An interview with historian Michel Cahen for the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Southern Africa / Fredson Guilengue
Lamenparle remercie la Fondation Rosa Luxembourg pour l’avoir autorisé à publier cet entretien, disponible dans sa version originale ici http://www.rosalux.co.za/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/2016-Mozambique-Military-Expression-Political-Problem-IP-01_2016.pdf
Mozambique is currently facing one of the most challenging tests of its capacity to resolve the country’s political, economic and social challenges.
Politically, a ceasefire agreement signed between the Government of Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) and the main opposition party, the Resistência Nacional de Moçambique (RENAMO) on 24 August 2014 was short-lived. It only served to clear the way for the country’s general elections on 15 October 2014, at which time the highly contested results by RENAMO brought about another round of military conflict.
Economically, the national currency, Metical, has been consistently devaluing against, for example, the South African Rand, the American Dollar and the Euro, when potential gains from newly discovered resources (e.g. offshore gas) have failed to produce any tangible improvement to people’s lives. This, in conjunction with the discovery of hidden debt of 1, 4 billion USD, led partners like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB) and the British to suspend further financial aid to the country. It is therefore expected that these political and economic developments will lead to political upheaval if the Government does not address questions fast and adequately.1
To better understand Mozambique’s current political developments from a political-historical perspective, Fredson Guilengue, Programme Manager at the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Southern Africa (RLS) interviewed historian Michel Cahen (MC). Michel Cahen is an authority on Portuguese colonisation in Africa and a political analyst of Portuguese speaking African Countries (PALOPs). He is the Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) at “Les Afriques dans le monde” Research Centre at the Institute for Political Studies in Bordeaux, France. As an accredited historian of Mozambican and Angolan contemporary history, Cahen has written extensively on Mozambique’s political developments.
RLS : Mozambique’s electoral processes have always been highly contested due to allegations of electoral fraud by the ruling party Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (FRELIMO) as well as other factors, including a general perception that political power should alternate between parties to achieve a mature democracy. To what extent do frelimo’s victories threaten de facto democratic development in Mozambique ?
MC : This is a complex question as it must be viewed in different historical periods. Despite the fact that the anticolonial liberation war was carried out in probably no more than fifteen percent of the country’s territory (an aspect that in terms of a guerrilla-like war is already very significant), there should be no doubt that at independence in 1975, if the country had not opted for a single-party state system, FRELIMO would still have had an eighty percent chance of winning. FRELIMO had the necessary legitimacy of the gun ; it had defeated the Portuguese and it was a liberation movement for independence.
However, the single-party system severely divided the Mozambican population. With the fusion of party and state there was no space for any independent structure to correct mistakes. Only the highest structures within FRELIMO were allowed to criticise the government. An example of this was the famous Samora Machel’s presidential “offensive” in 1983.2 This was the highest structure putting pressure on the medium structures of the state hierarchy. It was also followed by the paradigm of authoritarian modernisation without any social gains for the sector of the population defended by FRELIMO. This paradigm expressed the idea that the peasantry had to be forcefully modernised by living in rural cities, the so-called “communal villages”. The consequence of building these villages was an agronomic, cultural and political catastrophe for the country and deeply divided the Mozambican population. The civil war in Mozambique was not a peasant revolution, but the peasants used the structures of the guerrilla, introduced by outsiders, to protect themselves against the state foisting authoritarian modernisation upon them.
There is an intense political culture instilled by FRELIMO in which electoral fraud emerges as a local responsibility. A local party member does not require any orientation from the central committee to organise electoral fraud. The member engages in this type of activity because the premise is that RENAMO should never be allowed to win. A doctorate student of mine from Mozambique who conducted a study in the south of the country explained how a relative of his, who was an electoral officer at a voting station, destroyed ballots to prevent the opposition from winning. So for me the real question to ask would be to what extent did fraud affect electoral results in Mozambique ? It is also very difficult to report fraud because FRELIMO possesses more qualified staff than the other parties and controls the entire state apparatus. Although the Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM) also has qualified cadres, it is still a small party.3 RENAMO is a powerful party but suffers a severe lack of personnel. Thus, at many voting stations RENAMO or MDM observers were either not properly trained, had been freshly recruited just prior to the process, or could even have been appointed by FRELIMO. Continuer la lecture de « Mozambique is suffering a military expression of a political problem »
- The International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank (WB), the United Kingdom and a group of 14 other direct supporters of the Mozambican budget, have recently suspended financial aid to the country due to a highly controversial commercial loan from the Credit Suisse Bank and the Russian VTB recently uncovered by the international press and acknowledged by the Government of Mozambique. The debt is estimated to be in excess of 1, 4 billion dollars and forms part of extensive loans by the Government of Mozambique between 2009 and 2014 which were neither disclosed to parliament nor to its international aid partners. According to the Government, it withheld the information fearing that its opponent in a civil war, RENAMO, would have access to sensitive information. However, it is now known that, while part of these funds were used to acquire military equipment, a very substantial amount simply disappeared. [↩]
- In the 80’s FRELIMO adopted a strategy of self-criticism to reinforce its authority and leadership. Thus Samora Machel, both president of the party and the country (1975-1986), led the so-called “Presidential Campaigns”. These campaigns, also meant to introduce reforms and change, included : the 1976 Production Offensive ; the 1978 Campaign to build the party organisation and the 1980 Presidential Offensive against corruption; etc. (see: Newitt 1995). Marlyn Newitt, A History of Mozambique (London: Hurst & Company, 1995), 545. [↩]
- The Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM) was formed in March 2009 as a splinter movement comprising ex-RENAMO members and supporters under the leadership of Daviz Mbepo Simango, the mayor of Beira, Mozambique’s second largest city. Today it is the third most important opposition party in Mozambique. [↩]