Mozambique | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2002

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President Joachim Chissano announced this year that he would not run for president in the next elections, scheduled for 2004. On-again, off-again negotiations with the opposition RENAMO (Mozambique National Resistance) party to resolve a political crisis resulting from contested 1999 national elections did not achieve any significant results. The country continued to suffer from the ravages of massive flooding early in the year that resulted in the displacement of approximately 235,000 people, as well as from economic dislocation resulting in part from its post-independence civil war.

Portuguese traders and settlers arrived in the late fifteenth century. Full-scale colonization did not begin until the seventeenth century. In 1962, FRELIMO (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) was established; it launched a military campaign to drive out the Portuguese. In 1975, Mozambique gained independence. A one-party system was Have implemented, with FRELIMO as the sole legal party and the party leader, Samora Machel, as president of the republic. Independence was followed by 16 years of civil war against the rebels of RENAMO, which had its origins as a guerrilla movement supported first by Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and later by South Africa.

In 1986, President Machel was killed in an airplane crash; Chissano became president. In 1989 FRELIMO formally abandoned Marxism-Leninism in favor of democratic socialism and a market economy. In 1992 a ceasefire was signed, followed by a full peace agreement. RENAMO recognized the government's legitimacy and agreed to begin operating as the opposition political party.

In 1994, the first multiparty elections were held. The elections attracted a 90 percent turnout and were judged a resounding success by Mozambicans and the international community despite a last-minute pre-election boycott call by RENAMO, which accused FRELIMO of fraud. In response, in large part due to pressure from its international sponsors, RENAMO decided to participate at the last minute. Its leader, Alfonso Dhaklama, captured 33.7 percent of the presidential vote as against 53.3 percent for the incumbent, Chissano. The parliamentary vote was much closer, although FRELIMO won a narrow, but workable, majority.

The next round of presidential and legislative elections took place in December 1999. Chissano and the ruling FRELIMO were reelected, despite a strong showing by the opposition in both elections. The Carter Center, which observed the elections, determined that they showed signs of a maturing political system, although RENAMO complained vociferously of fraud, and resultant political unrest continued throughout much of 2000. In addition, in 2000 a series of major floods seriously affected the Mozambican economy, killing 650 people and forcing 500,000 to flee from their homes.

Political divisions continue to characterize the country six years after negotiations ended 20 years of anticolonial and civil war. FRELIMO maintains its dominance of government institutions. RENAMO, its former guerrilla foe and now primary parliamentary opponent, has continued to complain bitterly of official manipulation of elections and the use of international aid to secure the ruling party's position. Abuses by myriad security forces and banditry are endemic. While economic growth has continued with extensive foreign aid, widespread corruption has damaged the government's standing.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Mozambicans are able to select their president and parliament through competitive electoral processes, although this freedom is constrained by the social, political, and economic ravages of years of civil war, in addition to a lack of familiarity with democratic practices. Democratic consolidation remains tenuous, but dialogue and conflict are largely channeled through the country's democratic institutions. The 1999 polls were marred by logistical and administrative difficulties, but were viewed by many Mozambicans and the international community as expressing the will of the people. These national elections were just the second since Mozambique adopted a pluralist multiparty system. In addition, Chissano's announcement that he would not run again in 2004 out of respect for the democratic process, both nationally and within FRELIMO, appears to reflect a willingness to accept the principles of democratic practice, including alternance in power.

Continued claims by RENAMO of election fraud, however, have resulted in a highly polarized political environment. In protest of alleged fraud, RENAMO deputies repeatedly walked out of parliament and otherwise interrupted its proceedings throughout 2000 and into 2001. At the peak of the boycott, RENAMO threatened to form a government of its own in the six northern and central provinces where it had won the most votes in the December elections.

A parliamentary ad hoc committee was set up to revise the country's electoral law. In 2002, the draft legislation is to be discussed with the government, current electoral bodies, political parties not represented in parliament, and the civil society. A number of procedural changes undertaken in 2001 within the parliament itself, including a strengthening of the committee system, have resulted in that body's increased effectiveness and impact.

An antigovernment demonstration in November 2000 resulted in the deaths of more than 40 RENAMO supporters. Approximately 80 prisoners, mostly RENAMO backers, were suffocated under mysterious circumstances at about the same time. In April 2001 Parliament decided to extend the mandate of a commission set up to investigate the killings.

In December 2000, President Joachim Chissano and RENAMO'S Alphonse Dhaklama began an inconclusive series of meetings that continued sporadically into 2001 which raised hopes that the political impasse could be attenuated. A key disagreement has been over the appointment of provincial governors, with Dhlakama insisting that RENAMO nominate governors for the six provinces where RENAMO won a majority of votes in the 1999 general elections.

International assistance continues to play an important role in supporting Mozambique's democratization process. For example, more than 80 percent of those eligible registered to vote in the 1999 elections as part of a $40 million election process largely funded by the European Union and other donors. More controversially, even some political campaigns were supported by foreign money. The National Elections Commission was criticized by opposition parties and some independent observers for alleged pro-FRELIMO bias. Parliament is active and is an important player in the political process, although its power is overshadowed by that of the executive branch.

Mozambicans have a choice in terms of parties, although ideological differences between FRELIMO and RENAMO have narrowed since the end of the civil war. RENAMO had created a broader opposition umbrella with ten parties, although that has partially splintered. Both parties are criticized for lacking compelling messages for the country's seven million voters. RENAMO has been accused of maintaining groups of armed former guerillas. It has admitted that some former guerrillas may still be active, but that they have yet to be incorporated into the new police force, as provided for under the 1994 peace agreement.

The 1990 constitution provides for press freedom. With the opening up of independent newspapers, the share of the civil war era government newspapers has fallen. The most important media company to arise is the cooperative Mediacoop, which owns the successful Mediafax, faxed to hundreds of direct subscribers but read very widely; the periodical Mozambique Interview and the weekly Savana.

The independent media have enjoyed moderate growth, but publications in Maputo have little influence in the largely illiterate rural population. Criminal libel laws are another important deterrent to open expression. The constitution protects media freedom, but the state controls nearly all broadcast media and owns or influences all of the largest newspapers. There are more than a dozen licensed private radio and television stations, which also exercise some degree of self-censorship. The opposition receives inadequate coverage in government media, especially in national radio and television.

Nongovernmental organizations, including the Mozambican Human Rights League, are free to operate openly and issue critical reports. International human rights and humanitarian groups are also allowed to operate in the country. There is no reported interference with free religious practice.

The Ministry of Justice's annual review published in March 2001 reports that the Mozambican judicial system is " sick" due to obsolete laws, which leads to a "frightful absence of ethics, zeal, and dedication" in entities charged with administering justice. Explicitly recognizing serious problems in the judicial sector, the government has pledged its commitment to deep reforms in the country's justice system. Mozambican law is based on Portuguese law, itself heavily influenced by Roman law. The 1990 constitution calls for the courts' independence from the legislature, ending their subordination to the parliament, as had been the case under the 1975 constitution. However, the court system was established under the previous constitutional framework.

Corruption within the legal sector remains a serious problem. A report by the Human Rights and Development Association (HRDA) in 1999 charged that rampant corruption within Mozambique's crumbling judicial system has robbed thousands of citizens of their right to a fair trial. The report suggested that Mozambique's constitution, which guarantees citizens the right to a speedy and fair trial with legal representation, was being undermined by the crisis. The HRDA report also criticized Mozambican jails as "massively overcrowded." The major Beira prison was built for only 120 inmates but currently holds between 600 and 700 prisoners.

Criminal suspects are usually detained for many months before appearing in court without any formal defense. Then they are tried only in the official language, Portuguese, which many Mozambicans speak very poorly. Mozambique has only 170 judges or magistrates and an estimated 200 defense lawyers for a population of 15 million. These problems are compounded by bureaucratic red tape. Bribery of judges by lawyers is alleged to be common practice. For example, judges regularly set bail so low on serious crimes that suspects simply fled justice.

During the period of one-party rule, FRELIMO tightly controlled Mozambique's labor movement. The Organization of Mozambican Workers, the country's major trade confederation, is now nominally independent. The Organization of Free and Independent Unions, a more independent group, was formed in 1994. All workers in nonessential services have the right to strike. The right to bargain collectively is legally protected.

Freedom of assembly is broadly guaranteed, but limited by notification and timing restrictions. Women suffer from both legal and societal discrimination. Domestic violence is reportedly common, despite initiatives by the government and civic groups to reduce it. Despite some economic gains, the country remains among the world's poorest and suffers from one of the world's highest infant mortality rates.