18 November 2013

Mozambique Elections in Perspective


The campaign for municipal elections has ended in Mozambique in advance of elections on Wednesday, 20 November.

The campaign has been generally peaceful in the 53 municipalities contested, except for the Renamo threats and attacks in the centre of the country, and occasionally when contesting caravans of party supporters meet.

A main form of campaigning is with caravans made up of cars and lorries full of supporters with others on foot or bicycles, which parade through the towns.

There are often confrontations when caravans meet but police are on hand to calm the situation and there have been few arrests.

The campaign style of the parties varies, with the ruling party candidates generally addressing large meetings while the opposition has concentrated on personal contact with crowds in peri-urban neighbourhoods.

Campaigning in most municipalities was calm and orderly with the usual marches, meetings and election posters pasted on walls and trees.

In the central provinces of Sofala and Nampula there have been random attacks by Renamo on vehicles on the main north-south highway and on police posts, and clashes with the Mozambique defence forces following their destruction of a Renamo base near Gorongosa mountain.

There have been casualties including dead and injured, and Renamo claims to have withdrawn from the peace accord signed with the government 20 years ago in Rome in 1992, with the resultant concern that they could return to the bush to resume the attacks and atrocities carried out during the destabilization period prior to that date, and resultant disruption to the economy, the social sector and the main trade routes.

While there has been localized disruption, threats and insecurity, mainly in Sofala, and exams have been delayed for some 5,000 school schoolchildren whose schools were under threat, this is a distraction from the real players in the election competition, including a new opposition party drawn from former members of Renamo which is contesting in all municipalities.

In practice, ever since the Rome accord, Renamo has threatened to disrupt or boycott national and later local elections, despite being the main opposition party in the National Assembly, with 51 Members of Parliament at present, called “deputies” in Mozambique.

Before each election, there are threats and demands for cash or cars, and on this occasion for a share of the natural resources, as well as a bizarre threat to write to the United Nations to get back the weapons turned in during the peace process two decades ago. Most of these weapons were destroyed at the time.

Renamo has not registered candidates directly for the local elections and is not participating under this party name, which is associated with the terror and disruption of the 1980s, knowing that it has few potential candidates and no chance of winning election in any of the 53 municipalities.

The Mozambique National Resistance (MNR or Renamo) was established in neighbouring Rhodesia after Mozambique's independence in 1975 for the stated purpose of sabotaging economic and social development, and disrupting Zimbabwe's liberation war which was supported by Mozambique.

The current hit-and-run attacks are in the same pattern, designed to disrupt the agricultural season to impact on food security in central Mozambique, as well as on regional trade routes and tourism.

However, the main objective in recent weeks has been to cause a distraction to focus attention on Renamo and insecurity, while the new offshoot party formed in 2009 has been organizing for the local elections and is contesting in all 53 municipalities throughout the country.

Following the previous local elections in 2008, Frelimo won a majority in 42 of 43 municipal assemblies, and holds the post of mayor in 41 municipalities following a by-election in 2011.

The current election has more municipalities contested and two parties are contesting all of the 53 municipalities, indicating access to considerable resources in a huge country of almost 800,000 square kilometres with a population of about 25 million people, almost double the population of Zimbabwe.

The contest is between the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo), the party that brought independence to Mozambique in 1975 and has governed the country ever since, and a breakaway group of former Renamo members and others who have formed the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) which is contesting in all 53 municipalities against Frelimo candidates, and is apparently well-resourced.

A proliferation of minor parties is contesting at local level, but each one in less than five municipalities.

The MDM leader is Daviz Simango, who won election as the Mayor of Beira on a Renamo ticket in 2003, but broke away to run as an independent candidate in 2008. Beira is the capital of the Sofala province where Renamo has been causing unrest.

Simango has been the mayor of Beira for the past decade, but after the 2008 election, he formed his own party, the MDM, which contested the national elections the following year.

MDM won eight seats in parliament although Simango got only 8.6 percent in the presidential election against the Renamo leader, Afonso Dhlakama, who got 16.5 percent, and the popular President Armando Guebuza who polled just under 75 percent.

Simango is running for a third term as Beira mayor and will certainly contest the presidency of the country next year in national elections scheduled for 15 October 2014.

Significant confusion is caused by the name similarities in some places in this election, as the Frelimo mayor of Maputo is a different person by the name of David Simango. In addition, MDM is running a television commentator against him with the same surname as the founder and first President of Frelimo, Mondlane, but no relation.

MDM also holds the position of Mayor of Quelimane, which is the capital of Zambezia province bordering on Sofala. This was won in a 2011 by-election by Manuel de Araújo, a former officer of Amnesty International in London, who took office in January 2012.

He has had access to substantial local and external resources during this period, has cleaned up the city and improved revenue collection, and will most likely be re-elected.

The centre of the country is the only hot spot where Renamo emerged as it does before every election to make certain threats and demands.

In a situation familiar to Zimbabwe, Renamo has continued to cite irregularities in the previous local and national elections held five years ago, and boycotted the opening of Parliament after the last national elections in 2009, although its 51 deputies took their seats alongside eight for MDM and 191 for Frelimo.

The next national election is set for next year, on 15 October 2014.

The disruption of the active period of economic and military destabilization from 1976 was costly for southern Africa with human and financial losses of about 1.5 million people at a cost of more than US$60 billion up to 1989, according to a UN report on destabilization published at the time.

The additional costs of recovery, reconstruction and lost development were substantial, with its impacts stretching into the present.

Renamo was a tool in this, established to undertake sabotage but also as a cover for military action, first by Rhodesia and later by apartheid South Africa, with covert and overt support from groups in the United States, Portugal and elsewhere in Europe.

Renamo's roots are well-documented as a unit established and trained in Rhodesia, initially on a farm at Odzi near Mutare (then Umtali), and handed over to South Africa after Zimbabwe's independence in 1980. sardc.net

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