Maputo — The Municipal Assembly in the northern Mozambican city of Nampula on Monday elected Américo da Costa Imele as its chairperson, replacing Manuel Tocova, who is currently under arrest, charged with illegally carrying a firearm, according to a report in the electronic newsheet “Txopela”.
It seems almost certain that Costa will also become interim mayor of Nampula. Mayor Mahamudo Amurane was assassinated on 4 October, and the municipal legislation states that, in the event of the death or resignation of a mayor, the chairperson of the Municipal Assembly becomes interim mayor until a by-election is held.
There is clearly no way that Tocova can exercise mayoral duties from behind bars. Over the weekend reports circulated that Tocova was being released on bail of 300,000 meticais (about 4,920 US dollars) - but the police denied the story on Sunday, insisting that Tocova was still being held in a cell in a Nampula police station.
Like Tocova, America da Costa is a member of the opposition Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), which holds an absolute majority of seats in the Nampula Assembly. In the election, Costa won by 24 votes to one, and 18 blank ballots were cast.
Costa's sole opponent was Filomena Mutoropa of the Mozambican Humanist Party (PAHUMO), a tiny group which holds one seat in the Assembly. The MDM members voted en bloc for Costa, while all the members present from the ruling Frelimo Party, having no candidate of their own, cast blank ballots.
Since Amurane's death, Nampula has been slipping into chaos. Tocova attempted to sweep out all the city councillors and heads of administrative posts who had worked with Amurane and replace them with his own men. This move was struck down by the Nampula Administrative Tribunal, since the powers of interim mayors are restricted to routine acts of day to day management - which does not include the reshaping of the entire Municipal Council.
But when Amurane's team tried to reoccupy their offices, the Tocova appointees refused to leave, or to hand over keys to council vehicles. Their justification was that the Administrative Tribunal's ruling was not definitive, since Tocova intended to appeal.
But inside a police cell Tocova is in no position to appeal, and has now missed the deadline for appeals.
Tocova's crime was that he hired a pistol from a former parliamentary deputy of the rebel movement Renamo, Pedro Hussene, in 2014, promising to pay him 3,000 meticais a month for the gun. But Tocova stopped paying and Hussene complained to the police, as if the deal between the two were a legal contract. The police reacted by arresting both of them.
The Renamo national spokesperson, Antonio Muchanga, cited by the independent television station STV, protested that his party had nothing to do with the gun. He said that, when Tocova and Hussene struck their deal, they had both defected from Renamo and joined the MDM - although Hussene changed his mind, and returned to Renamo in 2016.
Hussene obtained the gun in the first place precisely because he was a member of parliament - the parliamentary rules say that any deputy has the right to request a licence to carry a gun. But a gun acquired by a deputy, Muchanga admitted, “is for personal use and cannot be given to anybody else”.
He urged the police not to treat Ussene as a “former Renamo deputy”, but just as somebody who illicitly hired out a gun.