Mozambique: Nyusi's Dilemma Delivers an Unexpected Successor

Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, President of the Republic of Mozambique.

Haunted by a corruption scandal, President Filipe Nyusi's search for an acceptable successor produces some unintended consequences.

Mozambique's ruling party, Frelimo, has elected Daniel Chapo as its presidential candidate for the general elections on 9 October 2024, as fierce internal battles rage between factions of the current and former presidents.

The vote on the candidate was scheduled for an extraordinary one-day meeting, but the election only took place on the evening of the third day, 5 May 2024, due to repeated postponements caused by the disputes between the 250-member Central Committee and the Frelimo Political Commission over the shortlist. The Commission, a body of 18 members is controlled by current Mozambican president, Filipe Nyusi.

The shortlist, generated by the Commission, consisted of three party candidates, namely party secretary-general, Roque Silva; MP, Damião José and the governor of Inhambane province, Daniel Chapo.

Nyusi was determined to elect his favourite candidate, Roque Silva; the withdrawal of Chapo and José would be choreographed, a senior Frelimo member told African Arguments. However, the Central Committee rejected the Commission's shortlist when it discovered the scam. Most of them didn't want Roque Silva because they considered him arrogant. In so doing, the Central Committee rejected the list and postponed the election meeting until the following day.

On the second day, there was still no consensus; Nyusi's wing rejected the inclusion of more pre-candidates from the Guebuza faction. Instead, Nyusi introduced two more candidates, namely his advisor, Francisco Mucanheia and the Speaker of parliament, Esperança Bias.

The election was only possible on the evening of the third day when the Central Committee convinced Daniel Chapo not to withdraw his candidacy, with the guarantee that he would be elected. In fact, Chapo was elected in the second round with 94.1% of the vote in a race in which he was running alone. Silva withdrew after Chapo had won the first round with 103 votes against his 70. Silva immediately announced his resignation as party secretary-general, a position now held on an interim basis by Chapo.

Origins of the Nyusi-Guebuza feud

The battle between presidents Filipe Nyusi and Armando Guebuza has its origins in the hidden debts scandal, in which the two leaders were among those implicated in a $2 billion scam. Only Guebuza's allies were tried and convicted. Among those charged was Ndambi Guebuza, Armando Guebuza's son, convicted in 2022 and now serving a 12-year sentence.

The imprisonment of people from Guebuza's faction of the ruling party was only possible because President Nyusi's interfered with the case. Many defendants said during the trial that Nyusi was involved, but the judge in the case rejected their statements, even when evidence was presented in court. Former Mozambican finance minister, Manuel Chang, is in detention in the United States. He also mentions Nyusi's involvement.

President Guebuza's role, according to various witnesses and documents, was moral support for the project, which was plausibly designed to protect Mozambique's coastline. The courts, however, understand that the project was actually a scheme to embezzle money through payments to those involved.

So far, there is no evidence directly implicating Guebuza in receiving bribes, so much so that in the Mozambican trial he participated as a witness. However, documents signed by Nyusi show him, as defence minister at the time, directing finance minister Manuel Chang to sign off on requests for state loans and guarantees. Privinvest, the Emirati-Lebanese shipbuilder that was to supply the coastal protection equipment, also claimed in court in London that Nyusi received $11m of bribes for his election campaign in 2014.

The World Bank and the IMF made a full resolution of the $2.2 billion embezzlement case a requirement for the resumption of financial aid to the country. But instead of a fair trial, Nyusi sacrificed Guebuza's family and allies turning them into the scapegoats for the entire scheme. While he may have convinced the donors, he has turned Guebuza into a deadly enemy.

The saga of the hidden debts is far from over. Nyusi, clearly recognising its potential to harm him personally, is determined to keep the lid on it firmly shut. Unlike the IMF and World Bank, the European Union (EU) continues to suspend aid to the state budget. Recently, the EU ambassador to Mozambique, Antonino Maggiore, said that the suspension will only be lifted after Mozambique fulfils certain criteria, including transparency and respect for democratic principles.

In London, a verdict is awaited on whether Privinvest or the Mozambican government will be held responsible for the scam. A London High Court judge has ruled that President Nyusi, although accused by Privinvest of receiving bribes, will not be called to court due to his immunity as a head of state. The situation, however, could change when he leaves the presidency of the republic, which means an uncertain future for Nyusi both in Mozambique and outside the country.

With the attempt to impose his preferred successor, Roque Silva, Nyusi wanted to ensure that the next head of the Mozambican state would protect him from an independent investigation, and almost certainly, a trial. But as the senior Frelimo source told African Arguments, Nyusi failed because he tried to impose a candidate without securing a consensus within the party.

Roque Silva's loyalty was unquestionable. As party secretary-general, he developed a reputation for autocracy and intolerance in order to safeguard the interests of Nyusi's faction. Nyusi's recent reappointment of Adelino Muchanga to the position of President of the Supreme Court for another five years - he was first appointed in 2019 when Nyusi secured a second term - is clearly an attempt to create another layer of security against possible court action once he leaves office. Muchanga's role in shielding the head of state proved he was a safe pair of hands. Whether he will prove as loyal to Nyusi once he's out of office may be another matter altogether.

The Chapo factor

It is not yet clear how loyal Chapo is to Guebuza, under whose rule his star began to rise, or to Nyusi, whose fortunes now appear increasingly intertwined with his. Chapo's election surprised everyone, including himself. It wasn't in his plans to be elected. The party's Central Committee only elected him because it disagreed with Roque Silva. With Silva out, Nyusi was desperate to have him.

A Portuguese intelligence publication wrote that Guebuza had a hand in Chapo's election. Our senior Frelimo source, however, was unable to confirm the veracity of this claim with African Arguments. Our source insists that Chapo's election was a vote by the Central Committee against Roque Silva. It is unclear whether there were secret meetings involving Nyusi, Guebuza and Chapo, when it became clear that Nyusi's favoured candidate, Silva, would not advance.

Chapo was born on 6 January 1977 in Inhaminga district, Sofala province, in central Mozambique. A law graduate with a master's degree in development management, Chapo has been governor of Inhambane province since 2016. Appointed by Nyusi in 2016, Chapo was elected as governor of Inhambane in the inaugural elections for provincial governors of October 2019, and began a second term in January 2020.

Between 2015 and 2016, Chapo was administrator of Palma district in Cabo Delgado province. In 2009, during Guebuza's rule, he held the same position in Nacala-a-Velha, Nampula province.

Chapo is expected to step down as governor of Inhambane to devote himself exclusively to preparing for the 9 October elections, and will be replaced by another member on the Frelimo list in the provincial assembly.

With no military past, Chapo is the first Frelimo candidate for President of the Republic born after national independence in 1975. If elected next year, the 47-year-old Chapo will be the youngest president Mozambique has ever had.

Never having held a cabinet position, Chapo's inexperience troubles some party observers. If he takes office in January 2025 as President of the Republic - as is expected - he will also be appointed leader of Frelimo. And yet, within the party, he has never held a position other than that of mobiliser in the institutions where he has worked. By appointing him secretary general, the Political Commission aims to correct this by familiarising him with the workings of the party machinery. It is a gamble borne of Nyusi's desperation for a post-presidential guarantor. Indeed, Chapo's inexperience and lack of an independent network within the ruling party perhaps bode well for Nyusi, who will use the little time he has left to act as Chapo's guide.

In his administration at different levels, according to the Frelimo source, Chapo has shown himself to be intelligent, focused and adaptable. Having already served in three regions of the country, it is remarkable that he has retained a clean image, said our source. Chapo's lack of experience in government positions "doesn't influence anything. All he needs is a good team to work with."

The choice of Chapo was the right one and a lot will certainly change in Mozambique, according to the administrator of the Vilanculos district in Inhambane province. Galiza Matos, who has been working with Chapo since 2020, told African Arguments that Frelimo made the "right decision" by choosing a "dynamic and charismatic" young man as its presidential candidate. "In all the meetings and initiatives led by Chapo we have had successful results thanks to his focus," he said, giving as an example the success of the agricultural campaigns in the province, as well as fishing activities.

A lawyer by profession, with a background in radio broadcasting and teaching in higher education, Chapo is remembered favourably by former colleagues. "What I admire most about him is his ability to listen and work to solve problems," say Yassin Amuji, an Inhambane-based tourism-sector entrepreneur. "He's not a boss who just stays in the office. He goes out into the field and debates with the population," he said, adding that the local private sector has been very revitalised since Chapo's rule began in 2016.

His competence aside, the question for many is which of the rival ruling party factions an independent president Daniel Chapo is likely to fall in with. The hidden debts saga will test him, as will as the fight against the insurgency in Cabo Delgado. President Nyusi was in favour of the intervention of foreign troops, from state forces to private security companies, while other faction within Frelimo, including President Guebuza and Joaquim Chissano, advocated training and equipping national forces to fight insurgents linked to the Islamic State.

Alexandre Nhampossa is a Mozambican journalist and researcher based in Maputo, Mozambique. He has a post-graduate degree in agro-economic journalism from Universidade Politécnica and a degree from Universidade Eduardo Mondlane.

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