The Mozambique Civil War was categorised as a low-intensity, intra-state conflict even though it is notorious for the scale of human suffering and lives lost over its fifteen-year duration.
Just two years after ushering in independence from Portugal, Mozambique’s liberation movement, the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO), encountered resistance from the armed rebel group Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO). Initially backed by the Rhodesian Central Intelligence and the South African Military Intelligence Directorate, RENAMO’s first recruits consisted of dissident elites that splintered from FRELIMO in protest of its increasingly stringent socialist policies for development. Their grievances chiefly arose from the government’s policy of persecution of those that had benefitted under the Portuguese colonial regime, as well its legislation declaring all political opposition illegal.[i] As the conflict evolved, RENAMO’s guerrilla offensive came to be defined by forced recruitment, systematic acts of violence against Mozambican civilians, and a pillage economy. Interviews with civilians indicate that RENAMO was responsible for over 80% of violent incidents through the war.
Beginning in 1976, the conflict was waged by a small force of mostly voluntary RENAMO soldiers in the border regions of Gaza and Manica. By 1981, however, the dynamics quickly began to change after the fall of the Rhodesian government.[iii] Most significantly, RENAMO’s inward expansion into Mozambique required rapid recruitment, achieved overwhelmingly by the forced conscription of unwilling civilians.[iv] Levels of violence against civilians began to steadily escalate, reaching peak intensity by 1989.[v] Direct killing of civilians, along with a myriad of human rights violations, manifested in murders, routine brutality, and large-scale massacres. In addition to using indiscriminate violence during military operations, RENAMO leveraged terror to enforce control over new recruits and the local population. New recruits were coerced to murder their family members, while other common acts ranged from facial and bodily mutilation to the use of land mines and burning people alive.[vi] Forced relocation to “control areas” occurred frequently, usually following abduction from government-held areas.[vii] Massacres of six or more individuals characterized more than 40% of all recorded attacks.[viii] The largest massacre in the war took place in the southern village of Homoine in 1987, with a death toll of 424.