Mozambique – Can Frelimo remain the predominant party? – By Joe Hanlon

President Armando Emilio Guebuza

Mozambique seems likely to remain a predominant party state for the foreseeable future. The ruling party Frelimo is still relatively popular and inclusive, while the opposition remains marginal.

Frelimo’s power comes from its:

  • ability to stay united and co-opt potential opposition figures,
  • creation of a party structure that is recognisable to European political parties, with party militants at the base getting out the vote and calling attention to local issues, and
  • maintenance of internal party democracy which ensures that the President and other leaders are not all-powerful.

Nevertheless, Frelimo faces a set of real challenges:

  • Poverty is not being reduced and the neo-liberal model pushed by the international financial institutions and embraced by the elite is not promoting development.
  • An older generation – liberation war veterans and those who filled middle level positions shortly after independence – are reluctant to cede power to a younger generation, which is turning its back on politics.
  • Inclusiveness means that venal and corrupt members of the elite are kept inside the party and have relative impunity. Rapidly growing mineral revenues could be divisive.

And it is really the lack of an opposition that protects Frelimo. It remains the only show in town. Therefore people who are ambitious – politically, economically or socially – align with “the Party”.

Frelimo’s ability to co-opt potential opponents can be seen by comparing Soares Nhaca with Morgan Tsvangirai. They were the dynamic young leaders of the Mozambican and Zimbabwean trade union movements in the 1990s. Nhaca was drawn in, and in 1999 Frelimo made him governor of Maputo province (he later rose to be an unsuccessful Minister of Agriculture, and is now parked in a sinecure). By contrast, ZANU (PF) marginalised Tsvangirai, turning him into an opponent who formed the opposition party Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) in 1979, and from that platform became Prime Minister in a unity government.

Mozambique’s first multi-party election was in 1994, following the end of the Cold War which brought the end of the war of destabilisation. The opposition guerrilla movement Renamo became the main opposition party. But its leader, Afonso Dhlakama, failed to make the transition from military to politics. He maintained tight personal control of the party (to the point of paying expenses with money in his pocket). Party structures were not built – both because good party organisation was seen as a hangover from the bad old socialist days, and also because Dhlakama would not devolve power. For example, parliament sessions are televised and Dhlakama would watch on TV and use his mobile telephone to give instructions to the head of the Renamo bench during the session. Renamo members of the National Elections Commission (CNE) had to phone Dhlakama for instructions; one Frelimo member of the CNE commented, “we do not need to phone for instructions, because we were appointed because we know what we should do”. The more effective organisers and politicians have been forced out of Renamo, notably Raul Domingos in 2000; he tried to form a third party, but, strikingly, could not find a core of effective non-Frelimo people to support him.

Dhlakama nearly won the 1999 presidential election and in 2003 had mayors elected in 5 of 33 municipalities, but failed to capitalise on that success – in part because of a party structure so poor that it could not gets its supporters out to vote on polling day. One of its mayors, Daviz Simango in Beira, was highly successful in cleaning up the city and won substantial praise nationally. At the last minute before the 2008 local elections, and apparently fearing the rise of a challenger, Dhlakama announced Daviz would not stand for re-election. In a week, Daviz and his supporters put together an independent campaign, and he won overwhelmingly. The official Renamo candidate came a poor third, and in 2008 Frelimo won all other municipalities. Dhlakama’s vote in the 2009 presidential elections hit an all time low, and little has been heard from him – or Renamo – since.

Daviz Simango moved to form a new party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), which in a short time did credibly well in 2009 elections with 9% of the vote (compared to 16% for Dhlakama and 75% for Frelimo President Armando Guebuza). MDM also won 8 seats in parliament (compared to 51 for Renamo and 191 for Frelimo). Most of Daviz’ support came from former Renamo voters, particularly around Beira, but he also gained on seat from Frelimo in Maputo city, apparently from younger voters who were not traditionally opposed to Frelimo.

With Renamo on the wane, can MDM become a credible opposition? Daviz is the son of Uria Simango, a founder of Frelimo who after independence backed an attempted coup against Frelimo and was subsequently secretly executed. Therefore Daviz cannot be co-opted by Frelimo. He also proved to be a good organiser in Beira and built up a support base he was able to use in 2008. So far, however, his political rhetoric is simply anti-Frelimo. The question is whether he can build up a national organisation and a credible opposition strategy.

The next test from MDM will be 7 December 2011. Mayors of Cuamba, Pemba and Quelimane resigned and there will need to be by-elections. In July, Frelimo demanded the five of its mayors (municipal presidents) should step down. There is no legal requirement that they do so, and only three agreed. It is an interesting test of party discipline and unity, with the mayors of Chokwe and Manhiça refusing to resign and remaining in post.

There had been complaints about the performance of the three mayors, and there was a serious possibility that MDM could win at least Quelimane and Cuamba in 2013 municipal elections.  The forced resignations seem an attempt to reorganise now and prevent the opposition gaining a foothold, but MDM has put up strong local candidates, so that outcome is unclear. Renamo now has little organisation and has said it will not stand.

The role of internal debate and party unity remains central to the strength of Frelimo. President Joaquim Chissano nearly (indeed may have) lost the election in 1999, largely because of widespread complaints about corruption, both at the top and at petty levels. Chissano wanted to stand again (and the then constitution allowed him one more term) but he was rejected by the party at its congress, which argued he would lose in 2004. Instead, it selected Armando Guebuza, who then went on a year-long tour of the country to build up local party structures. Chissano campaigned for Guebuza (albeit through gritted teeth; the two do not get on, but remain together in the party). Chissano remains on the political commission and is still an important internal force. A choice that could have split many African parties did not divide Frelimo.

Part of Frelimo’s popularity comes from a massive expansion of health and education, particularly over the last decade. But that has sowed the seeds of the growing problem which confronts Frelimo. A better educated youth does not want to be hoe farmers like their parents, yet there are no jobs and poverty levels remain stubbornly high. Many urban youth do not see Frelimo as they way forward, and they remain outside party structures and the political systems. Riots in 2008 and 2010 were led by disaffected urban young people (but often with tacit support from their parents). All three party leaders are firmly rooted in the early post-independence period, and are not making themselves credible to younger people who do not remember colonialism or the destabilisation war, but who could soon make up a majority of voters. Guebuza cannot stand again in 2014 and the party is moving toward a choice of a candidate, with sharp confrontations between the old guard party barons, a somewhat younger generation within the party apparatus, and a third loose group looking for a candidate who could both appeal to a younger generation and bring party renewal.

Joseph Hanlon teaches at the Open University. He is author of several books on Mozambique including ‘Mozambique: who calls the shots?’

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One thought on “Mozambique – Can Frelimo remain the predominant party? – By Joe Hanlon

  1. Interesting! I would like to comment on co optation – the comparison between Soares Nhaca and Morgan Tswangirai. While both had same roots – that is, were trade union representatives only Nhaca was co opted by the ruling party. The case of Tswangirai brings different outcome. He was not co opted as decided to form and run as opposition and won most of legislative seats. The fact of being part of govt of national unit does not mean co optation. He is still fighting for his party rather than the dominant ZANU PF. Tswangirai cannot be compared by co opted Soares Nhaca.

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