How Frelimo rehabilitated Renamo in time for Mozambique’s Elections

An interview with political scientist Domingos Manuel de Rosário, of Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, about the October 2014 elections.

Maputo, Mozambique's capital, by Petr Kosina, via Flickr CC.

Mozambique’s October 15 elections demonstrated how “divided” the country is. Frelimo, the party in power since independence in 1975, won the elections with 57 per cent of the vote for its presidential candidate Filipe Nyusi and 144 of 250 seats in parliament, but the results in the provinces and severe irregularities on voting day and during the vote count, paint a more complicated picture. Nyusi won more than two thirds of the votes in traditional Frelimo strongholds—the southern provinces and the northern-most province of Cabo Delgado, while the opposition parties gained more than 60 per cent in the Renamo strongholds of Zambézia and Sofala provinces. Many instances of ballot box stuffing and a disorganized process of the tabulation of results have been documented, but the National Election Commission (CNE) approved the results on November 1.

Overall, Renamo gained 37 per cent—an increase of more than 20 percentage points in comparison to 2009. Renamo’s success in the elections was remarkable, as the party was weak and disorganized after boycotting last year’s municipal elections and Renamo-affiliated armed groups frequently clashed with government soldiers over the last two years (we wrote about this here).

Negotiations with the administration of President Guebuza about changes in the electoral law and equal representation in the security forces lead to a last-minute deal in early September. Dhlakama, after being absent from Maputo for several years, returned to the political scene and attracted a large number of curious voters wherever he traveled during his campaign for the presidency. In contrast, the relatively new opposition party, MDM, a winner of last year’s municipal elections, did not live up to the expectations.

We talked to political scientist Domingos Manuel de Rosário, researcher and professor at the Universidade Eduardo Mondlane in Maputo, about the elections and Dhlakama’s surprising success. Domingos Manuel de Rosário just finished a project on decentralization reform and public service provision and currently works on a book project about the civil war in Mozambique (1976-1992). The interview translated from Portuguese by author.


After the 2009 elections, many commentators thought that Renamo was too weak and divided to ever win a large share of the vote again. Why was Dhlakama able to mobilize so many voters after his long absence from Maputo (and politics) and the violence by Renamo-affiliated groups over the last two years?

It was [President] Armando Emílio Guebuza’s style of governance that politically rehabilitated Dhlakama. Guebuza’s governance style—exclusionary and arrogant—marginalized most of the Mozambican population. Dhlakama was greeted as a hero [when he came back from hiding] because he was the only valid alternative to confront the Frelimo government and its president who was considered one of those responsible for the social ills of our sick country.

Guebuza’s state-building model—even the process of decentralization—only included those who were close to Guebuza and left others marginalized. These were large segments of the population, and this created important factions, even within the Frelimo party. So when Dhlakama appeared, he was perceived as the only one who could confront Guebuza, especially since Dhlakama’s political discourse had ceased to be aggressive and had become a [political] alternative to the dictatorship of Frelimo’s parliamentary majority in the Assembly of the Republic.

There is also the perception that the [recent] war was started by the Frelimo state by ordering the attack on the headquarters of Renamo [in Nampula in March 2012.] Dhlakama only moved to Nampula city and then to Maringue [his base in in Sofala province] and never attacked the population. It is also clear to the people who traveled [in the areas in which violence occurred] and published [their views] on social media that Renamo only attacked buses, trains, and trucks that carried soldiers and never those vehicles that only carried civilians. Don’t forget that Mozambicans experienced the worst trauma of the 16-year war (the civil war, 1976-1992) and when the clashes erupted and the one responsible could be identified, it contributed to Dhlakama being perceived as a hero, as the Messiah and as the Savior of the Mozambican people.

Who do you think voted for Renamo? Who does Dhlakama attract?

In urban areas such as Maputo and Matola, Dhlakama received the largest number of votes since [the first multiparty elections in] 1994 because these are cities with a large number of young people who have access to social media. Young people who completed their university education in the various public and private universities of low quality have trouble finding jobs. In addition, corruption and bribery means less access to jobs in both the public and private sector, and professional qualifications for a job have taken a backseat to being known or having a family member who occupies a higher position.

So it’s new voters, young, old—a bit of all social categories of the Mozambican people. Particularly the demobilized of the civil war who were never socially reintegrated; young “marginalized” without jobs, without prospects of life in rural areas and whose future is uncertain, who are willing to do anything and who are without fear of losing whatever they have because they don’t have anythin.

Is the new president, Filipe Nyusi, Guebuza’s puppet, as some have suggested?

Of course he is Guebuza’s puppet, yes. The great question is whether he will continue Guebuza’s work or whether he will distance himself and introduce a new form of governance. We will see when he forms his new administration whether this will be a Guebuza administration headed by Nyusi or a Nyusi administration that represents a rupture with the past and recent present. The latter is what Nyusi promised during the campaign. However, there are many doubts whether he can do this since he does not control the party. So his ability to form alliances within the party will be important to control the party, a very important mechanism for its political governance. It is also necessary to remember that he is a descendant of the military wing of FRELIMO (the liberation front). So there is a confluence of economic and political interests. And we also shouldn’t forget that Guebuza left a great burden for him—the creation of a fund for social reintegration of the “residual forces of Renamo.” Where will he find the money? And who belongs to these residual forces? What about those who were never reintegrated after the 16 year-war? And what about the Mozambicans who are politically and economically marginalized? When will they be integrated into society? Will it be necessary to either belong to the military or having fought [during the war] to receive one’s place in Mozambique? And in addition to these points, remember that the elections are considered problematic and not transparent.

What about the future of the relatively new opposition party MDM that won three of the country’s four largest cities in the 2013 local elections, but whose presidential candidate, the mayor of the second largest city Beira, Daviz Simango, only received 6 per cent of the vote?

MDM’s results don’t surprise me. What is it that MDM did politically in recent years? MDM will be the victim of its own “supposed” success. Success is the result of [political] work. Yet MDM never did this work or provided political alternatives. Moreover, MDM’s mobilization is a big nightmare. Finally, the rise of the figure of Manuel de Araújo [mayor of Zambézia’s province of Quelimane] created a dual structure, as two prominent figures, Araújo and Simango, now dominate the party, which can pose major problems to the MDM in the coming years. MDM will have major problems to become the main opposition party. These elections showed well that Daviz Simando is strong in elections of local officials, but in elections of national officials, Simango becomes irrelevant and insignificant. He can’t compete to become president. More so because he was competing against a great charismatic leader (Dhlakama) and a strong party machine (Frelimo and Nyusi).

What is your overall assessment of the elections?

These were the most problematic elections in Mozambique since 1999. Many irregularities were registered. The Technical Secretariat for Electoral Administration (STAE) is the major culprit of this situation. It’s a highly politicized structure, which hasn’t evolved over time so that the forces that have influenced it have been almost the same since 1994.


Further Reading

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