Mozambique | Freedom House

Freedom in the World



Freedom in the World 2008

2008 Scores


Partly Free

Freedom Rating
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Civil Liberties
(1 = best, 7 = worst)


Political Rights
(1 = best, 7 = worst)

Ratings Change: 

Mozambique’s civil liberties rating improved from 4 to 3 due to an opening of the media environment, primarily as a result of the successful prosecution of the murderers of investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso and a subsequent decline in self-censorship by members of the press.

Mozambique’s political factions and electoral institutions struggled in 2007 to prepare for the country’s first provincial elections. A constitutional provision had required the vote to be held by January 2008, but as delays mounted, it became clear that such a date—in the middle of the rainy season—would not be feasible. In November, both major parties agreed to amend the constitution and postpone the elections, though no specific date was agreed upon by the end of the year. Also during the year, severe flooding devastated the northern part of the country, explosions at an arsenal near the capital killed more than 100 people, and the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of six men for the 2000 murder of journalist Carlos Cardoso.

Mozambique achieved independence in 1975, after a coup in Portugal led to the release of that country’s colonies. The Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO), a guerrilla group that had long fought to oust the Portuguese, was subsequently installed as the sole legal political party; its leader, Samora Machel, became president. Independence was followed by a 16-year civil war that pitted the Soviet-allied FRELIMO against the Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO)—supported first by Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and later by South Africa. In 1986, Machel died in a plane crash, and Joachim Chissano, a political moderate, succeeded him as leader of FRELIMO and president of Mozambique. A peace accord was signed in 1992, with RENAMO agreeing to lay down arms and operate as a political party in a multiparty democratic system.

The first elections, in 1994, were deemed a resounding success by the international community, despite fraud allegations and a brief boycott by RENAMO. Chissano won reelection as president, and FRELIMO secured a narrow majority in concurrent legislative polls.

Chissano and FRELIMO were reelected in the 1999 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.

Voter turnout declined to just 36 percent in the December 2004 elections, which resulted in an overwhelming victory for Armando Guebuza, the new head of FRELIMO and a political hard-liner. Pledging to tackle corruption, crime, and poverty, Guebuza captured 63.7 percent of the presidential vote. Independent monitors cited an array of serious flaws in the voting process, but agreed that none of the irregularities would have significantly altered the results.

RENAMO once again claimed massive fraud and filed a formal complaint with the National Electoral Commission (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 election irregularities. The court rejected RENAMO’s appeal but called for observer access to the final stage of the vote count in future elections; RENAMO eventually ended its legislative boycott.

In 2007, the country struggled to schedule and plan for its first provincial assembly elections, which were intended to devolve power to the provincial governments. The constitution mandated that the elections take place no later than January 2008, but as delays pushed the polls closer to that date, observers noted that seasonal rains would likely drive down voter turnout. Early in the year, Guebuza announced that the vote would take place in December. However, the new members of the CNE were not appointed until June, further shortening the time available to prepare. In November, both major parties agreed to amend the constitution to permit a postponement beyond January. While the two parties were unable to agree on a specific date for the rescheduled elections, it is generally expected that they will not be held until 2009. The amendment also allowed for an additional period to register voters from January 15-March 15, 2008, whereas, initially, registration was intended to be completed on November 22, 2007. Electoral registration was far below numbers for the previous election at year’s end.

Separately, in March 2007, the military came under scrutiny when explosions at an arsenal near Maputo killed more than 100 people. A similar explosion at the same site in January had seriously injured three people. The military promised to relocate all of its arsenals to remote locations, though it was not evident that this had taken place by year’s end. A presidential inquiry in April attributed the explosion to a number of factors, including aging munitions stockpiles and human negligence.

Mozambique boasts one of Africa’s best-performing economies, with an estimated economic growth rate in 2007 of 8.8 percent. This is thanks in part to extensive foreign aid comprising some 49 percent of the state’s overall budget. For example, in December the Swiss government agreed to give $21 million in direct budget support to Mozambique between 2007 and 2009. The lack of progress on Guebuza’s promises to combat government corruption has caused many donors to reassess their financial support. The portion of the budget set aside for poverty alleviation is one of the largest in Africa. This was particularly important in 2007, when severe floods devastated the country, killing 45 people and forcing 163,000 to flee their homes.

Political Rights and Civil Liberties: 

Mozambique is an electoral democracy. The most recent presidential and legislative elections, despite some serious irregularities, generally reflected the will of the people. The president, who is elected to a five-year term, appoints the prime minister. The unicameral Assembly of the Republic, whose 250 members are also elected to five-year terms, is overshadowed by the executive branch. Officials in the provincial assemblies have traditionally been appointed by the central government, but in 2006 the national legislature approved a constitutional amendment calling for provincial assembly elections no later than January 2008. That deadline was extended by another amendment in November 2007, though no specific date was decided upon.

In May 2007, in an effort to reduce political bias in the CNE, the legislature appointed five new commissioners—three from the ruling FRELIMO party and two from the opposition RENAMO. Eight more commissioners were appointed in June, coming entirely from the civil service.

Relations between the two parties have become increasingly acrimonious since 2004, when President Armando Guebuza was elected. A FRELIMO stalwart, Guebuza has sought to revive the traditional hegemony of his party. RENAMO’s chances have been further diminished by the efforts of its leader, Alphonse Dhlakama, to suppress talented young politicians who could threaten his authority.

Changes to the electoral law in 2006 abolished the requirement for a party to win 5 percent of the national vote in order to gain representation in parliament. The reform could allow smaller parties to increase their role in politics; to date, only the two main parties have passed the 5 percent threshold.

Corruption in government is pervasive. Guebuza has ostensibly made tackling the problem a top priority, and journalists and civic groups have reported a noticeable increase in government attention to the daily activities of civil servants. In April 2006, the Assembly unanimously passed the anticorruption conventions of the African Union and the United Nations; later that year, the interior minister released the results of an internal audit of his ministry, which exposed unexplained financial losses of $356,000 and the presence of over 70 “ghost workers.” Nonetheless, the progress made in combating corruption has been limited, and graft continues to be a problem. Mozambique was ranked 111 out of 180 countries surveyed in Transparency International’s 2007 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution provides for press freedom, but the state controls nearly all broadcast media and owns or influences the largest newspapers. Criminal libel laws promote self-censorship, and only a fraction of the population has access to the internet because of a scarcity of electricity and computers. The government press office in 2006 conducted a review of the 1991 press law and suggested possible “improvements.” The amendments, which remained solely in draft form at the end of the year, include provisions for mandatory licenses for working journalists and omit much-needed freedom of information legislation. The existing press law has long been considered one of the more progressive of its kind in Africa.

Investigative reporting suffered greatly in the years following the 2000 murder of eminent investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso, and the government was accused of complicity in Cardoso’s murder after it refused to investigate former president Joachim Chissano’s son, Nyimpine Chissano, who had been implicated in court testimony. In 2006, the authorities finally put Nyimpine Chissano under investigation, but he died in November 2007, before the case against him was resolved. Also in 2007, the Supreme Court rejected the appeal of the six men who had been hired to kill Cardoso and upheld their convictions and lengthy prison sentences.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and even during the civil war, Mozambique maintained its tradition of religious tolerance. In 2007, three mosques were burned in a matter of weeks in northern Mozambique, where the Muslim population is concentrated. The incidents were believed to be the work of a vandal and not symptomatic of religious tensions. The leaders of both the Christian and Muslim communities in the region worked successfully to prevent any subsequent violence.

Academic freedom is generally respected, and the government invested extensively in the country’s school network during the year. As a result, the government announced that 722 new schools were opened in 2007, resulting in an estimated increase of 10.4 percent in the number of students attending school in the last year. UNICEF estimated that 94 percent of children were enrolled in school, though there is still concern about some children being abused in this environment.

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) operate openly but 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 market-based reforms. In May 2007, extensive negotiations between the government and the trade unions preceded the passing of a new labor law by the Assembly. Among other things, the measure outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the grounds of HIV/AIDS status or sexual orientation and made it easier for employers to hire foreign workers. The unions continued to object to a provision for short-term contracts that they believe will reduce job security.

The judicial system has improved since the end of one-party rule in 1994, but judicial independence is still elusive. A survey released in 2007 by the international NGO Global Integrity found corruption to be endemic in the judicial system, with a large proportion of judges accepting bribes to fix cases. A separate study, conducted by the president of the Supreme Court, found a dire shortage of qualified judges. But the report also concluded that the backlog of cases had been substantially reduced in the preceding year. In 2007, the government announced that it would appoint a new body to serve as the watchdog of the judiciary. Separately, in December, the Justice Minister announced his intention to establish a functioning law court in all of the country’s 128 districts. Currently only 40 districts have such a court.

Detainees often wait months or years before appearing in court, where they frequently lack any formal defense. They are tried only in Portuguese, which many Mozambicans speak poorly. Prisoners generally receive one meal per day and are subject to beatings, extortion, and fatal disease. 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 in 2007. No decision was made on this appeal before the end of the year.

Human rights abuses by security forces—including extrajudicial killings, torture, and arbitrary detention—remain serious problems despite pay increases and human rights training. In Maputo in particular, the security situation is tenuous and the police allegedly engage in contract killing. In 2006, the government reintroduced compulsory military service registration. The number of people registering in 2007 dramatically increased as the government began to enforce the policy more vigorously.

Like many other countries in the region, police set up checkpoints throughout the country where bribes were often extorted from travelers. Nonetheless, there were no reports of excessive force being used at these checkpoints, and many said it did not significantly inhibit their ability to travel where they needed to.

Only 20 percent of all teachers and 9 percent of all education civil servants are women. In August 2004, a revised Family Law advanced women’s rights in the legal system, partly by ending a husband’s formal status as head of household. Rape is illegal, but spousal rape is not covered. Due to a high rate of maternal fatality from illegal abortion procedures, the government in 2007 began considering the legalization of all forms of abortion. Abortion is criminal unless the mother’s life is in danger or she does not have the physical or mental capacity to care for the child.

While the government has made children’s welfare a priority, child prostitution continues to be legal except when parents are instrumental in the practice. In addition, although human trafficking is not as serious a problem in southern Africa as it is in other parts of the continent, there is no law outlawing human trafficking in Mozambique.