Insurgent Violence and Growing Russian Involvement: Tense Elections in Mozambique

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 18

Election posters in Mozambique (source:

As violence continues in northern Mozambique, a series of important developments that will undoubtedly affect the ongoing insurgency are beginning to unfold. The country is gearing up for its October 15 general elections, which will likely see the ruling party, the Mozambican Liberation Front (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique—FRELIMO) and President Filipe Nyusi retain control for another term. Meanwhile, the country has just signed energy and security deals with Russia, which will see increased Russian military and economic involvement in a region already disenfranchised by resident’s lack of involvement in governance and economic development.

The combination of a politically fraught and likely violent elections coupled with foreign involvement, primarily in the restive northern province of Cabo Delgado, are likely to have a lasting effect on the security landscape in the country.

Significance of General Elections

Mozambique’s general elections mark several significant shifts in the country’s political landscape, even more so if incumbent President Nyusi does not secure another term. The election marks the first time that the country will vote for the governors of its 10 provinces. Previously, the president directly appointed provincial governors, a system that created significant animosity as the governors were accused of only representing the interests of the Maputo-based government rather than that of locals.

This change was introduced as part of a decentralization effort that stemmed from negotiations through the Maputo Peace and National Reconciliation Agreement between FRELIMO and the National Resistance of Mozambique (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana—RENAMO). However, despite the newly signed peace accord, RENAMO’s military junta has refused to lay down its arms in opposition while vowing to conduct attacks and prevent the elections from taking place (Club of Mozambique, September 8). RENAMO leader Ossufo Momade signed the agreement on behalf of his party and has stated the group will begin integrating into the Mozambican military, but rival leader Mariano Nhongo has stated he does not accept Momade’s authority or the agreement, raising fear the party has lost control of its military wing.

The election presents both positive and potentially devastating outcomes. If FRELIMO and RENAMO can successfully rein in the splintering RENAMO junta, there is an opportunity for the country’s provinces to gain greater political consensus and control that could potentially see profits from development reinvested in the provinces in which the money is generated. A key driver of conflict and tensions in Cabo Delgado has been the lack of political representation and the fact that windfalls from oil exploration would inevitably be diverted to enrich the Maputo-based political core and other choice provinces.

Conversely, a return of violence at the hands of RENAMO’s military junta could plunge the country back into widespread political turmoil, which would further open the door for the insurgency of terrorist group Ansar al-Sunna in Cabo Delgado. Additionally, such instability would create an easier path for the regional Islamic State (IS) affiliate Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) to gain a stronger foothold in the country, after recently claiming responsibility for multiple attacks.

Russian Military and Economic Involvement

Against the backdrop of what is already shaping up to be a contentious and potentially violent election, the Mozambican government has signed a number of key agreements with Russia amid strengthening relations between the two nations. Russia’s relationship with Mozambique dates back to the Soviet Union, which supported FRELIMO during the Mozambican War of Independence and subsequently against RENAMO. In August, President Nyusi announced that Moscow had agreed to forgive 95 percent of its debt and that Russia would work to increase investment in Mozambique. The two countries also signed an energy deal that involves Russian oil producer Rosneft as well as a military agreement (Tass, August 22). While the oil blocks already won by Rosneft are at the Angoche and Zambezi deltas, it is highly likely the producer will also end up involved in the oil blocks off the coast of Cabo Delgado.

In terms of the military partnership, reports have already begun to emerge of Russian military equipment and personnel arriving in Mozambique, despite the Russian Embassy denying any Russian military presence. The government, however, signed a resolution allowing Russian military vessels to dock at Mozambican ports in late August and by mid-September reports began to emerge of Russian military equipment being present, including at Nacala Port, Nampula Province and in Mueda and Palma, Cabo Delgado Province—Palma is one of the areas most affected by the Ansar al-Sunna insurgency and is the base of Cabo Delgado’s offshore LNG operations (, September 8;, September 19; Opais, August 27). While reports of Russian military personnel cannot be independently verified, the security agreements do pave the way for the Russian military to train and advise Mozambican forces, and Russia has made similar moves into countless other African nations.


Preventing violence during the run up to the general election will be essential to the success of the recent peace accord between RENAMO and FRELIMO. If the military junta derails the peace accord and the elections, a return to widespread violence could set the country back decades and open further in-roads for IS. Meanwhile, the results of the election of president and provincial governors will set the tone for what to expect out of the political and security landscape. While the results are unlikely to bring about any rapid changes, the appointment of a governor willing to engage in dialogue and improve community development in Cabo Delgado could open future avenues that could potentially prevent the insurgency from worsening. A significant victory for RENAMO could be a result of rising suspicion of the burgeoning relationship with Russia, which came about during FRELIMO’s reign. At the same time, however, RENAMO officials have suggested engaging in dialogue and working toward an agreement with Ansar al-Sunna (Club of Mozambique, March 13).

Meanwhile, Russia’s increasing economic and military involvement in Mozambique could further stoke animosity against the government and fan the flames of the insurgency by furthering local claims of local resources being exploited for foreign gain and the enrichment of the government. Additionally, there have already been countless claims of military abuses in Cabo Delgado and a Mozambican military emboldened by foreign involvement, training, and equipment could see an even more violent crackdown affecting civilians and ultimately serving to boost recruitment of insurgent groups.