Changing of guard in Maputo

Mozambique's new president, Filipe Nyusi (left), accompanied by his wife, Isaura (right), jokes as he welcomes President Jacob Zuma to the Ponta Vermelha Palace after his inauguration on January 15. Photo: EPA

Mozambique's new president, Filipe Nyusi (left), accompanied by his wife, Isaura (right), jokes as he welcomes President Jacob Zuma to the Ponta Vermelha Palace after his inauguration on January 15. Photo: EPA

Published Apr 5, 2015


A new and less emotional generation is taking charge of Maputo, writes André Thomashausen.

Mozambique’s transformation from one-party state to multiparty democracy has been rocky. Most recently, on March 18, Information Handling Services, formerly Jane’s Information Group, warned of a serious and imminent risk the country falling back into a state of armed conflict.

Last Sunday, March 29, Frelimo’s central committee, after a stormy debate, forced Armando Guebuza, who had been head of state until January, to resign as president of the party, and elected, with 98 percent of the vote, the country’s new president, Filipe Nyusi, to succeed him.

The country’s first general and free elections were held at the end of 1994 under the supervision of a $700 million UN mission. Since then, the liberation movement Frelimo has won all parliamentary and (direct) presidential elections.

For the main opposition party, the former anti-communist guerrilla movement Renamo, results have been disappointing. Its leader, Afonso Dhlakama, polled 33.7 percent of the vote in 1994, 47.71 percent in 1999, 31.7 percent in 2004, 16 percent in 2009, and most recently, in October, 36.6 percent.

During Joaquim Chissano’s last term as president, in 1999, the opposition missed the 50 percent threshold by less than 3 percent in the legislative elections, and would have ousted Frelimo were it not for a fraudulent count. In hindsight, all but the Southern African Development Community (SADC) election observers agreed that the vote rigging had been severe enough to have been decisive.

This eroded Renamo’s faith in democracy. A substantially revised constitution was adopted in November 2004 with the support of all parties in parliament, nourishing hopes for a strengthened rule of law. But the election results proclaimed in January 2005 handed the reins of government to Frelimo hardliner Armando Guebuza.

A fully documented study by Joseph Hanlon, a long-time defender and supporter of Frelimo, confirmed in 2006 that Guebuza’s victory had been secured by vote rigging.

Guebuza, whom many have compared with the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, considered it his personal victory that Renamo was almost wiped out in the 2009 elections, with a highly suspect result of less than half the share of votes the party had garnered in 2004.

Renamo’s response was to boycott the municipal elections in 2013 and to reignite the armed conflict that had been settled in 1992. The re-constituted “armed wing” of Renamo quickly grew to more than 2 500 men, inflicting regular defeats on a badly trained and equipped and hopelessly underpaid conscripted army.

By February last year Renamo had gained sufficient military and psychological strength to force the Frelimo majority in parliament to pass wide-ranging changes to the electoral law and administration. These would be controlled at all levels by committees in which the opposition would appoint half the members. Nevertheless, violent confrontations continued until a ceasefire was finally signed on August 24.

According to Renamo, the army lost at least 5 000 men, thus far not accounted for. The Frelimo government dismisses this figure.

The ceasefire agreement secured Renamo’s participation in the national elections in October and provided for an internationally supervised disarming and reintegration of its militia. After the first day of counting, on October 17, Renamo said it had won the election “with at least 80 percent” of the vote.

When the National Election Commission, and later, the Constitutional Court ruled otherwise, Renamo refused to disarm its men and threatened to declare an independent northern republic, invoking the “model” of Southern Sudan.

In a brilliant tactical move, Nyusi “dispatched” Gilles Cistac, a French law professor who had been working for the government in Maputo since 1994, to convince Renamo that there was no need for a secession. Instead, the constitution would allow for the transformation, by a simple act of parliament, of the six provinces where the opposition had clearly won the elections, into autonomous regions.

The move prepared the ground for a decisive meeting between President Nyusi and Renamo leader Dhlakama on February 7.

Dhlakama gave up his threat of opposition deputies boycotting parliament and not taking up their seats. He agreed to table in parliament his demands for greater autonomy for “his” provinces. Nyusi had won his first clear victory in a complicated power play, and brought Renamo back into the fold of constitutional procedure.

But Cistac paid with his life for Nyusi’s turnaround strategy. He was shot dead in a mafia-style hit on the streets of Maputo on March 3. Almost everyone said Frelimo’s hardline Guebuza faction had been responsible. Guebuza lost his last shred of honour and was forced to step down as president of Frelimo.

One after another, the most senior leaders of Frelimo accused him of maladministration, theft and corruption. At parliament’s opening session on Tuesday, the young leader of the opposition, Ivone Soares, presented Renamo’s new face.

Soares passionately repeated Renamo’s contention that the opposition had won last year’s elections. But, in a reconciliatory passage, she declared that Renamo would “remain open to working together in parliament for the solution of the country’s problems”.

That was a welcome softening of Dhlakama’s pronouncements that he’d allow parliament only to adopt, but not debate, his Regional Autonomy Bill, tabled on March 16.

At a rally in Tete on March 25, Dhlakama had gone as far as declaring that he was “praying for the bill to be rejected, so as to have a good reason to take the whole country by force”.

Renamo’s autonomy bill will be debated over the next two weeks, and renewed confrontations can be expected as the bill is irreconcilable with the constitution, in the opinion of virtually all legal scholars, including the Mozambique Bar.

It attempts to convert only six of the 11 provinces into federal states equipped with their own governments and “presidents”.

These autonomous provinces would be exempt from any supervision by the national government. They would be entitled to receive 50 percent of most state revenues, in addition to having powers to impose direct taxes and run all administration in their “territories”. The proposition to “federalise” six provinces and leave the unitary state administration system unchanged for the rest offends many fundamental constitutional principles – in particular the duty of the state to treat all citizens equally.

To avert a fundamental clash, Nyusi has issued another invitation to Dhlakama to discuss a compromise with Renamo’s demands for regional autonomy. On the table will be an agreed formula for the appointment of provincial governors and the strengthening of the competencies of the provincial assemblies, which have been directly elected since 2007.

However, the tarnished election results put Nyusi in a defensive position. EU ambassadors support decentralisation. Major development plans, such as the massive “Prosavana” agricultural project, cannot progress without the support of Renamo’s almost three million voters. Nor will it be possible to build the North-South Stream gas pipeline or new railway links for the export of Mozambique’s coal if Renamo resumes its low-intensity guerrilla warfare.

Mozambique will have to survive another test of its conflict management resources and resolve. Considering how it’s fared over the past two years, the outlook is good. Gradually, a new and less emotional generation is taking charge, in both camps. Mozambique will continue to play a role as country of moderation and stable progress.

*Thomashausen is professor of law and manager of the Centre for Foreign and Comparative Law at Unisa, and member of Academia Europaea. He was special adviser to the head of the UN mission in Mozambique, between 1992 and 1995.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

Sunday Independent

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