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“You can’t start a fire without a spark”

Explaining political precursors to violence in African civil conflicts.

A small housing structure in Mozambique Africa with a young child in the foreground


The Mozambique war of independence from Portugal has been regarded as one of Africa’s greatest stories of liberation to date. Scholars from around the globe have written about the conflict and subsequent civil war, exploring the complex factors within the narrative by applying theories of irregular warfare to better understand its drivers, events, and outcomes. Typically, researchers seek to fit a theory to a case study, molding its events in a way which is in line with the parameters of the theory. This paper will seek to do the reverse. By applying the case studies of the Mozambique Civil War and Rhodesian Insurgency to the ‘Triangle of Rebellion’, an analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the theory will be conducted. By looking at the interconnectedness of the model, the way in which it explains individual elements of conflict, the weighting it place on each of these elements, and the factors which spark violence, this paper will go on to explain that, much like the enduring nature yet changing character of war, the model’s utility is in the generic rather than specific application.[1] Finally, the analysis will identify what conditions still exist within the region which could spark future conflict, what Australia might learn from this in relation to conflicting external interests in the region, and the potential policy changes which could be made to lessen the global impact.

The Model

Developed by Andrew Maher, the Triangle of Rebellion is a framework through which to view conflicts commonly deemed to be irregular in nature. The theory groups factors into three categories of equal weight to explain elements pertinent to the causation of a rebellion, including its organisation, the perceived deprivations of the population, and elements of competitive control enforced by oppressive regimes.[2]

The element of organisation explains the factors that sustain, direct, and expand the rebellion, as well as the establishment of four components key to a conflict. The first component is the ‘underground’; a clandestine sub-organisation that operates throughout areas unoccupied by the second, ‘armed component’ of the rebellion. This visible military or paramilitary arm conducts overt operations in the name of the movement. The third ‘auxiliary’ component provides clandestine support to the irregular organisation through activities such as intelligence gathering, without displaying clear alignment or overt support to the rebellion. Finally, the fourth component, the ‘public component,’ encompasses the political campaign and overt communication of the group’s governmental or administrative narrative.[3]

The Triangle of Rebellion
Figure 1 – The Triangle of Rebellion

The second element is relative deprivation. It includes factors that sustain a rebellion, or the perceived grievances for which the populace in question identify in response to the administration in power. These grievances are systemic and enduring, capturing the attention of the majority of the population whose concerns remain unaddressed by the governing body.

The third element is that of competitive control, which captures the attention of the world, creating sympathy, drawing international support, and desensitising the population to armed conflict. This aspect looks at the existing government against which the rebellion is directed. If the governing power attempts to preemptively suppress the rebellion by unjust population controls, they run the risk of incurring the condemnation of the global community for a reaction perceived to be out of proportion to the threat. Suppressing the developing movement too late runs the risk of the rebelling force growing too powerful as a result of international sustenance, with support from assisting states arriving too late for the governing party to effectively quell the rebellion.

Finally, the theory states there needs to be a spark that brings the conflict to life—a pivoting factor that transitions the conflict from non-violent to violent. Rather than the simple culmination of pressures resulting from the three elements, the theory views the spark as a single act or event that triggers open armed conflict. While it may result from competitive control and relative deprivation, the spark is separate from these aspects; however, it relies on the strong organisation of the rebelling force to shift the conflict from non-violent to violent.[4]

Case Studies

Mozambique Civil War

Victorious over the Portuguese at the end of the war of independence, the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) constructed a political narrative proclaiming their new government as a ‘people’s democracy’. This so-called scientific socialist movement was for the people, forming a coalition between workers and those on the lowest step of the socio-economic ladder. Under Machel’s lead, and supported by the People’s Forces of the Liberation of Mozambique, the FRELIMO government stood against the exploitation of its people to foster a productive power within the nation by supporting creativity and initiative.[5]

Opposed to the repression and racism brought on society by the Portuguese colonial regime, FRELIMO promoted inclusion and social freedom regardless of ethnicity or race.[6] The party’s objective was to follow the Soviet example, with regional development being driven by state sponsored agriculture and industry on a national scale. Despite this glossy narrative, spouting strong ideas for a prosperous independent nation, dissatisfaction grew among marginalised members of the population and traditional community leaders, resulting in localised conflicts and increased support for an alternative regime.[7]  

Established in 1975 by Andrre Matsangaissa, a former senior official within the FRELIMO’s armed auxiliary, the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) became the opposing political force within Mozambique.[8] With the support of the Rhodesian Intelligence Service, RENAMO offered an alternative to the Marxist movement, aiming to re-optimise government institutions and norms, enhance control over the civilian population, gain territory, improve infrastructure and access to services, and ultimately govern. The party grew as an indigenous reform-orientated social structure that engaged in unconventional guerrilla activities aiming to disrupt FREMILO through the social movement and international support.[9] The rebellion moved quickly to establish itself, formulating clear and categorical elements including underground, an armed component, auxiliary groups, and a public component.

The establishment of a controlled underground element was pertinent to the group’s ability to enact its political narrative. By forming different zones, RENAMO established networks that supported fighters, financing, and sustenance for the displaced population and guerrillas.[10] Civilians were forcefully moved to ‘control zones’ after being abducted from government-controlled areas.[11] These control zones were part of RENAMO military base establishments, where civilians were responsible for food production and the movement of supplies to and around the base. Control zones saw the highest level of regulation exerted over inhabitants, with ‘tax zones’ established for RENAMO combatants to collect goods contributions from the control zone population, while ‘destruction zones’ were those frequently attacked by RENAMO forces.[12]

The armed component of the rebellion consisted of the guerrillas themselves. Existing within a military structure, the guerrillas were the publicly visible element of the rebellion. In comparison to FRELIMO, RENAMO was primarily a military organisation. The group established a centralised military hierarchy which was supported by the donation of a South African radio network, allowing the group to communicate and spread its cause. Led by Commander-in-chief Afonso Dhlakama, a 15-person military council was established, including a chief-of-staff each for the northern, central, and southern zones, supported by provincial commanders. Forces were further broken up throughout the provinces, to include regional command brigades, battalions, companies, platoons, and sections. This military approach was further supported by RENAMO’s governance structure, which relied on minimal participation from civilians and non-combatants. This underlying administrative structure took into account the Mujeeba and other auxiliaries working to maintain societal calm.[13]

In cases of irregular warfare and rebellion uprising, the auxiliary provides support to the revolutionary movement by acting out the movement’s methodology through often clandestine operations in order to achieve its operational goals.[14] This was demonstrated through the creation of the Mujeeba, an auxiliary group separated from the combatant groups, as an intelligence collection tool used against the population. The Mujeeba members were concealed and scattered amongst the population, gathering intelligence to help RENAMO identify supporters of and defectors from their cause.[15]

Finally, the public component of a rebellion’s structure was displayed through the unconcealed political narrative that underlies the movement.[16] The RENAMO developed a strategy, which was supported and communicated by a strong political narrative, to break down the government through two lines of effort: the first to cause carefully considered humiliation to FRELIMO; the second to systematically destroy infrastructure. The aim was to put the government in a position in which they either surrendered or entered power-sharing negotiations, an outcome which commenced in the early 1990’s.[17] 

Using these four well established arms, the rebellion was able to break down the legitimacy of the government resulting in the population losing faith in those in power. RENAMO did this through addressing perceived economic and developmental grievances.[18]

Rhodesian Insurgency

Commencing in July 1964, the Rhodesian Insurgency lasted 15 years and saw the death of approximately 30,000 people. While civil violence in response to political frustration was not new to the region, the insurgency acted to overthrow governmental authority and change the existing social order. The conflict was sparked by the signing of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI) which declared Rhodesia independent from Great Britain. This action, rejected by Black African leaders and many other countries throughout Africa, served as a stimulus for insurgent groups to take action against the Rhodesian Government.[19]

Collectively known as the Patriotic Front (PF), two African nationalist insurgent groups emerged. The Zimbabwe African Peoples Union (ZAPU), the older of the nationalistic movements, with its armed component, the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), was supported by Soviet and Cuban advisors and encompassed a traditional military organisation. The Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU) was formed in 1963 by men who had left ZAPU. ZANU’s armed component, the Zimbabwe African National Liberation Army (ZANLA), was supported by the Chinese and took a more unconventional approach to operations. ZANU also established an overt political component through the establishment of a political officer role and developing close ties with the government of Mozambique, ensuring a strong narrative was publicly conveyed in an effort to support its military activities. While both groups were supporters of anti-Rhodesian sentiment, the groups’ political and military objectives were often contradictory, a fact that the Rhodesian forces exploited until the two groups started coordinating military operations in the late 1970s.[20]

The opposing force, fighting for Rhodesia, was a conventional force that consisted of four Army components: the Selous Scouts, the African Rifles, the Special Air Service, and the Rhodesian Light Infantry. Conflict between the irregulars and the Rhodesian forces can be divided into three distinct periods, aligning somewhat with Maoist guerrilla warfare strategy:  

1965 – 1972: This first period saw limited, uncoordinated attacks, which the Rhodesian Security Forces were able to overcome, rendering the insurgents’ military and political objectives ineffective. During this period a small number of insurgents infiltrated Rhodesia and were easily overcome by a coalition of the Rhodesian Security Forces and South African police and paramilitary forces. In 1970 ZANU forces became more organised, coordinating with resistance forces across the border in Mozambique, using the neighbouring nation as a staging base for operations, which were unsuccessful in achieving their objectives due to a series of Rhodesian SAS raids. During this period both ZANU and ZAPU struggled to establish effective political campaigns against the Rhodesian government.[21] 


1972 – 1976: The second period saw an increase in organised insurgent military and political activity. While insurgent forces achieved some political objectives in border regions during this time, Rhodesian Security Forces inflicted a momentous number of casualties on the insurgent force. The start of this second period was marked by ZANLA insurgents conducting attacks close to the Mozambique border, the location saw much of the fighting in this period. Tactically, the insurgents had little success against the Rhodesian forces; however, ZANU had some success in meeting political objectives in local villages, using its political narrative to turn civilians against the government. In 1975 South Africa officially removed forces from Rhodesia and initiated a cease fire, which gave both sides of the conflict a chance to re-organise and expand their operations. [22]


1976 – 1980: As the insurgents increased political and military pressure on the government, the Rhodesian forces did have some tactical success. However, the third period saw the Rhodesian Government losing its political edge, including its control of the population. ZANLA staged a series of operations from Mozambique and Botswana, resulting in deaths on both sides. As Mozambique forces received increased aid from Soviet militaries, Rhodesian SAS forces carried out a number of raids in an attempt to interdict the flow of insurgent supplies, with varying success. By 1978 martial law had been imposed across much of rural Rhodesia, with the government unable to turn tactical superiority into success at the operational or strategic level. A year later, the United States, Britain, and South Africa pressured for a transitional government and imposed a Governor-General role. A ceasefire was agreed to by both sides on 28 December 1979 and elections took place in 1980. At this time, the ZANU party was elected and Robert Mugabe became the first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. [23]  

While both the Mozambique Civil War and the Rhodesian Insurgency provide what may first look like similar examples of irregular conflict within the same region, analysing the through the eyes of Maher’s theoretical construct, the Triangle of Rebellion, it becomes apparent that while both conflicts can be explained through the contributing factors of organisation, relative deprivation, and competitive control, the ways in which conflicts spark are not uniform.

Strengths of the Theory

In assessing the utility of the model through the lens of irregular conflicts in Africa, three key strengths of the model can be identified. The first is the concept of interconnectedness, the second organisation, and the third the identification of foreign support and influence.


The overarching strength of the theory is that it ceasily conveys the interconnectedness of conflict. By structuring the tool in a way which presents three elements of a conflict as imperative prior to the ignition of war, it allows a researcher to identify these elements individually, and clearly map the interplay between them. In the case of the Rhodesian Insurgency, for example, organisation came in the form of the nationalist insurgents breaking into two groups, the ZANU and the ZAPU. Each of the groups formed an armed component, the ZAPU establishing the ZIPRA, which developed a hierarchical military governance style, and the ZANU establishing the ZANLA, which empowered its officers through their political relationship with the communist government of Mozambique.[24]

While the perceived relative deprivation presented in the form of race-based agricultural and land ownership legislation, competitive control came in the form of extensive political and economic sanctions placed on Rhodesia by foreign powers, which the insurgents viewed as the fault of the government. The conflict ignited in 1965 when then Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith signed the unwanted and unsupported Unilateral Declaration of Independence (UDI). This event perfectly represents the spark, as defined by the theory, that took the political conflict from one of a purely non-violent nature to one of open violence, which initially consisted of seemingly uncoordinated insurgent attacks.[25]

Moreover, the model demonstrates how each element builds upon the other. Without relative deprivation and competitive control, for example, the populace would have had no reason to rebel; and the key to success was the element of organisation, as without a strong structure an organisation would not have been able to react to the spark and ignite conflict.


Breaking down the structure of rebel or guerrilla groups can be quite complex, as actors in these groups may sometimes play multiple roles throughout the organisation or, in the case of the Rhodesian Insurgency, transition from one insurgent group (ZAPU) to the other (ZANU). When applied to the case of the Mozambique Civil War, the theory allows for the easy identification of the four components which comprise a group’s organisation. For example, the underground component is easy to identify when considering the establishment of the RENAMO’s control, tax, and destruction zones, independently of other activities organised by the group.[26] Moreover, the armed component of the group is readily identified due to its overt military activities, supported by a rigorous governance model, clearly delineating the roles of combatants from non-combatants, satisfying the parameters of the model.[27]

Finally, the factor of competitive control explains the actions which captured the world’s attention. Government methods implemented to suppress the population which capture the attention of an international audience help the researcher better understand foreign influences which may contribute to the sustainment of the irregular conflict.

Foreign Support and Influence

In the case of Mozambique, it was first assumed that the rebelling force RENAMO existed with little to no outside support. However, when applying the Triangle of Rebellion, the researcher is able to strip away other factors and identify competitive control used by FRELIMO, through its socialist policies which saw land and agriculture removed from the people, captured the attention of outsiders and elicited financial support for the rebellion, thus perpetuating the conflict.

Originally supported by the South African military, the movement rapidly expanded. Moreover, as knowledge of the cause spread throughout the United States, a small collective of American ideological conservatives and businessmen began lobbying the US Government to support the group, as well as providing them with field radios to aid communication throughout the groups established zones.[28]

The theory can also be used to track increases in funding towards the end of the conflict. As the government stated RENAMO activities were to cease while an agreement was being discussed, it is easy to see how some authors analysing the conflict conclude that international funding is what led to the war continuing past 1989, as the enhanced competitive control inspired overseas donors to continue supporting the rebelling force.[29]

Likewise in the Rhodesian conflict—which is arguably more complex due to the insurgents’ Patriotic Front having two separate arms, ZAPU and ZANU, each with its own independent military component which did not always operate in support of the other—the researcher is able to focus in on this as a singular causal element.[30] In doing so, it is easy to identify Chinese influence through the supply of materiel and advice, which saw the group develop into one that organised itself around a narrative with a heavier reliance on political officers than on military ones—a point which will be revisited later in the paper.

The theory in its current form allows for easy identification of elements within a conflict that lead to the spark into open conflict, and enables a researcher to easily identify organisational elements of groups and to examine the impact and importance of international influence. However, the model does not explicitly demonstrate how each causal element is in direct proportion to the others, or it this is in fact the intention of the model.

Limitations of the theory

While the model provides a very clear and structured way to determine causal factors and analyse cases of irregular warfare, it appears to contain some limitations. Firstly, the model intimates that all elements are equal; indeed, little illumination is offered as to the relative weights of components that inform counter-insurgent prioritisation of effect. Secondly, it views the spark as one single event rather than the culmination of each of the factors together resulting in violent conflict. Moreover, it offers little insight to the counter-insurgent as to how big an event the spark needs to be to ignite rebellion.[31] How does one predict which events will result in such a response, and which ones will simply form additional data points to the perception of relative deprivation?

In the Mozambique case study, elements of relative deprivation and organisation appear to be quite strong. The grievances perceived by the majority of the population were clearly apparent, and furthermore were well co-opted by RENAMO’s political narrative.[32] Expanding the model to view relative deprivation as a continuum (rather than a category) would allow researchers to develop a deeper understanding of the grievances felt by the population. For example, the lower end of the spectrum, shown in Figure 2 below, may involve reasonably banal perceived deprivations (such as the government being greedy or being envious of other nations) fueling thoughts of rebellion but not necessarily sparking it. Indicators of unrest may manifest in public discourse or proposed legislative changes. As the continuum progressed, legislative changes might occur, resulting in actual government intervention restricting a portion of the population with regards to education, economics, or land ownership. Thus the deprivation would transition from being perceived to being actual. In the case of Mozambique, as relative deprivation moved from relatively banal, perceived grievances, to the actual deprivation that impacted the lives and futures of the population, this culmination of elements sparked a violent response.


Continuum of Relative Deprivation from perceived to actual
Figure 2 – Continuum of Relative Deprivation from perceived to actual

The competitive control element of conflict was a far less prevalent factor in the Mozambique Civil War, as the FRELIMO did little to actively suppress the civilian population outside of their original political narrative. As such, it may be argued that, rather than an equilateral triangle, the Mozambique case study presents more as an isosceles triangle, in which the factors of organisation and relative deprivation are equal but competitive control is a less important causal factor.

Resultant presentation of the Triangle of Rebellion showing different weightings of factors in the Mozambique Civil War
Figure 3 – Resultant presentation of the Triangle of Rebellion showing different weightings of factors in the Mozambique Civil War

Similarly, in the example of Southern Rhodesia, the weighting of the three factors may be argued as uneven and thus present as a scalene triangle, in which all sides are differently weighted. While the rebellion presented a less organised military structure than the government, it had a stronger political narrative, which ultimately contributed to its overall ability to sustain popular support. While militarily the Rhodesian government was strong, its strategic goal of unilateral independence did not align with the goals identified by other Southern African regional powers.[33]

The theory does not view the policy objectives as part of the organisational element. As mentioned previously in the theoretical explanation section of the paper, organisation is viewed as the physical structure and associated roles assigned to members of the rebellion. Nevertheless, the strategic objectives that a government or party seeks to achieve are imperative to their cause. The objectives provide a framework to organize around, with the policy in the forefront of the party’s actions; it must then develop its underground, its armed component, its auxiliary, and its public component in support of this policy in order to achieve its political objectives.

This is why the African Patriotic Front, ZAPU and ZANU, despite at times having such conflicting operational and tactical approaches up to the late 1970s, were ultimately more successful. They pursued policies that were accepted by the majority and central to their organisation as a rebellion; however, the theory as it currently stands does not allow for organisation to be framed in this way.

Resultant presentation of the Triangle of Rebellion showing different weightings of factors in the Rhodesian Insurgency
Figure 4 – Resultant presentation of the Triangle of Rebellion showing different weightings of factors in the Rhodesian Insurgency

Due to a limited view of organisation in the current explanation of the model, the organisation side of the triangle appears to be the shortest of the three (Figure 4). Second to organisation is that of competitive control, which in Rhodesia came in the form of the Land Apportionment Act (1931), which saw the removal of 31 million acres outside of hunting reserves and a further 49 million acres within urban areas being removed from indigenous control and being made available for purchase only by white Africans and British colonists.[34] This perceived competitive control of the population outweighed the organisational element of the rebelling groups when fomenting the insurgency.

This side of the triangle is still shorter than that of relative deprivation which, in this case study, encompasses three major factors: employment, education, and access to land. Racial legislation dictating that African workers could not join trade unions and were precluded from skilled work programs despite holding qualifications marginalised the population, restricting them from better pay and working conditions. Likewise, education was segregated. The government directed more resources into the education of white children than of black and ‘coloured’ children.  White children undertook a British-style curriculum and non-white children partook in trade skills through the primary system, with higher education not being available for this demographic until 1979. Finally, further grievances over land emerged throughout the population as the non-white African population continued to grow at higher rates than the white population, resulting in the available land reserves being too small to run a sufficient number of cattle. This culmination of factors resulted in a strong sense of relative deprivation, more so than any other factor, which is diminished by the equal nature of the theory as it currently stands.

Finally, the theory views the spark which ignites the rebellion as a single catalyst for violence, however, in many conflicts no single event, clearly distinct from others, serve as a trigger for open armed conflict. For the Rhodesian Insurgency, Prime Minister Ian Douglas Smith’s 1965 issuing of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence against the wishes of many Black African leaders, sparked a period of seemingly uncoordinated insurgent attacks.[35] While this case study perfectly supports the theoretical notion of a single event shifting a conflict from non-violence to violence, the single spark is not applicable to all conflicts. In the case of Mozambique, the country had already experienced years of war with a colonial power. Independence from Portugal was meant to be the answer to the perceived injustices, however, for many this was not the case. The civil war was the result of a dissatisfied population who had already endured much, coupled with a new government who promised to unite the people but failed to do so. The rebellion tipped over into violence when the insurgents had exhausted non-violent options.[36]

While both of these case studies can be viewed through the same conceptual lens, it is evident that a single sparking event is not a consistent way to explain the outbreak of conflict. When looking at previous case studies as exemplars for modern defence forces to learn from, it may be argued that this analysis reinforces the importance of looking at a situation holistically and taking into account both international (to the conflict zone—that being the government, forces, and civilian elements directly involved) and external factors (foreign interference or financing and other events occurring in the region) which may work together as slow burning elements to ignite a conflict. 

Potential Sparks for Future Conflict in the Region

In Mozambique, tension still exists between the FRELIMO party currently in power and the former rebel group which has since formed a legitimate opposition party. This existing tension continues to amplify a series of other tensions within the nation. In 2011, the discovery of gas fields off the coast of Mozambique was seen as the nation’s chance to change its economic future. However, the potential economic breakthrough has been overshadowed by political distrust and accusations of government corruption. This mistrust has been enhanced by the lack of unrestricted public debate. Media in Mozambique is composed of both government and private entities. Those who choose speak out against the government are subject to threats and intimidation, further contributing to the population’s perception of government-exercised competitive control. Finally, the influx of ISIS insurgents into the country’s north seeks to cause further instability in the political system and societal unrest, and brings into question the nation’s ability to maintain its national security. [37] These factors of relative deprivation, which could easily again lead to the organisation of an internal disruptive force sparking violence to enact social change post-civil war, are not just being seen in Mozambique; Zimbabwe, too continues to see elements of unrest.

Post insurgency, Zimbabwe has been subject to poor environmental conditions, such as drought, leading to food shortages throughout the nation. With white-owned farm land being redistributed to black Zimbabweans, and with no land care or sustainable farming education taking place, there have been substantial falls in food production leading to prolonged feelings of relative deprivation. Moreover, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was associated with some of the most heinous atrocities committed by the ZANU-PF Party, has pledged to boost foreign investment in the country. Finally, competitive control is felt by the populous with all media services owned by the government providing the main source of information throughout the country and those who speak against the official message being subject to intimidation and punishment. [38] While any one of these tensions could spark a conflict on its own, the complexities that come from the interplay of these events, when viewed holistically, could see policy changes that interconnect diplomatic reforms and military assistance to strengthen internal trust of the government and minimise the need for foreign military assistance within these countries.

A Policy Perspective

The extant policy settings of the Department of Defence (Defence) as they apply to Africa can be seen in the Defence White Paper 2016 (DWP16) until July 2020. [39] The DWP16 dictates that Australia will continue to assist in responding to challenges to the rules-based order through peacekeeping operations in Africa. Furthermore, key drivers such as the threat or rise of state-based terrorism from ungoverned parts of Africa—including the rise of Daesh and attempts to exploit fragile governments—will influence Australia’s role in the region. Historically Australia has kept Africa at arm’s length, which is further demonstrated by this current broad policy position.

The release of the 2020 Defence Strategic Update sets out the challenges to Australia’s strategic environment and implications for Defence planning. The document focuses on Australia’s near region, the strengthening of partnerships and engagements within the Indo-Pacific, and becoming a regional leader in the global community.[40] Within the 61-page document, there is not a single reference to Africa. While one may argue this to be an indication of Australia’s level of interest or willingness to get involved in conflicts within that region, it may also be argued that there would be immense benefits for Australia in doing so, particularly in the form of meeting its own policy, military training, and intelligence objectives.

By once again using the Triangle of Rebellion to explain the conditions for violence which can be seen as developing in post-conflict Mozambique and Zimbabwe, Defence could adapt its policy settings to get ahead of the conflict and shape these nations through governmental mentorship, military and security force training, and controlled foreign investment programs.

Through governmental education initiatives, Australia could seek to take on a mentoring role within the region, providing governments with advice and tools to better strengthen their political narratives, such as presenting citizens with bipartisan initiatives which contribute to bettering national security. Through the use of diplomatic and defence attaché channels, relationships could then be enhanced practically through military and security partner training programs. Moreover, Australia could make moves to increase foreign aid to the region through its own foreign investment scheme, as well as publicly encouraging existing coalition partners to contribute. By showing Mozambique and Zimbabwe that Australia is financially invested in the region’s progress, these countries may be less inclined to accept foreign funding from countries employing debt-trap diplomacy. An enhanced relationship and improved military engagements would not only benefit Mozambique and Zimbabwe, but also feed into the achievement of Australia’s policy objectives within the region.

Through this relationship, Australia would be taking actions that would contribute to it becoming the security partner of choice in the region. By enhancing diplomatic and attaché ties, Australia would gain a much clearer picture of the political and societal positions of these countries. Moreover, through training of military and security forces, a beneficial information exchange would occur, particularly in relation to urban warfare environments. By building stronger relationships between police forces that operate in the urban environment and understand the civil dynamics in their area of command (including gangs or conflicting groups), and special operations forces, Australian forces would gain a better understanding of potential adversaries within the region. This clearer picture would also support the development of key intelligence networks, leading to enhanced organisation when countering threat forces (such as ISIS).[41]

While policy change on this scale is certainly not an easy feat, the reorientation of policy now would allow for planning to take place to position the Australian Defence Force in a forward-leaning stance should conflict occur in these nations in the future.


The Triangle of Rebellion theory provides a researcher with a clear categorical framework through which to view a conflict. Generically the model speaks to the nature of war, which is enduring throughout conflicts. However, when applied to specific case studies such as the Mozambique Civil War and Rhodesian Insurgency, it struggles to take into account the unique character of these conflicts. The static nature of the model as it currently stands does not allow for different weights to be put on each of the elements as was seen throughout the aforementioned conflicts. Moreover, it struggles to account for conflicts that spark due to enduring competitive control and relative deprivation rather than a single event. The theory gives a researcher a strong frame around which a conflict can initially be understood. While looking at the model through the lens of the conflict may undermine the model’s utility, it does allow for the systematic identification of factors which may lead to future conflict further allowing for the development of policy amendments in an effort to identify ways Australia could meaningfully contribute to future conflicts.

This article is one essay from the Irregular Warfare Essay Collection.

[1] Carl von Clausewiz, On War, (Princeton University Press, 1989).

[2] Andrew Maher. ‘The Irregulars within Hybrid Warfare’. Accessed 05 March 2020…;

[3] Nathan Bos, Jason Spitaletta and Special Operations Research Office (SORO) authors, ‘Undergrounds as Organisations: Organisational Structure and Function’, in PJ Tompkins and N Bos (eds), Human Factors Considerations of Undergrounds in Insurgencies, 2nd Edition, Assessing Revolutionary and Insurgent Strategies (United States Army Special Operations Command, 2013).

[4] Andrew Maher. ‘The Irregulars within Hybrid Warfare’. Accessed 05 March 2020…;

[5] John S. Saul, A Difficult Road: The Transition to Socialism in Mozambique (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1995), p. 45.

[6] Kai Thaler, ‘Ideology and Violence in Civil Wars: Theory and Evidence from Mozambique and Angola’, Civil Wars, vol. 14, no. 4 (2013), pp. 546–567.

[7] Corinna Jentzsch, ‘Auxiliary Armed Forces and Innovations in Security Governance in Mozambique’s Civil War’, Civil Wars, vol. 19, no. 3 (2017), pp. 325–347.

[8] Stephen Emerson, The Battle for Mozambique: The Frelimo-Renamo Struggle, 1977–1992 (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2014).

[9] Joseph Votel, Charles Cloverland, Charles Connett and Will Irwin, ‘Unconventional Warfare in the Grey Zone’, Joint Force Quarterly, vol. 80 (1st Quarter 2016).

[10] Nathan Bos and Jason Spitaletta, ‘Introduction’, in Tompkins and Bos, 2013.

[11] World Peace Foundation, ‘Mozambique: Civil War’, Mass Atrocity Endings, 7 August 2015, at: (accessed 18 November 2019).

[12] Jentzsch, 2017.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Bos, Spitaletta and SORO authors, 2013.

[15] Jentzsch, 2017.

[16] Bos, Spitaletta and SORO authors, 2013.

[17] World Peace Foundation, 2015.

[18] Crane Brinton, The Anatomy of Revolution, (Vintage Press, 1938).

[19] Bobby Ray Pinkston, The Rhodesian Insurgency: A Failure of Regional Politics, USAWC Strategy Research Project (Carlisle PA: U.S. Army War College, 2005).

[20] Charles Lohman and Robert I MacPherson, Rhodesia: Tactical Victory, Strategic Defeat (Quantico: Marine Corps Command and Staff College, 1983).

[21] Paul L Moorcraft, African Nemesis: War and Revolution in Southern Africa 1945–2010 (London: Brassey’s, 1990), p. 124.

[22] Good studies of the military aspects of the war include Peter Abbott and Philip Botham, Modern African Wars (1): Rhodesia 1965–1980 (London: Osprey Publishing, 1986).

[23] Moorcraft, 1990, p. 124..

[24] Pinkston, 2005.

[25] Moorcraft, 1990, p. 124.

[26] Bos and Spitaletta, 2013.

[27] Jentzsch, 2017.

[28] Nicholas Cook, Mozambique: Politics, Economy, and U.S. Relations (Washington DC: Congressional Research Service, 2019).

[29] Ibid.

[30] JRT Wood, Zambezi Valley Insurgency: Early Rhodesian Bush War Operations (Warwick: Helion and Company, 2019).

[31] Andrew Maher. ‘The Irregulars within Hybrid Warfare’. Accessed 05 March 2020…;

[32] Saul, 1995, p. 45.

[33] Pinkston, 2005.

[34] Wood, 2019.

[35] Moorcraft, 1990, p. 124.

[36] Richard Weitz, ‘Continuities in Soviet Foreign Policy: The Case of Mozambique’, Comparative Strategies, vol. 11, no. 1 (1992), pp. 83–98.

[37] BBC News, ‘Mozambique country profile’, at:  

[38] BBC News, ‘Zimbabwe country profile’, at:

[39] Department of Defence, Defence White Paper 2016 (Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia, 2016).

[40] “Defence Strategic Update 2020”, Department of Defence,…

[41] Bruce Hoffman, Jennifer M Taw and David Arnold, Lessons for Contemporary Insurgencies: The Rhodesian Experience (Santa Monica CA: RAND, 1991), available at:

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