Mozambique | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2006

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The December 2004 presidential and legislative elections resulted in a clear victory for the ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) party and its new leader Armando Guebuza. The elections were marred by significant irregularities and low voter turnout but were considered generally free and fair and reflective of the people's will by a number of international observers. Guebuza-who succeeded longtime FRELIMO leader and Mozambique president Joaquim Chissano-has pledged to tackle the country's enduring problems of corruption, crime, and poverty. Meanwhile, significant political divisions between FRELIMO and the opposition Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) party remained, exemplified by RENAMO's aggressive legal challenge of the election results and by clashes between supporters of both parties that resulted in 12 dead and 47 wounded.

Portuguese traders and settlers arrived in Mozambique in the late fifteenth century, and full-scale colonization began in the seventeenth century. The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), established in 1962, launched a guerrilla campaign to oust the Portuguese. Following a 1974 coup in Portugal, Mozambique gained independence in 1975. FRELIMO was installed as the sole legal party, and its leader, Samora Machel, as president. Independence was followed by 16 years of civil war pitting the Soviet-allied government against 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, held in 1994, brought 90 percent of voters to the polls. The elections were judged a resounding success by the international community, despite a brief preelection boycott called by RENAMO, which accused FRELIMO of fraud. Chissano captured 53.3 percent of the presidential vote, versus 33.7 percent for RENAMO leader Alphonse Dhlakama. FRELIMO won a narrow, but workable, majority in the Assembly of the Republic 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 over alleged fraud, RENAMO deputies repeatedly walked out of the Assembly 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 damaged the standing of Chissano's government. In January 2003, six men were found guilty of murdering prominent journalist Carlos Cardoso, who was gunned down in 2000 while investigating a corruption scandal at the state-controlled Commercial Bank of Mozambique. While the convictions were a triumph of judicial 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, sentenced to 28 years in prison for the murder; he had previously escaped in 2002. Dos Santos, captured later that month at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, sought asylum in Canada. He was deported to Mozambique in January 2005, where he faces a retrial for the murder.

Only 36 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast ballots in the December 2004 presidential and legislative elections, which saw an overwhelming victory for Armando Guebuza and FRELIMO. Guebuza, pledging to tackle Mozambique's enduring problems of corruption, crime, and poverty, took 63.7 percent of the presidential vote, as opposed to 31.7 percent for RENAMO's Dhlakama; FRELIMO won 160 seats, and RENAMO 90 seats, in the 250-seat Assembly. While declaring the election generally free and fair and reflective of the people's will, independent monitors cited serious flaws in the voting and tabulation processes, most explicitly the lack of observer access to the final stages of the vote tabulation process by the National Electoral Commission (CNE). In addition, flawed voter rolls, a lack of voting materials and accessible polling centers in rural areas, incidents of ballot stuffing, an excessive delay in announcing results, and technical problems with the tabulation software undermined the validity of the election. Nevertheless, monitors agreed that none of these irregularities would have significantly altered the election results, concluding that 85 percent of polling stations functioned correctly.

RENAMO-citing evidence of "massive fraud"-initially rejected the election results, called for the election to be rerun, and filed a formal complaint with the CNE. While the CNE rejected RENAMO's complaint on technical grounds, it did admit that 1,400 vote summary sheets (editais) favorable to RENAMO had been stolen, accounting for 5 percent of the total. As a result, the CNE shifted an Assembly seat from FRELIMO to RENAMO in the Zambezia Province. RENAMO subsequently announced a boycott of the incoming Assembly and appealed to the Constitutional Court to further correct the election's irregularities. Although the court rejected RENAMO's appeal, it called for observer access to the final stage of the vote count in future elections; RENAMO later withdrew its legislative boycott.

Further evidence of the country's deep political divisions was revealed in September 2005, when a Constitutional Court ruling upholding a disputed local by-elec-tion led to clashes between supporters of FRELIMO and those of RENAMO in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. As a result, 12 people were killed and 47 injured.

Mozambique boasts one of Africa's best-performing economies, thanks partly to extensive foreign aid. In January, the United Kingdom cancelled Mozambique's £80 million (US$146 million) debt and agreed to pay 10 percent of the country's debt to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund; the latter body released an additional $2.4 million to Mozambique the next month. 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. In October, the government announced that over 800,000 people will require food aid in 2006; officials cited rising maize prices, a failed winter crop, and a lack of donor funds as contributing to food shortages.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Citizens of Mozambique can change their government democratically. However, this freedom is constrained by the political and economic legacies of war, including political violence. Presidential and legislative elections in December 2004-despite some serious irregularities-were generally free and fair and reflected the will of the people. The president, who is elected to a five-year term by popular vote, appoints the prime minister. The unicameral Assembly of the Republic, which has 250 seats, 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 as the only viable electoral challenge to the status quo. The next legislative and presidential elections are scheduled for December 2009.

The Assembly agreed in 2002 to change electoral law provisions regarding settling disputes, deploying observers, and naming members to the electoral commission. In the Assembly, procedural changes undertaken in 2001 have resulted in that body's increased effectiveness, although partisan tensions sometimes impede work. Amendments to the Electoral Act ratified in June 2004 prohibit the use of government resources for political campaigning. In addition, the Assembly recently approved a constitutional amendment that allows for elected provincial assemblies starting in 2008.

Corruption in government is pervasive. In a 2002 report to the Assembly, Mozambique's attorney general conceded 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. However, the government is taking steps to combat the problem: in 2003, the Assembly passed a law that compels high-ranking civil servants to declare their incomes upon assuming their posts, and the Anti-Corruption Unit (ACU) in the attorney general's office was investigating several public figures. In August 2005, the director of the National Social Security Institute and several staff members were dismissed due to allegations of corruption. Newly elected President Armando Guebuza has made tackling corruption a top priority, and journalists and civic actors have reported a marked increase in government attention to the daily activities of civil servants. In May, media reports about a government plan to spend $2.5 million on a retirement beach house for former president Joachim Chissano provoked widespread outrage; the government later decided to cut this budget by 60 percent. In September, a new Central Office for Combating Corruption replaced the ACU. In a related and more surprising move, the ACU head Isabel Rupia-widely considered to be a successful steward of the government's anticorruption campaign-was not chosen to head the new agency. Mozambique was ranked 97 out of 159 countries surveyed in Transparency International's 2005 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution provides for press freedom, but the state controls nearly all broadcast media and owns or influences the largest newspapers. While independent print media have enjoyed moderate growth in recent years, publications in the capital of Maputo have little influence among the largely illiterate rural population. Criminal libel laws promote self-censorship. In addition, journalists are subject to threats and intimidation at the hands of officials and nonstate actors. Most notably, in February 2005, Jeremias Langa, news director of the privately owned station Soico TV, was threatened with suffering the same fate as murdered journalist Carlos Cardoso if he continued to "talk too much." In April, media were barred from attending the libel case of one of the six men convicted of Cardoso's murder. However, in November 2004, the Assembly approved a constitutional amendment that guarantees a diversity of views in state-run media, and government media have displayed greater independence in recent years. In particular, state-owned Radio Mozambique is thought to broadcast unbiased news coverage. While coverage of the general elections in December 2004 was more evenhanded than previously, the opposition received inadequate coverage in state-run media, especially radio and television. In August, agreement on a draft Freedom of Information Bill was reached at a media seminar in Maputo. 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, and the government respects this right in practice. Academic freedom is generally respected. However, according to the 2005 U.S. State Department's human rights report, teachers at all levels of schooling felt compelled to participate in FRELIMO campaign activities and teach children the FRELIMO campaign song instead of the national anthem. In addition, political affiliation has been reported to be a factor in the hiring of some teachers.

Freedom of assembly is broadly guaranteed but limited by notification and timing restrictions, and authorities used force to break up several demonstrations in 2005. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including the Mozambican Human Rights League, operate openly, as do international human rights and humanitarian groups; all NGOs must register with the government. 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; however, only 2 percent of the workforce is in collective bargaining contracts.

The executive branch dominates the judiciary. The judicial system is hobbled by a dire shortage of judges, magistrates, and defense lawyers. A December 2004 study conducted by the University of Eduardo Mondlane revealed that 90 percent of 2,700 prisoners in the Machava Prison in Maputo did not have access to legal counsel. 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.

Human rights abuses by security forces-including extrajudicial killings, torture, beatings, extortion, and arbitrary detention-are serious problems. Prisons are severely overcrowded with appalling health conditions; prisoners generally receive one meal per day and are subject to beatings, extortion, and fatal disease. The government has begun to provide human rights training to police officers. The high incidence of violent crime in Mozambique is a major problem and has led to occasional mob and vigilante killings. Mozambique remains rife with small arms and unexploded land mines from the civil war.

Women occasionally pierce the male-dominated political arena. In February 2004, Luisa Dias Diogo was named the country's first female prime minister. However, women generally suffer from legal and societal discrimination. Domestic violence, including spousal rape, is common. In August 2004, a revised Family Law was adopted that raised the marriage age to 18, ended husbands' formal status as heads of families, and legalized civil, religious, and common-law marriages. However, as many women know little or nothing about the law, customary law continues to prevail in many parts of the country. Trafficking in women for purposes of prostitution is a problem. While the government has made children's welfare a priority, limited access to education, child abuse, child labor, child prostitution, trafficking in children, and the presence of street children in Maputo remain serious problems.