26 March 2008

Mozambique: Guebuza Sacks Defence Minister

Maputo — Mozambican President Armando Guebuza has sacked his Defence Minister, Tobias Dai, almost exactly a year after military negligence led to the deaths of over 100 people in massive explosions at an arsenal in the Maputo suburb of Malhazine.

Dai, who is Guebuza's brother-in-law, is a veteran of the war for independence from Portuguese colonial rule. After independence he rose to become commander of the army during the war against the apartheid-backed Renamo rebels.

On 22 March 2007, one of the warehouses at the Malhazine arsenal caught fire, and the ensuing explosions scattered rockets, artillery shells and other munitions over a radius of about ten kilometres, as if Maputo and the neighbouring city of Matola were under enemy bombardment

The death toll from this disaster was 107 and 515 people received hospital treatment. Some of them were maimed for life. Several thousand homes were destroyed, or damaged and reconstruction is currently under way.

A commission of inquiry set up by Guebuza, and consisting of three senior judges, issued a devastating report. It found that the warehouse that blew up had no roof, and so the obsolete, Soviet bloc munitions it contained were exposed to the elements, and there could be no temperature control.

Inspections consisted of simply looking at the boxes containing munitions (or at the munitions that were not in boxes). The soldiers carrying out this task had no technical support, and no attempt was made to verify the contents of the boxes and check the state of conservation of whatever they contained.

Despite this prima facie evidence of criminal negligence, no measures were taken against any of the personnel in charge of the Malhazine arsenal.

Parliamentarians from the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union coalition, and some of the press (notably the independent weekly "Savana") called for Dai's resignation. Those calls have been heard again this month, in the wake of another series of military explosions, this time in the Albanian capital, Tirana.

Last week's issue of "Savana" noted the contrast - in Albania Defence Minister Fatmire Mediu resigned almost immediately, but in Mozambique, a year after the Malhazine tragedy "nobody has resigned or been sacked".

It is impossible to say whether the removal of Tobias Dai is a delayed reaction to the Malhazine explosions since, as is always the case with government changes in Mozambique, Guebuza's dispatch gave no reasons for his decision.

The new Minister of Defence is 49 year old Filipe Nhussi, who was formerly executive director of the northern division of the Mozambican ports and railway company, CFM, before being transferred to CFM's Maputo headquarters last year as a member of the board.

This is the second government reshuffle in a month. On 10 March, Guebuza sacked his Transport, Justice and Environment Ministers, Antonio Mungwambe, Esperanca Machavela and Luciano de Castro, and moved Alcinda Abreu from Foreign Affairs to the Environment Ministry.

The new Justice Minister, Benvinda Levi, was one of the three judges who sat on the commission of inquiry into the Malhazine explosions.

Last week, Guebuza also appointed a new chief of staff and deputy chief of staff of the armed forces (FADM), Paulo Macaringue and Olimpio Cambona. Their predecessors, Lagos Lidimo and Mateus Ngonhamo, who had held the posts since the FADM was created, 14 years ago, left active military service, and are now on he reserve list.

Pf/ (485)

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