Freedom in the World
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Presidential and parliamentary elections planned for December 2004, the third since civil war ended a decade ago, were expected to extend the dominance of the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). Corruption continued to tarnish the government, especially after the second escape from prison of a man charged with killing the country's foremost investigative journalist.
Portuguese traders and settlers arrived in Mozambique in the late fifteenth century, and full-scale colonization began in the seventeenth century. FRELIMO was established in 1962 and launched a guerrilla campaign to oust the Portuguese, and in 1975, Mozambique gained independence. FRELIMO was installed as the sole legal party, and its leader, Samora Machel, as president. Independence was followed by 16 years of civil war waged by the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO), which was supported first by Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and later by South Africa.
In 1986, Machel died in an airplane crash and Joachim Chissano became president. In 1989, FRELIMO formally abandoned Marxism-Leninism for democratic socialism and a market economy. In 1992, a ceasefire was signed, followed by a full peace agreement. RENAMO agreed to operate as an opposition political party.
The first multiparty elections, which were held in 1994, attracted a 90 percent turnout. The elections were judged a resounding success by the international community, despite a brief pre-election boycott called by RENAMO, which accused FRELIMO of fraud. RENAMO leader Alphonse Dhlakama captured 33.7 percent of the presidential vote, versus 53.3 percent for Chissano. FRELIMO won a narrow, but workable, majority in parliament in concurrent legislative polls.
Chissano and FRELIMO were reelected in general elections in 1999, despite a strong showing by the opposition. The polls were marred by logistical and administrative difficulties, and RENAMO complained of fraud. However, many Mozambicans and the international community viewed the elections as expressing the people's will. In protest of alleged fraud, RENAMO deputies repeatedly walked out of parliament or interrupted proceedings in 2000 and 2001. At one point, RENAMO threatened to form its own government in six northern and central provinces.
Widespread corruption has damaged the standing of Chissano's government. In January 2003, six men were found guilty of murdering journalist Carlos Cardoso, who died in 1990 while investigating bank scandals. While the convictions were a triumph of judiciary independence, no charges were lodged against the president's son, Nyimpine Chissano, who was alleged by some of the accused to have ordered the assassination. Suspicions of high-level complicity flared in May 2004 with the second escape from prison of Anibal Antonio dos Santos, who was sentenced to 28 years in prison for the murder; he had previously escaped in 2002. Dos Santos was captured later that month at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, and sought asylum in Canada. The Mozambican government is currently seeking his extradition.
FRELIMO maintains dominance of government institutions, but Chissano's announcement that he would not run in the December 2004 presidential elections appears to reflect an acceptance of democratic practice. Armando Guebeza, a former interior minister and hard-line Marxist, was FRELIMO's nominee for president and widely expected to win.
Meanwhile, deep political divisions remain, with occasional violence. August 2004 saw two incidents in Sofala province, a RENAMO stronghold. Political rivals clashed in the town of Inhaminga, and then a gun battle erupted between the police and Dhlakama's security guards in nearby Maringue.
Mozambique boasts one of Africa's best-performing economies, thanks partly to extensive foreign aid. Nevertheless, the country remains among the world's poorest. With some 14 percent of Mozambicans stricken with HIV/AIDS, the economy faces challenges ahead, including a contracting agricultural labor force in subsistence farming.
Mozambicans can change their government democratically, although this freedom is constrained by the economic legacy of war and unfamiliarity with democratic practices. The president, who is elected to a five-year term by popular vote, appoints the prime minister. The unicameral Assembly of the Republic comprises 250 seats; FRELIMO olds 160 and RENAMO 90. The next legislative and presidential elections are scheduled for December 2009. Parliament plays an important role in the political process, although the executive branch overshadows its power. The influence of smaller opposition parties is negligible, which leaves RENAMO the only viable electoral challenge to the status quo.
Parliament agreed in 2002 to change electoral law provisions regarding settling disputes, deploying observers, and naming members to the electoral commission. In parliament, procedural changes undertaken in 2001 have resulted in that body's increased effectiveness, although partisan tensions sometimes impede work.
Corruption is pervasive, although the government is taking steps, such as compelling high-ranking civil servants, as the result of a law passed in 2003, to declare their incomes upon assuming their posts. Mozambique's attorney general admitted, in a 2002 report to parliament, that corruption plagued the legal system. He cited incompetence and abuse of power at all levels of the administration of justice, including police, attorneys, judges, lawyers, and prison personnel. He also blamed prosecuting attorneys for failing to press charges against suspects despite sufficient evidence. Mozambique was ranked 90 out of 146 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2004 Corruption Perceptions Index.
The constitution provides for media freedom, but the state controls nearly all broadcast media and owns or influences the largest newspapers. The independent media have enjoyed moderate growth, but publications in the capital of Maputo have little influence in the largely illiterate rural population. The most important media company to arise is the cooperative Mediacoop, which owns Mediafax (which is faxed to hundreds of subscribers but read very widely), the periodical Mozambique Interview, and the weekly Savana. Criminal libel laws deter open expression. The more than a dozen licensed private radio and television stations exercise some self-censorship. The opposition receives inadequate coverage in state-run media, especially radio and television. Only a fraction of the population has access to the Internet because of a scarcity of electricity and computers.
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion. There was no reported government interference with religious practice or academic freedom.
Freedom of assembly is broadly guaranteed, but limited by notification and timing restrictions. Nongovernmental organizations, including the Mozambican Human Rights League, operate openly, as do international human rights and humanitarian groups. FRELIMO's grip on the labor movement is loosening. The Organization of Mozambican Workers, the 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.
The judicial system is hobbled by a dire shortage of judges, magistrates, and defense lawyers. Bribery of judges by lawyers is alleged to be common. Detainees often wait months, sometimes years, before appearing in court without any formal defense. They are tried only in Portuguese, which many Mozambicans speak poorly. The Constitutional Council, entrusted with deciding whether laws and governmental decisions are constitutional, made its debut in late 2003. Abuses by security forces still occur. Prisons are severely overcrowded with appalling health conditions.
The government and organized crime influence the business elite. Western donors praise Mozambique's privatization drive, although it has slowed in recent years and major sectors remain in state hands.
Women occasionally pierce the male-dominated political arena; in February, Luisa Dias Diogo was named the country's first female prime minister. However, women generally suffer from legal and societal discrimination, and domestic violence is common. Only formally married women have full rights.