, MAPUTO, Oct 9 – Mozambique’s former rebel leader Afonso Dhlakama is pulling huge crowds on his presidential election campaign, to the surprise of observers who wrote him off after his long exile in the bush.
Dhlakama emerged just a month ago from the remote Gorongosa mountains in central Mozambique to sign a peace pact with the government.
That deal ended an insurgency lasting nearly two years and allowed him to join the race for presidential elections on October 15.
That vote will decide who runs a country still emerging from a brutal civil war that killed an estimated one million people, but which is now rapidly growing thanks to vast coal and gas deposits.
Despite hitting the campaign trail later than his opponents, Dhlakama’s rallies have drawn massive crowds.
Thousands packed the airport of the second largest city of Beira on Sunday, broke through security cordons and streamed onto the tarmac when his plane landed.
In similar scenes last week, crowds massed on the landing strip in the remote northwestern Angonia region, near the Malawi border, initially preventing his plane from landing.
Footage broadcast on national television showed capacity crowds in the coal-rich Tete province where people crowded onto rooftops to see Dhlakama.
“I have never seen this before,” Dhlakama said in Tete.
In Sofala province, where civilians bore the brunt of the recent unrest, largely blamed on Renamo, the turnout at Dhlakama’s rallies was just as overwhelming.
“There were more people than you ever saw,” said Muxungue resident Obete Samuel. “They welcomed him as the messiah.”
Dhlakama saw his electoral support wane from 47 percent in 1999 to 16 percent a decade later, leaving political analysts with no choice but to write him off a “has-been”.
– Politically resuscitated –
“I personally thought he was marginalised,” said Antonio Francisco, a researcher at Mozambique’s Institute for Social and Economic Studies.
But “he has resuscitated himself politically” and his campaign is like an “emotional tsunami”, said Francisco.