The wounded buffalo
President Filipe Nyusi's government will be more remembered for preventing protests by an increasingly disenfranchised Mozambican public.
On March 3, 2015, Giles Cistac, a Mozambican constitutional lawyer former advisor to the Mozambican government, was shot dead in front of a cafe in an area popular with tourists in the capital Maputo. Some say that Cistac, who was born in France of Algerian descent, was murdered to make Frelimo look bad. [Opposition parties claimed Cignac was murdered by radicals in Frelimo because he proposed greater autonomy for Mozambique’s provinces. Such a move would mean more power to Frelimo’s old nemesis, RENAMO. Others claimed he uncovered corruption in the ruling party. – Editor.] If that was the objective, whoever wanted him dead, succeeded.
On Thursday the Frelimo spokesperson, sounding like a wounded buffalo, in trembling voice, accused social media of blaming the Party for the assassination without justification. A march on Saturday was the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the Party’s solidarity with the people and its abhorrence of what its press and media call a “barbarous act.” The march started peacefully from the site of the murder with the only outward signs of turbulence taking place around the car handing out free “Je suis Gilles Cistac” T shirts. The crowd was not huge but it was a good turnout of a broad cross-section of society from young students, Muslims, government functionaries to the aging and increasingly disillusioned cooperantes who remembered quite a different Frelimo from their time, as I did when I first came here in 1982.
The march was very well-organized, setting off in separate blocks, led by a lead chanter with megaphone, urging us to accompany him or her. Our chanter struggled with French, shouting out – inadvertently underscoring the sacrifice – “Jesus Gilles Cistac.” The atmosphere was of subdued camaraderie. As we moved slowly along the ironically named Rua de Martires de Machava, we stopped to pay homage to the previous victim of this street – Carlos Cardoso [the . On Avenida de Zimbabwe we had a minute’s silence for Gilles followed by a very long and impassioned applause. We then snaked around and congregated in front of the Faculty of Law where Gilles lectured. Brief eulogies were given and we were then directed to the Praça de Independência.
The march was dignified and calm and I was thankful that at least in Maputo the police would not be so stupid as to stop the march as they had so absurdly done in Beira two days earlier to the incredulity of all. I had expected senior Frelimo cadres to join to show solidarity and demonstrate that President Filipe Nyusi’s government is much closer to the people than his predecessor and that they, too, were horrified with the act. But on consulting with a well-informed journalist, apart from Abdul Carim (who was more likely to have been there due to his involvement with civil society), not one notable personality had pitched – a far cry from Hollande and the mayor of Paris, leading the Je suis Charlie rallies. Their absence was difficult to comprehend as it would have been so easy to extend a hand of sympathy and help bring Frelimo back to the povo after its last 8 years of aloofness and arrogance.
No one expected what followed – riot police blocked the two sides of Avenida Kenneth Kaunda in shining new bullet proof vests, shielded helmets and serious looking rifles, hopefully only for firing tear gas but that was not certain. We were all shocked and some extremely angry, chanting “Vergonha!” (Shame!), “O Policia é de Povo” (The Police are the People), “Assasinos” (Assassins), etcetera. A brave protester wagged his finger in one’s face saying that, once demobilized, he would be part of “us” but that “we” would not forget his treachery to the people. A very nasty looking short Napoleonic commander kept walking up and down the ranks giving furtive finger signals. Tear gas canisters were ominously loaded. The situation was tense, and being only a meter away, I warily moved off to the side with a prickling feeling of fear crawling up my back. In the end we all walked home, with some degree of contentment knowing that what just happened would give much more attention to the march than if it had just peacefully continued without incident. But it seems that Frelimo just continues to shoot itself in the foot.
The coming weeks will mark Nyusi’s first hundred days in power. And, as is traditionally done following elections, all government departments are thrown into a flurry to get as much accomplished during that time (so that the new government can demonstrate its commitment to the people) before settling back to their usual pace. Where I am working part-time, there is a tremendous rush to hand out as many outboard motors as possible to lucky fishermen. No matter how many fishermen get motors, the Nyusi government will be more remembered for its public relations blunders with media images of Darth Vader-like policemen blocking a peaceful march in honor of a slain academic – shocking the world and an increasingly disenfranchised Mozambican public.