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Transitional Politics and its Repercussions on Peace and Stability

Transitional Politics And Its Repercussions On Peace And Stability

FRELIMO’s unchallenged position has created an elite-based system, which deviates fundamentally from its revolutionary ideology and allows for abuses of power for private business interests.

By Madalitso Zililo Phiri

The recent inauguration of Filipe Nyusi as Mozambique’s president represents a generational shift, as he is the first candidate to be elected without having fought in the war for independence. This paper asks the following question: to what extent are there continuities and discontinuities in the nationalist narrative of building a democratic and peaceful state, especially after the end of the civil conflict? We argue that the post-conflict political and economic liberalisation had a ‘placebo effect’ on pluralism and prospects for shared economic opportunities.

Although RENAMO and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) have challenged FRELIMO’s electoral dominance, strengthening nascent democratic institutions, FRELIMO has a monopoly of power and force in the Mozambican state, shaping its political economy outlook and choices. We adopt Frantz Fanon’s bold word of caution to emerging nationalists against the ‘Pitfalls of National Consciousness’ and suggest that Mozambique’s post-conflict political economy of development should move beyond critical studies rooted in decolonisation to decoloniality.

From Decolonisation to Decoloniality: Mozambique in Africa

In 1975, FRELIMO won the war for independence from Portuguese colonial rule. The new Mozambican government embraced Scientific Socialism under one-party rule led by the charismatic Samora Machel. In 1977, civil conflict – rooted in power grievances and geopolitical rivalries of the Cold War era – ensued between FRELIMO and RENAMO. The collapse of socialist states in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a weakened economy and shifting alliances led to FRELIMO’s abandonment of its Marxist-Leninist ideology, capitulating to neoliberal recommendations proffered by Western powers and international financial institutions (IFI). Under President Chissano in the late 1980s, the FRELIMO government approved an Economic Rehabilitation Programme spearheaded by the World Bank and the International Monetary  Fund (IMF), privatising 1200 state companies.

After 16 years of conflict, the FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) government and RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana), the former rebel group funded and sustained by the apartheid regime, turned political party and largest national opposition, signed Mozambique’s General Peace Agreement (GPA) in 1992. The cease re ushered in a new era of political and economic liberalisation coinciding with the Third Wave of democratisation in Africa. Mozambique has been hailed by international financial institutions and pertinent multilateral organisations as a “success story” of post-conflict peace and stability and economic recovery. In 1997, Mozambique received the Africa Peace Award in recognition for its efforts towards national reconciliation, peace and stability while upholding fundamental human rights and promoting good governance.

In spite of this accolade progress is offset by regression in other areas. A booming mineral sector and massive in flows of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) has spurred rapid economic growth at an average annual rate of 7.1 per cent1, one of the world’s highest. In this political and economic order rent- seeking practices and the manipulation of institutions to bene t the elite are synonymous with Mozambique depiction as a ‘successful’ post-conflict reconstruction narrative. According to the Human Development Index, Mozambique ranks as one of the poorest countries in the world and continues to be plagued by diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/ AIDS, rising inequality, hunger and inadequate educational resources in both urban and rural areas.2 Further, politico-military tensions between the government and the opposition RENAMO have taken a toll on the civilian population in the country’s central and northern regions. Youth unemployment is rising as the economy focuses on fiscal and monetary policies like inflation targeting and exchange rate stability to the neglect of job creation.

As Fanon suggested, “National consciousness, instead of being the

all-embracing crystallization of the innermost hopes of the whole people, instead of being the immediate and most obvious result of the mobilisation of the people, will be in any case only an empty shell, a crude and fragile travesty of what it might have been.” Fanon warned against the rise of a ruling elite that would use force and coercion to manipulate political and economic institutions to the detriment of citizens.

Mozambique and other African countries must deal with the continent’s political, economic and social condition rooted in decoloniality. Decoloniality goes beyond the precepts of decolonial “thinking and doing”. It questions or problematises the histories of power, underlying the logic of Western civilisation. Decoloniality is a response to the relation of direct political, social and cultural domination established by Europeans. The concept refers to analytic approaches – and socioeconomic and political practices – opposed to the pillars of Western civilisation: coloniality and modernity. Thus, it is both a political and epistemic project. In its more practical applications – such as movements for indigenous autonomy, like the Zapatista uprising for self- government – decoloniality entails a “programmatic” for de-linking from contemporary legacies of coloniality, a response to needs unmet by modern governments or, most broadly, a search for a “new humanity”, based on “social liberation from all power organised as inequality, discrimination, exploitation and domination”.

Owing to the heavy politicisation of the public sector, civil servants have been coerced to join the ruling party and pledge allegiance to its leadership to secure top level positions in the public service.

Deceptive Political and Economic Liberalisation

Political liberalisation in Africa and Mozambique in the 1990s was primarily characterised by an exponential emergence of democratic institutions – free press, opposition parties, independent unions and civic organisations – in line with the Western discourse of human rights and democracy. Mozambique’s 1990 Constitution and the 1992 GPA envisioned a pluralist democracy characterised by a commitment to multiparty elections, press freedom and protection for civil society organisations. Mozambique has held ve highly-contested elections, which have culminated in FRELIMO’s dominance of the executive and legislative branches, while curtailing powers of the judiciary. The 15 October results showed that Nyusi, the candidate of the ruling FRELIMO Party, won 2,803,536 votes (57 per cent). His nearest rival, Afonso Dhakama, leader of the former rebel movement RENAMO, was a million votes behind. Dhlakama won 1,800,448 votes (36.6 per cent). The third candidate, Daviz Simango, mayor of Beira, and leader of the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), won 314,759 votes (6.4 per cent). The RENAMO leader has threatened to form a parallel government as accusations of malpractice and fraud were instigated against the incumbent party FRELIMO.

Nyusi inherits institutional inertia as well as a political and economic gridlock that prevents the radical provision of a new social structure that would undo the existing inequalities of opportunity and address poverty. The ruling party has strengthened its hold on not only the state, but also society and the market, through a system of integration between the state apparatus and the party, as well as the rise of a nomenclatura with interests in politics as well as business.

We have argued elsewhere that Mozambique’s post-conflict democracyisa“ManagedDemocracy”, as opposed to an inclusive African democracy rooted in the fight against colonialism. The public sector is deeply politicised and, since independence, the president of the republic and head of government has always simultaneously been the party president. FRELIMO’s dominance in parliament and monopoly over the judicial system keep the executive strong and nearly exempt from public scrutiny. FRELIMO’s unchallenged position has created an elite-based system, which deviates fundamentally from its revolutionary ideology and allows for abuses of power for private business interests. This has led to an increasingly disgruntled citizenry and mounting tensions between the FRELIMO government and RENAMO armed forces.

Owing to the heavy politicisation of the public sector, civil servants have been coerced to join the ruling party and pledge allegiance to its leadership to secure top level positions in the public service. Public servants who are suspected of being allied to an opposition party like RENAMO or MDM face limited prospects for growth in the public sector. Criticism of the ruling party can lead to suspension from the party and loss of public office, as exemplified by the suspension of Antonio Frangoulis, the former head of the Criminal Investigation Police, from the party due to his criticism of FRELIMO’s governance in a televised debate.

Currently, civil society institutions, such as the press and unions, are private and independent in name but largely operate in tandem with the ruling party. The main media outlets, television and newspapers, are controlled by the state. Thus, they do not challenge FRELIMO but rather highlight its accomplishments, projecting the image of a party engaged in eradicating absolute poverty, boosting self-esteem and fighting corruption. Despite an increase in pundits from academia and local media offering critical analyses of the state, most analysts in the public domain remain hesitant to challenge the FRELIMO government and its leadership.

Voices in civil society are being shut out, and space for dissent is shrinking. Prominent citizens like hip-hop artist Azagaia and economist Carlos Nunes Castel-Branco were interrogated by the Attorney-General for criticising the former president Guebuza and his government. Civil society is under- funded, structurally weak and, in many cases, linked to FRELIMO. Despite shortcomings, some civil society members have organised notable protests against food and transport price hikes, politico-military tensions, violence in the country and mining- induced resettlements. Many of these events have culminated in brutal responses from state police forces. The FRELIMO government remains largely uncontested, and political freedom has failed to translate into inclusive democratic institutions.

Mozambique ranks as one of the poorest countries in the world and continues to be plagued by diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS, rising inequality, hunger and inadequate educational resources in both urban and rural areas.

The move towards economic liberalisation entailed the privatisation of state-owned enterprises. This led to the development of an almost indivisible tripartite alliance comprising the state, the party and business – a marriage between business and politics.

While charismatic leaders like Samora Machel instilled a progressive vision for a new society, poverty, inequality and social exclusion have become the order of
the day.

Mozambique’s formerly socialist political elite became its capitalist elite, as state-owned enterprises were either passed on to FRELIMO ex-combatants and militants or acquired by party officials at very low prices using inexpensive loans from donors eager to promote privatisation. According to Hanlon:

…the formal transition to multi- party democracy in 1994 was not accompanied by other mechanisms normal in democracies. There were no conflict of interest regulation, no asset reporting and other transparency requirements, and no reforms to the justice system. Thus the elite came to understand that “democracy” and “capitalism” meant that they were allowed to use their privileged positions to accumulate wealth unobserved. The transition allowed a capitalist elite to become deeply rooted in FRELIMO party structures. Former president Guebuza, who amassed significant wealth in the 1990s,provides one conspicuous example. Since coming to power in 2005, Guebuza cemented his influence in party structures and maintained an iron grip on power. Already amongst the richest people in Mozambique prior to his election, Guebuza consolidated business interests in telecommunications, transport, fishing, mining, tourism, publishing, consultancy, construction and banking, and extended these interests to family members and allies. Under the 1990 Constitution, Guebuza could not run for the presidency in the national elections of 2014. Nonetheless, he has been re-elected party president. Strategically, Guebuza successfully lobbied for the election of one of his loyalists, ex-Defence Minister Filipe Nyussi, to the presidency.

Conflict of interests in the coal mining industry is another clear example of the marriage between business and politics. Many top level public officials involved in regulating the companies in Mozambique’s booming coal mining industry are also private executives within the same enterprises. For example, Aboobacar Changa, a tax judge serving on a tribunal commissioned to audit state corporations is the director of one of the companies being audited by the government and a business partner of other public officials who are also subject to his legal review. The confidentiality of mining contracts between the government and the mining companies operating in Mozambique, coupled with poor reporting of revenues and amounts subject to taxation entering state coffers, raises questions with regard to transparency, accountability and the management of natural resource funds. Considering the aforementioned lack of transparency and the involvement of state officials in private mining enterprises, analysts have pointed out the potential for diversion of public funds from state coffers in the extractive industries.

Repercussions for Peace and Stability

The politico-military tensions deeply affecting the security of civilians in the central and northern regions of Mozambique epitomise the weaknesses of the post-GPA political and economic liberalisation process. The system has produced disparities, making the state’s position a source of insecurity. In October 2013, RENAMO leader Afonso Dhlakhama moved to the Gorongosa bush in southern Mozambique to train and arm soldiers. The mobilisation of RENAMO forces expresses the opposition party’s discontent and political grievances, which include political marginalisation from national institutions as well as the overall economic exclusion felt through swelling inequalities at the national level. In response, FRELIMO-led government forces stormed Dhlakama’s base, resulting in RENAMO’s nullification of the GPA and announced return to violence. RENAMO attacks in central and northern Mozambique have taken the lives of innocent civilians and have forced the displacement of significant amounts of the population from the Sofala and Tete provinces to other regions. By July 2014, there had been over 60 rounds of negotiations between the FRELIMO government and RENAMO concluding with a new peace proviso in August 2014. Subsequent to the 2014 elections  RENAMO resorted to the politics of retribution proposing to divide the country into two regions, north and south, leaving the mineral-rich provinces in the north to RENAMO and the southern provinces to FRELIMO.


Mozambique’s post-conflict transition raises two important issues. Firstly the post-conflict state has failed to transform the country towards a more humane politics. This is a result of the manipulation of political and economic institutions, which have not been adequately addressed by decolonisation. Analysts who fail to recognise the connection between the politics of decoloniality and the production of knowledge, i.e., between programmatics and analytics, are likely to reflect “an underlyingacceptance of capitalist modernity, liberal democracy, and individualism” – values which decoloniality seeks to challenge. New discourses of Mozambique’s post-conflict political economy of development should be rooted in decoloniality, which prioritises citizenship in development practice.

Many top level public of cials involved in regulating the companies
in Mozambique’s booming coal mining industry are also private executives within the same enterprises.

Secondly FRELIMO’s policies and tactics have become anti-democratic, and the transition to ‘democracy’ has resulted in higher levels of inequality. FRELIMO under the leadership of Nyusi will continue to solidify political institutions that entrench poverty and inequality in Mozambique. While charismatic leaders like Samora Machel instilled a progressive vision for a new society, poverty, inequality and social exclusion have become the order of the day. When the wealth of a nation is controlled by an elite few, opportunity and ingenuity are curtailed. Citizens are excluded as political and economic institutions supported by FRELIMO have become illusive. An examination of post-con ict Mozambique reveals that the FRELIMO government under the leadership of Nyusi will continue to entrench extractive political and economic institutions, using coercive political tactics and successive party structures,tothedetrimentofcitizens.■

This article originally appeared in The Thinker and has been republished with permission.

Madalitso Zililo Phiri

is a Doctoral Research Fellow in International
Politics at the University of South Africa (UNISA) in the DST/NRF
SARChI Chair in Applied Social Policy housed at the Archie Mafeje
Research Institute (AMRI). He holds an MPhil in Development
Studies from the University of Cape Town. His publications include
a co-authored book chapter in Africa and the Responsibility to
Protect: Article 4(h) of the African Union Constitutive Act (Routledge, 2014) and articles in the African Journal of Conflict Resolution, The South
African Journal of International Affairs, and Urban Forum.

Transitional Politics and its Repercussions on Peace and Stability