Mozambique | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2007

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The government of President Armando Guebuza made limited progress in 2006 on its pledges to combat corruption and improve the police system. It also entered a dialogue with the main opposition party, the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO), to reform the overly politicized National Electoral Commission, though no final agreement was reached by year’s end. Meanwhile, a Mozambican newspaper republished controversial Danish cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, causing large but peaceful Muslim demonstrations in the capital, Maputo.

Portuguese traders and explorers arrived in Mozambique in the late fifteenth century, and active 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. After a 1974 coup in Portugal, Mozambique gained independence in 1975. FRELIMO was installed as the sole legal political party, and its leader, Samora Machel, became 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, a political moderate, succeeded him as leader of FRELIMO and president of Mozambique. Three years later, FRELIMO formally abandoned Marxism-Leninism for democratic socialism. A peace accord was signed in 1992, and RENAMO agreed to forgo military resistance and operate instead as an opposition political party.

The first multiparty elections, held in 1994, brought 90 percent of voters to the polls. The balloting was deemed a resounding success by the international community, despite a brief election boycott 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 the 1999 general elections, despite a strong showing by the opposition, logistical and administrative difficulties, and fraud allegations from RENAMO. In protest, 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. However, many Mozambicans and the international community concluded that the elections had expressed the people’s will.

Since the end of the civil war, FRELIMO has dominated Mozambican politics, but Chissano’s authority within the party has deteriorated due to highly publicized allegations of corruption. 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. However, no charges were lodged against the president’s son, Nyimpine Chissano, who was alleged by some of the accused to have ordered the assassination.

Voter turnout declined to only 36 percent in the December 2004 presidential and legislative elections, which saw an overwhelming victory for Armando Guebuza, the new head of FRELIMO and a political hard-liner. Guebuza, pledging to tackle Mozambique’s enduring problems of corruption, crime, and poverty, captured 63.7 percent of the presidential vote, and RENAMO’s Dhlakama took 31.7 percent; FRELIMO won 160 seats, and RENAMO 90 seats, in the 250-seat Assembly. Independent monitors cited an array of serious flaws in the voting process, particularly the lack of observer access to the final stages of the vote tabulation by the National Electoral Commission (CNE). Nevertheless, monitors agreed that none of the irregularities would have significantly altered the results; they concluded that 85 percent of polling stations had functioned correctly and reluctantly declared the elections to be generally free and fair.

RENAMO once again claimed massive fraud and initially rejected the election results, filing a formal complaint with the CNE. While the commission rejected the complaint on technical grounds, it did admit that 1,400 vote summary sheets favoring RENAMO had been stolen, accounting for 5 percent of the total. As a result, the CNE shifted an Assembly seat from FRELIMO to RENAMO. Unsatisfied, RENAMO announced a boycott of the incoming Assembly and appealed to the Constitutional Court to further correct the elections’ irregularities. The court rejected RENAMO’s appeal but called for observer access to the final stage of the vote count in future elections; RENAMO later ended its legislative boycott.

The two main parties in 2006 began discussions about reforming the bloated and overly politicized CNE. The panel in charge of the 2004 elections consisted of 19 members: 10 appointed by FRELIMO, 8 appointed by RENAMO, and 1 chairman selected by the other 18 members. Reform proposals ranged from reducing the number of members to eliminating political appointees completely. However, there was little agreement at year’s end between RENAMO, which wanted to maintain political appointees, and FRELIMO, which was looking to increase the body’s efficiency and independence. Each province also has its own election commission, complete with overpaid party appointees.

Mozambique boasts one of Africa’s best-performing economies, thanks partly to extensive foreign aid. The lack of progress on Guebuza’s promises to combat government corruption have caused many donors to reassess their financial support for the Mozambican budget. Nevertheless, the Norwegian government recently pledged approximately $80 million in direct budget aid over the next three years, and the Japanese have canceled all of Mozambique’s bilateral commercial debt, totaling $60 million. With some 14 percent of Mozambicans stricken with HIV/AIDS, the economy faces challenges ahead, including a shrinking agricultural labor force in subsistence farming. In addition to regular donor aid, Mozambique in 2006 was also in need of more serious emergency relief. In February, the most powerful earthquake in a century hit a remote part of the country, killing four people, injuring 36, and destroying 288 homes. In March, persistent flooding along the Zambezi River forced more than 2,000 people to resettle on higher ground, and heavy rains killed at least 31 people over the course of the year.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Mozambique is an electoral democracy. Presidential and legislative elections in December 2004, despite some serious irregularities, generally reflected the will of the people. The president, who is elected to a five-year term by popular vote, appoints the prime minister. Officials in provincial assemblies have also traditionally been appointed by the central government, leading the ruling FRELIMO party to dominate local administration even in regions considered to be strongholds of the opposition RENAMO party. The unicameral national legislature, the Assembly of the Republic, recently approved a constitutional amendment to allow for the election of provincial assemblies starting in 2008. The national Assembly has 250 seats and plays an important role in the political process, but it is overshadowed by the executive branch. Procedural changes in 2001 increased the legislature’s effectiveness, although the animosity between FRELIMO and RENAMO has often impeded progress.

Relations between the two parties have become increasingly acrimonious since 2004, when President Guebuza was elected. Former president Chissano was known for promoting political pluralism and interparty reconciliation. Guebuza, however, is a FRELIMO stalwart who has sought to revive the traditional hegemony of his party; he has proven reluctant to compromise with an opposition party that has yet to win a presidential election. RENAMO’s chances have been further diminished by the drive of its leader, Dhlakama, to maintain tight control over his party and suppress talented young politicians who could threaten his authority. One such upstart, Raul Domingos, formerly Dhlakama’s heir-apparent, left in 2003 and formed a small opposition group known as the party for Peace, Democracy, and Development (PDD). However, it is unlikely that Domingos’s party will be able to threaten the two main parties’ seats in the legislature.

Corruption in government is pervasive. Guebuza has made tackling the problem a top priority, and journalists and civic groups have reported a marked increase in government attention to the daily activities of civil servants. 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 has investigated several public figures. The director of the National Social Security Institute and several staff members were dismissed in 2005 due to allegations of corruption. In late April 2006, the Assembly unanimously passed the anticorruption conventions of the African Union and the United Nations, and in September, the interior minister released the results of an internal audit of his own ministry that he had requested soon after taking office. The audit exposed unexplained financial losses of $356,000 and the presence of over 70 “ghost workers” on the ministry payroll. Nonetheless, the progress made in combating corruption has not been ideal. Several years have passed since an anti–money laundering bill was enacted, but there have been no prosecutions under the statute to date. Furthermore, no political party has complied with laws requiring them to make their accounts public. Mozambique was ranked 99 out of 163 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2006 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution provides for press freedom, but the state controls nearly all broadcast media and owns or influences the largest newspapers. In August 2005, agreement on a draft Freedom of Information Bill was reached at a media seminar in Maputo, but no progress has been made on it since. The government press office (GABINFO) in 2006 conducted a review of the 1991 press law and suggested possible “improvements.” The draft amendments include provisions for mandatory licenses for working journalists and omit the much-needed freedom of information legislation. The existing press law has long been considered one of the more progressive of its kind in Africa. Although a number of press associations, such as the Mozambican Editors’ Forum and the Media Institute of Southern Africa, were involved in working on the draft amendments, there was little to no discussion of the proposals in the rest of the media.

Investigative reporting suffered greatly in the years following the 2000 murder of eminent investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso, and few are now willing to examine sensitive topics. The government was accused of complicity in Cardoso’s murder after it refused to investigate former president Chissano’s son, Nyimpine Chissano, who had been implicated in the testimony of a few of the men convicted of the murder in 2003. However, in 2006, the authorities finally put Nyimpine Chissano under investigation for his alleged role in orchestrating the crime. Criminal libel laws promote self-censorship, and in May 2006, three journalists with a community paper in Manica province were arrested as a “preventive measure” against criminal libel. While coverage of the 2004 general elections was more evenhanded than that of previous polls, the opposition received inadequate attention 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, and the government respects this right in practice. Even during the civil war, Mozambique maintained its tradition of religious tolerance. Registration of religious organizations is required by law, but the government did not refuse registration to any applicants in 2006. In February, Savana , a local newspaper, republished controversial Danish cartoons depicting the prophet Muhammad. Unlike Muslim communities in many other countries, where protests against the cartoons turned violent, the Muslim community in Mozambique—accounting for 18 percent of the population—remained remarkably peaceful. Immediately following the cartoons’ publication in Savana , a group of 650 Muslims spontaneously demonstrated outside the newspaper’s office, and a week later, 2,000 Muslims organized a march through Maputo to show their disapproval. Both events were carried out without violence or confrontation.

Academic freedom is generally respected. However, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2006 human rights report, teachers at all levels, particularly those in the central and northern provinces, felt compelled to align themselves with FRELIMO. In fact, political affiliation has been reported to be a factor in the hiring of some teachers.

Freedom of assembly, though broadly guaranteed, is limited by notification and timing restrictions. In 2001, the law on public demonstrations was amended to reduce some of these restrictions and make it harder for police to legitimately use force to break up a demonstration. 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.

The Organization of Mozambican Workers, the major trade confederation, is now nominally independent and has been critical of the government’s promarket reforms; it has yet to exert significant influence over actual government policy. 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 criminal justice system is hobbled by a dire shortage of staff as well as endemic corruption at all levels, including among police, attorneys, judges, and prison personnel. Mozambique’s judicial system has improved since the end of one-party rule in 1994, but judicial independence is still elusive, and the executive branch continues to maintain ample influence over rulings. Following a September 2005 riot in the town of Mocimboa da Praia in which eight people died and over 50 were injured, 14 RENAMO militants were arrested but have since been held in prison without trial or a foreseeable court date; political interference is the primary factor blamed for stalling progress.

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. 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 1995 law on prisons is regularly disregarded, and many detainees overstay their sentences due to a lack of proof of time served. In June 2006, a court ruled in favor of 15 inmates who brought a case against the government demanding access to antiretroviral drugs in prison; the government appealed the decision.

Human rights abuses by security forces—including extrajudicial killings, torture, beatings, extortion, and arbitrary detention—are serious problems. The government has begun to provide human rights training to police officers. As a part of his effort to shake up the police force, Guebuza in 2006 also fired the police chief and the head of the Presidential Guard and has established 12 new police units. According to official data, there was a 24 percent decrease in the number of reported violent crimes in 2006, but many civilians would contest this result. The high incidence of violent crime in Mozambique continues to be a major problem and has led to occasional mob and vigilante killings. Between August and November 2006 alone, vigilante groups were responsible for the deaths of more than 20 people. However, unlike in previous years, no violence erupted between the main political parties in 2006.

Women occasionally enter the male-dominated political arena, but only 20 percent of all teachers and 9 percent of all education civil servants are women. Legal and societal discrimination against women is common, as is domestic violence. In August 2004, a revised Family Law raised the minimum marriage age to 21, although persons between the ages of 18 and 20 can marry with the consent of their parents; ended husbands’ formal status as heads of families; and legalized civil, religious, and common-law marriages alike. The law also prohibits rape, which is punishable by two to eight years if the victim is more than eight years old and by a minimum of eight years if she is younger than that. Spousal rape, however, is not covered under the law. Many women know little about their rights and continue to be subject to customary law. In August, the government released a survey conducted jointly with the United Nations and a number of NGOs on violence against women, in which 54 percent of women interviewed admitted to being subject to an act of physical or sexual violence by a man.

While the government has made children’s welfare a priority, child prostitution continues to be legal except when parents are instrumental in the practice. Limited access to education, child abuse, child labor, trafficking in children, and the presence of street children in Maputo remain serious problems.