Mozambique – Filipe Nyusi: an embattled president in times of troubled comradery and ominous tides

On 15th October, Mozambique will hold a new round of general elections and also provincial elections to elect governors for the first time.  These polls happen in a year marked by dramatic events which will pose major challenges to the incumbent president, Filipe Nyusi, and his party, the Frelimo. In March and April, the country was hit by the Idai and Kenneth cyclones  leaving death, damage and destruction in its wake in the central and northern provinces of the country, respectively. The new provincial election format is a key part of the peace process that will potentially allow Frelimo’s arch-rival, Renamo, to appoint provincial governors in its strongholds. With less than five months to the polls, Filipe Nyusi faces other serious challenges: unifying the party around his leadership, restoring Frelimo’s credibility and offsetting the negative impact of the corruption scandals involving of the party’s key figures; and continuing to move forward with the most sensitive part of the peace process, i.e. disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR).  Nyusi’s performance is hailed as the reason for the relative success of the peace process and is expected to bring payoffs in the next elections.

Building cohesion and strengthening the leadership

Founded on its socialist origins and the spirit of comradery and democratic centralism, Frelimo’s internal disputes rarely become public; thus it came as a relative surprise when Samora Machel Junior (“Samito”), son of Mozambique’s first president, challenged Filipe Nyusi’s leadership. After his exclusion from the party lists, he decided to run as the mayoral candidate in Maputo against the official Frelimo candidate, Eneas Comiche, in the October 2018 local elections. His behavior led the Central Committee to start disciplinary proceedings against him alleging that he had violated the statutes when he ran against the party’s candidate. He then publicly confronted the president accusing him (and the party secretary general Roque Silva) of “gross violation” of the Frelimo statutesfor not allowing criticism, not stimulating dialogue, and not recognizing the constitutional rights of members”. Though the Central Committee verdict is not yet known, the “Samito affair” has caused some damage to the President’s image. Although the affair was not on the agenda in the recent (May) gathering of the Central Committee, it loomed large with Nyusi loyalists distancing themselves from Samito and sometimes criticizing or scolding him for disrespecting Nyusi. At the end of the gathering, most of the party seniors exalted party cohesion and unity. But this does not necessarily mean that internal differences were ironed out or that the party will navigate in smooth waters until the October elections. Indeed, it might mean that Nyusi has at least succeeded in asserting his leadership in key party constituencies, namely those represented by the above-mentioned groups.

“Cleaning” the party, and building credibility

This year the image of the president and party was tainted with corruption scandals – known as the hidden debt scandal – and the involvement of the former Finance Minister, Manuel Chang, in illegal loans of over two billion dollars to three companies: Proindicus, EMATUM (Mozambique Tuna Company) and MAM (Mozambique Asset Management). His detention in South Africa in December 2018 gave new momentum to the stalled investigation led by the Mozambican Attorney General’s into a group of individuals linked to the scandal; these included former central bank governor, intelligence chiefs and civil servants who served under Armando Guebuza, whose older son, Ndambi Guebuza, was among those already in jail. The scandal plunged the country into an unprecedented financial crisis and raised criticism from all quarters. Opposition political parties urged the judicial system to continue investigation and to hold the former president, Armando Guebuza, accountable; the Public Integrity Center demanded that the government refuse to pay the debt, and led a public anti-debt campaign. The former minister, Manuel Chang, might be extradited to Mozambique following a decision from the South African Minister of Justice.

This scandal contributed to weakening Filipe Nyusi’s leadership as he was part of the government when the debt was contracted; and it exposes Frelimo as a party at the core of the corruption that so deeply affects the country. In the recent Central Committee, Guebuza accused those questioning his responsibilities in the scandal of being on a “witch hunt”. Despite speculations about his involvement and the imprisonment of some of those implicated in the debt scandal, Nyusi seems to support the demands to hold those involved accountable. But some see this as an electoralist façade, only staged to win over voters, and that after the October elections everything will go back to business as usual. Thus, Nyusi is caught in a dilemma between risking to lose the support of either his comrades or voters, depending on how he manages the debt scandal. 

Moving forward with the DDR process

The DDR process, is a final and important challenge in the backcloth of this year’s elections; this process was part of the Memorandum of understanding on military issues, signed between the Mozambican government and Renamo on August 6th 2018.  The agreement anticipated the reintegration of Renamo’s officials in the Armed forces of Mozambique (FADM); the Republic of Mozambique Police (PRM), the General of the Information and Security Service (SISE) and the Defense and Security Forces (FDS) teaching institutions. 

Negotiations are underway between Filipe Nyusi and Ossufo Momade (elected leader of the Renamo in the first ever leadership elections in January), but the results are coming at a slow pace and Nyusi has even labelled the process as “fatiguing”.  Although some of Renamo’s men have been integrated, it is a sluggish process. In April, Renamo submitted the list of officials to be integrated in the command ranks of the PRM, but the President said that the list included retired and already demobilized men and therefore did not fulfil all criteria discussed. Renamo’s spokesperson José Manteigas reacted saying that the President was being inflexible. Frelimo members have referred to the DDR, along with decentralization, as the “flip side of the peace coin”, which means that its conclusion is critical to the peace process.

An embattled presidency in troubled comradery and ominous tides

In a recent interview for a Mozambican Newspaper (Canal de Moçambique, 15 May 2019), Nyusi responded to a question about the performance of his term by saying that the natural disasters, war and effects of the debt scandal had been major obstacles for the implementation of his programme, and speculated as to whether yet another disaster might be around the corner to hit the country. At the beginning of his term, Nyusi made a gambit in the peace process despite opposition from his party fellows. One year after, the debt scandal erupted with its unfolding negative consequences. However, neither Nyusi nor his comrades seem to know how to deal with the issue without bringing serious consequences for both.  With Nyusi confessing his fatigue as the DDR process drags on, his presidency and leadership are losing steam in what was one of the main achievements of this term and the options to galvanize the electorate in October for his party and himself are meagre.

José Jaime Macuane and Edalina Rodrigues Sanches

1 thought on “Mozambique – Filipe Nyusi: an embattled president in times of troubled comradery and ominous tides

  1. Angela pires

    You are being too kind in this analysis? What about the dead stall in economy ? No plans for any development ? Corruption still being practiced ? Celso correia admitting he stole 30 million and getting away with it ? Electricity 188% more expensive than in 2016?
    And so on and so on ?


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