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Ken Wilson responds to an article in a previous issue of SAR on post-electoral Mozambique. In striking contrast to the tone and substance of that earlier article, Wilson suggests that there is much that should inspire us in some of the current developments in Mozambique.

vol 11 no 1

More on Mozambique now: 1. Not the whole story
Ken Wilson

Printable Version
Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 11, No 1, November 1995
Page 30



Ken Wilson is the Ford Foundation's programme officer responsible for Mozambique, on leave from the Refugee Studies Programme in Oxford. He has been researching war, peace and development in rural Mozambique since 1989.

In your May 1995 issue you provide space to a "special correspondent" based in Maputo to argue that the new Frelimo government is failing post-election Mozambique. Your correspondent describes in a generally accurate way how and why Frelimo has successfully out-manoeuvred Renamo so as to retain almost all political power despite the fact that Renamo won in five of the ten provinces. S/he then argues that this means in practice "a rerun of much of the same kind of arrogance of power that has tended to mark Frelimo in the past." The article points to the government's failures to resist a chaotic implementation of neo-liberal economic policies promoted by the World Bank/IMF, to end continuing corruption, and to stem an upsurge of criminality in Maputo.

But this picture is not adequate. For a start it fails to acknowledge how limited is the space for Frelimo or any other Mozambican government to act quickly on such fronts. With the economy still 80% dependent of aid, and the country's debt 4 or 5 times its GDP, and with the IMF, the World Bank and certain bilateral lenders generally as narrow-minded and demanding as ever, Mozambique simply has no choice on basic financial policies. It can only struggle around the edges for the present.

And in truth some serious effort is being made on this count, for example efforts by the new Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, Dr. Oldimiro Baloi, to address the real needs of the new Mozambican private sector. Nor are corruption and the abuse of authority by petty officials things that can simply be stopped by decree or by some one-off campaign. They are deeply rooted in centuries of every-day practice. Even a decade of puritanical socialism made less of a mark on corruption than is usually acknowledged, and the subsequent decade of all-out war has been marked by unprecedented chaos even by Mozambican standards. Corruption can only be addressed when the state can pay salaries; when massive incremental reforms destroy the present byzantine regulatory bureaucracy; and when ordinary people believe they have rights and there really are institutions in place to support their struggles to realize them.

In relation to crime, it may indeed be the case that Minister of Interior Manuel Antonio has hardly kept his foot out of his mouth when dealing with the press, and that in a country where the police have never had a tradition of upholding law rather than order he and the government have no real idea as to how to make the police useful. But it is hardly surprising that there is an upsurge in crime in a city, pushing three million in population, where abject misery sits alongside (mostly foreign) opulence, where tens of thousands of demobilized people still have access to weapons, and where Johannesburg crime rings are but a stone's throw away.

In short a government still only a few months old can hardly be held accountable for the legacies of history.

But the main reason I am responding to the article is because I believe it misses a number of exciting, positive initiatives that are unfolding in Mozambique, especially with regard to rural development. Your correspondent mentions the local elections only because they are becoming the focus of the next political struggle between Renamo and Frelimo. Yet what is really exciting about these elections is that they usher in the most sincere and radical experiment in decentralization yet attempted in Africa, one in which all power at the district level will be accountable to the local electorate. Gone will be the centrally appointed District Administrator - the single most durable feature of colonialism in Africa for rural communities - and each of the ministries will finally be brought to account for its policies and programmes, these to be drawn up by the municipal councils.

Furthermore, under decentralization, all land and natural resources will be allocated at district level. As a result, a massive reversal of the chaos which has seen an area equivalent to half of Mozambique allocated to private sector interests - mostly foreign - in just five years is on the cards. Of course the whole programme is fraught with challenges both political and economic, national and local, and may yet fail entirely - in no small part because certain donors are so committed to accelerating the process that local municipalities may be elected before they have the framework and capacity to undertake their functions.

Indeed, it does seem a shame that some key donor officials in Mozambique, people without accountability to a Mozambican electorate or more than a casual acquaintance with the realities of the rural areas and hence the logistic challenges involved, are in such a strong position to influence the process. Of course these officials believe that government attempts to stagger implementation reflect a fear of local Renamo victories, rather than a realistic assessment of the implementation difficulties, an argument bought in its entirety by your correspondent. Doubtless, political factors are now important for Frelimo, but the government formulated the policy of decentralization even prior to the 1992 peace agreement, when the visionary innovator Dr. Aguiar Mazula ran the Ministry of State Administration.

Thus it is only recently that the matter has become important to major donors and unfortunately mainly as another arena to continue what they consider the unfinished business of the transition - the need for some form of "power sharing" with Renamo. For many such donors, then, it is local elections and not effective decentralization that is at issue. For, as one donor representative recently intimated, local elections will legitimate international NGOs from his country to implement their programs through local administrations.

In addition to the policy of decentralization, and just as important, there has been a remarkable re-think of the rather high- handed "modernization" paradigm that underlay both colonial Portuguese and post-independence thinking on rural development. Appropriately enough, given that becoming "modern" in Mozambique has always been linked to concepts of "assimilation" (either to becoming Portuguese or to becoming the "new socialist man"), this debate has been led in part by the Minister of Culture, Dr. Mateus Katupha. And it has also been linked in subtle ways to debates about ethnicity and urban domination of the countryside, about the alienation inherent in various notions of "development," and about the nature of the arts in Mozambique.

Consideration of such matters came to a head in the special 1993 Congress on Culture, one curiously ignored by western analysts but often said by Mozambicans to have been one of the most important events since independence. In tackling these issues Frelimo's new intellectuals have been accused of pandering to Renamo, or of merely seeking to out-manoeuvre Renamo on the terrain of "tradition" and "regionalism." But while there has, of course, been some political expediency involved, these issues have been under discussion (and under discussion, it might be added, by many of the same people who are engaged with them today) since the final years of Samora Machel's presidency. For the fact is that Renamo had identified a fundamental flaw in Frelimo's ideas about Mozambican political culture - the party's lack of a sympathetic grounding in the complexities of rural existence - even though this was a flaw that Renamo alone was not equipped to address adequately.

Particularly important here is the fact that, beyond the formal political arena, this re-thinking of the approach to be adopted towards Mozambican rural dwellers is sweeping through the government departments responsible for rural development. Whether in fisheries or forestry, in wildlife or livestock husbandry, or in other agricultural pursuits, today's Mozambican technocrat is throwing out the formal models of transforming "tribes of subsistence farmers into citizens" through top down technologies and social engineering, recognizing that, indeed, there never were "tribes" or "subsistence farmers" in any meaningful sense, and acknowledging that rural Mozambicans will not become true citizens unless they have the right to engage with development on their own terms, being served rather than dominated by state structures and non-governmental organizations.

Most government departments are therefore exploring in practice how to enter partnerships with rural people that recognize the latter's existing knowledge and practices, as well as the potential present in their own institutions to achieve "development" if they are given half an opportunity. True, there is at times some naivete inherent in this new thinking - there always has been a tendency amongst the Mozambican elite to counter the modernization model with a certain rural romanticism - but, on balance, the speed and seriousness of this conceptual change is leading to positive developments on the ground in several areas of Mozambique, and cannot help but bode well, more generally, for the future.

Of course, much of this rural revolution is not so readily noticed in Maputo itself - which is the main reason why the government is hastening the pace of decentralization across this vast and little integrated country! The new government is also demonstrating a serious concern to face up squarely to other of the country's huge problems, including those created by its having been force-marched into the embrace of neo-liberal economics without the institutions necessary to protect existing rights. A case in point is the recent creation of a Land Commission, designed to address, at last, the increasingly hot issue of land alienation, and to work out a whole new framework that can secure peasant rights, facilitate honest and appropriate private sector investment, and create a reasonably transparent and implementable system for administering land claims.

Finally, it is important to note that the 1990 constitution, and a 1991 law of free association, have ushered in a new era of "civil society" in Mozambique. Whereas across Africa civic institutions have often been trapped between donor dependence on the one hand and meddling governments on the other and have had next to no links with ordinary people, Mozambique's civic associations - all of which are membership-based - are already starting to demonstrate a genuine socio-political accountability. Moreover, most of the active associations are led by women and are assertively committed to issues of social justice and to the very real representation of marginal people. There is still a long way to go, of course, in the establishment of locally-based institutions across the rural areas, and in their gaining of financial and management strength, but the prospects are also encouraging.

The rise of civic institutions already impacts on the political scene - described so unfairly as being quite dismal by your correspondent. One of the reasons why Mozambique now has the highest proportion of women members of parliament in Africa (and one of the highest in the world), and why there are now four women ministers and vice-ministers is precisely because of their emergent strength in civic society. The national assembly - which is already demonstrating itself to be no rubber stamp - already has, in consequence, a special working group on gender issues. Furthermore, two of the brilliant new governors - that in Nampula mentioned by your correspondent, and Dr. Virgilio Ferrão, the new Governor of Tete - were not political hacks prior to their appointments but the heads of their regional associations. Given the thrust of the article, it is a shame that your correspondent did not even mention the campaign of the Nampula governor both to check the abuse of state power in the province and to counter continued attempts by some government officials to manipulate or abuse local Renamo officials or Renamo-supporting communities.

In short, committed scholars should remain interested in and engaged with Frelimo and Mozambique and take seriously the new attempts to nurture rural development. I for one am excited by the freshness and honesty of much of the new thinking in that country. And despite the fact that Mozambique's weakness means rural people will continue to be messed about by a hostile global economic climate and by a fickle international aid bureaucracy, I believe, nevertheless, that they will continue to make the massive strides towards improving their livelihoods that have already begun since the 1992 peace agreement.

Make no mistake: this is not a clarion call for more of the kind of naive and total commitment to Frelimo, with uncomfortable truths swept under the carpet, that was all too prevalent in the past. Nor is it an attempt to say that Renamo is a political irrelevance, which it is not. Indeed I welcomed the critical freshness of your correspondent in spurning such mythologies. I only reply because for me the article is not the whole story.

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