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Southern Africa Report Archive

A Maputo correspondent reflects on the some of the deep-seated contradictions that now plague a post-elections Mozambique. (jbv)

vol 10 no 4

After the count is over: Mozambique now
special correspondent based in Maputo

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Southern Africa Report

SAR, Vol 10, No 4, May 1995
Page 16
"Southern Africa"



In the wake of last year's Mozambican elections, the winning party, Frelimo, seems content to govern more or less as if nothing had happened. It has not moved with any great force to curb the kinds of corruption that lost it quite a few votes in the first place. It has certainly shown no signs of qualifying its recent preference for a rather extreme version of the neo-liberal option in its economic policy-making. And, for various reasons (some good, some bad), it has more or less turned a blind eye upon Renamo's claims to be a significant political actor in the new Mozambique, opting instead for a rerun of much the same kind of arrogance of power that has tended to mark Frelimo's rule in the past.

Renamo's difficulties

In part Frelimo must feel it can afford to follow such a course because, since the elections, Renamo itself has experienced serious difficulties in defining a strategy which would keep it alive within the political process. Indeed, the movement currently runs some risk of disappearing altogether.

Several factors have contributed to this situation. Firstly, now that the "Trust Fund" formerly provided by the "international community" to facilitate Renamo's transition from guerilla movement to political party is no more, the movement has, literally, no means of subsistence. Differently from Frelimo, which is firmly installed "in the system," Renamo is experiencing a severe lack of sources of finance. Thus Dhlakama's recent tour around Europe, which explicitly has had the request for funds at the top of its agenda did not produce the results desired by Renamo. In the transition period some important donors did agree, however reluctantly, to finance Renamo as a means of ensuring that the democratization process get safely into port (these in addition to other backers who, at the time, probably financed Renamo for rather less elevated political motives!) Now that the former group, in particular, has turned its back on the process - in part because Renamo is no longer seen to be a direct military threat - such donor support as Renamo can hope for is likely to come only from international companies and NGOs, and this in very much decreased amounts.

Moreover, politically, Frelimo and Chissano, as the electoral winners, have not left Renamo much room for manoeuvre. It is clear now - and Renamo seems to have been the last to grasp the point - that the former rebel movement will not be granted any share of power under the umbrella of some "government of national unity." Although the Americans and others continue to press for such an outcome (as they did both before and during the election period itself) Frelimo has firmly expressed its intention to govern alone, in the central government as well as in the provinces, even in the provinces where Renamo got the majority in the elections and had made some claim to fill the centrally- appointed governorship positions.

Frelimo's argument for proceeding in this way is twofold. At the central level, it says, it does not make sense to have Renamo both in the government and as opposition. And in the provinces, to have Renamo holding governorships would seriously jeopardize the unity of the country and the possibilities of a coherent implementation of Frelimo's programme. There is some justice in such arguments, of course, although, as noted above, they might be more convincing were Frelimo itself not suspected by many observers of using the fact of its electoral victory merely to lapse back into an all too familiar brand of political arrogance.

In any case, in the absence of anything like a "government of national unity," there remain two national arenas where Renamo might have some hope of acting with political effect: the proposed "Presidential Forum for the Opposition" and the National Assembly. As to the former, two problems exist. One is that the president does not seem too concerned to speed up the formation of such a forum. For the time being, it is apparently not now regarded as being of any great importance in the establishment of government's programme, having been linked more with its intermittent urge to build a democratic image. And in any case - it may feel - the social movements who are actually contesting the government's policies most assertively are not explicitly linked with the opposition.

Another problem with the forum for Renamo concerns the implications of participating in a presidential initiative which will be completely controlled by Chissano. Indeed, more generally, this is the challenge for Renamo: shifting from being a movement which in recent years had achieved - by its own efforts (albeit with a little help from its friends!) - a 50-50 position in the political life of the country, to a movement which only participates in spaces conceded by the winning party. This has been rather hard for Renamo to swallow, certainly, and the movement may well consider participation in the forum to be just too humiliating for it.

For the moment, therefore, it seems that the National Assembly will be the arena privileged by Renamo for carrying on political struggle at the national level. Indications of this are the recent replacement of Vicente Ululu (generally seen as not being all that dynamic) by José de Castro as Secretary General, and the appointment of Raul Domingos to lead the movement in parliament. Although a minority party in the Assembly, Renamo may well be betting on the erosion of Frelimo to eventually tilt the balance of things.

It's true that Frelimo is experiencing some real difficulties in maintaining the cohesion of its team of MPs. An indication of this was the desperate attempt, witnessed at the inaugural session of the Assembly during the voting to elect the Assembly's president, to maintain the system of open voting - in order to ensure voting discipline. And yet there is every reason to expect that Frelimo's erosion in the parliament will be paralleled by Renamo's own erosion: one sign of this was the recent "Graa affair" in which open contradiction surfaced markedly amongst Renamo MPs. Besides, Renamo seems to lack the skilled parliamentarians who might eventually turn the parliamentary arena to their advantage in any dramatic way.

The local elections

With small hope of making advances in this political battle, I am sure that a military agenda is still tempting, at least for some Renamo hard-liners. However, in the current context this alternative would require a level of organizational sophistication Renamo manifestly does not have, and its former guerrillas, who have tasted at least the possibilities of a new life, only reluctantly would go back to the hardships of the bush in any case. It seems, therefore, that there are no real conditions for Renamo's military agenda to be resumed in anything like its old terms.

As a result, the "struggle for the districts" is perhaps the most promising terrain of struggle left open to Renamo. Since the movement holds important levels of control and popular support in a number of areas, this factor is giving the movement high hopes for the local elections which are expected to take place in 1996.

In my view, local elections will became a central issue in the near future, and Renamo seems to be much more comfortable than Frelimo in this field. True, Chissano has made a clever move with the appointment of the Governors of Sofala, Nampula and Zambézia. These appointees are "locals," not implicated in the former provincial governments and (particularly in the case of Zambézia and Nampula) capable of taking strong "independent" decisions. However, there hasn't been much more than this to the Government/Frelimo's strategy. While some restructuring of local administration is certainly on the cards, there are no signs that Frelimo will be able to solve the old problem of its relationship with the so-called "traditional authorities."

Yet, under present circumstances, these "authorities" cannot be ignored. For local communities - by now so disrupted by war and attendant social chaos and desperate to regain some stability - tend to find the permanent cabo ("head-man") much more reliable than the occasional "state messenger" who is sent their way. For even the best-intentioned administrators apparently have difficulty in navigating this kind of local terrain. And in such settings, the cabos and other "traditional authorities" themselves often seem quite capable of taking advantage of the situation (see box).

I think that the debate within Frelimo is probably around whether to make pacts with such "authorities" on the latter's own terms or to try to absorb/transform them as the lowest level of the state administration (by, for example, naming them as candidates in the elections). However there is reason to doubt the degree of sensitivity and nuance which the Government/Frelimo is actually showing in its approach to such matters. Indeed, it may well decide that the easiest way to handle things is merely to "buy" some of these authorities - with goods, money, a little formal power. But this is scarcely a long run solution to the challenge of reconciling the often seemingly divergent imperatives of national and local governance.

Indeed, the fact that the Government does not sense that this issue is urgent is quite worrying (it has even indicated, more or less in passing, that local elections might be postponed, much to the consternation of its main donors meeting recently in Paris). In contrast (as noted) Renamo must now feel that its strength lies on this terrain over large parts of the country. It will no doubt use the local elections in order to retaliate for the fact that it was completely forgotten in the division of the post-electoral cake and to demonstrate its strength in the central-northern areas of the country. And if Renamo is successful in this tactic, the threat, unpredictable in its implications, of territorial division may again come to the surface.

Moreover, as long as the question of local governance remains unresolved, the government also will have even less chance than it might otherwise to show how relevant its overall policy programme is for regenerating the rural areas. As it is, the lack of political stability, of clear land tenure rules, and of investment in rural commercialization, taken together with the continuing spectre of landmines, means the situation in the rural areas is slow to evolve from emergency to recovery. And then there is the much broader question: could the government's rather extreme version of open market policies actually be expected to have a dramatically regenerative economic effect in any case?

This is a very large question, of course. But note, as one symptom of some of the problems being created by such policies, both the fact that land tenure issues are becoming particularly acute in the South and the reason why this is the case: in Matutuine the most recent charts reveal that most of the land has been freshly taken up by South-Africans, by Lomaco, and by a few local commercial agriculturalists, with the only remaining portion being the corridor for the elephant reserve! And yet the local population, until recently displaced by war, is now beginning to return in massive numbers. I'm sure the near future will witness both the invasion of the reserve and serious land disputes in this area.

A rising tide of criminality

To make things worse, the level of criminality is increasing sharply in the rural areas, particularly on the main roads, where roadblocks are regularly being set up in order to assault and rob tourists, truck drivers and miners who are returning home. The fact that most often the bandits wear police and military uniforms links these happenings to demobilized soldiers.

This situation is even more serious in the cities, particularly in Maputo. Assaults on vehicles and shootings are becoming common at every hour of day and night, with the use of lethal force increasingly a part of robbery attempts. Nor can demobilized soldiers be blamed for all of this, since inflation, unemployment, and the like are reaching unbearable levels and covering a larger and larger percentage of the urban population.

True, the new army seems to be under control after a period of scattered riots (strong disciplinary measures were taken recently by the Ministry of Defence and the military commands). But, for its part, the police appear completely incapable of handling the deteriorating situation. It is important to note here that the various actors involved in the peace process gave only very marginal attention to the question of the police. Now the force's lack of operational means (including training) and its pervasive corruption stand all too starkly revealed - such corruption being the central theme of an important story in a recent Domingo, for example.

Yet in the very unstable environment that is present day Mozambique, social and economic recovery demands effective policing. In the past few days, after a long silence, the police have announced special measures to combat criminality. The effectiveness of such measures remains to be seen. Then again, this is merely one of many daunting question marks that hang like a dark cloud over Mozambique in the post-electoral period.

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