by its democratic imperfection, partly being an inheritance from the traditional leadership model that yet has to be overcome.
At the present conjuncture, RENAMO can only be strong having a strong leader, although its weakening provides a demonstration of the heresies of the present political system. In absence of a strong "external enemy", the alternative to today's "gangsterised power sector" that we are all fed up with may arise from within FRELIMO.
Until the, Mr Dhlakama clings to the example of Brazilian President Lula da Silva, who was only elected on his forth attempt to conquer the presidency. It remains to be seen how the Mozambican long-distance runner steps out of the desert.
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