Mozambique | Freedom House

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Freedom in the World 2009

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The ruling Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) performed well in November 2008 municipal elections, while the opposition Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) lost all but one of its remaining municipalities. Separately, judicial reforms succeeded in streamlining the process for filing cases and reducing the number of people in pretrial detention. In another positive step during the year, lawmakers unanimously passed a measure prohibiting human trafficking.

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. Despite fraud allegations and a brief boycott by RENAMO, the international community deemed the ensuing 1994 elections—in which Chissano won reelection as president and FRELIMO secured a narrow majority in the legislature—a resounding success.

Chissano and FRELIMO were again reelected in 1999, despite a strong showing by the opposition. The results were deemed credible by the international community, though there were logistical and administrative difficulties. RENAMO again alleged fraud and at one point threatened to form its own government in the six northern and central provinces it controlled.

The 2004 elections featured a noticeable decline in voter turnout—to 36 percent—and victory for FRELIMO and its new leader, Armando Guebuza. A political hard-liner named to succeed the term-limited Chissano, Guebuza secured 63.7 percent of the presidential vote after pledging to tackle corruption, crime, and poverty. The National Electoral Commission (CNE) admitted that 1,400 vote-summary sheets favoring RENAMO had been stolen, accounting for 5 percent of the total. The commission transferred a parliamentary seat from FRELIMO to RENAMO as compensation, and the Constitutional Court called for independent observers to monitor the final stage of the vote count in future elections.

 The country’s first provincial assembly elections were originally scheduled to take place no later than January 2008, but logistical delays forced both parties to agree to amend the constitution and postpone the elections to a more feasible date, likely in 2009. However, Mozambique did hold municipal elections in November 2008. Only 1.3 million of 2.8 million registered voters turned out, which analysts saw as a sign of growing disillusionment with the electoral process and resignation to the permanence of FRELIMO’s power. RENAMO appeared disorganized in the run-up to the vote. Party leader Afonso Dhlakama, apparently fearing internal competition for his post, expelled Daviz Simango, the popular mayor of Beira, from the party. Simango nevertheless won reelection as an independent, and RENAMO lost four of the five municipalities it had previously controlled.

Mozambique boasts one of Africa’s best-performing economies. In June 2008, the country’s principal international donors promised an additional $774 million in aid for 2009. However, Sweden and Switzerland decided to retract some of their financial support, arguing that the Guebuza government had failed to make any meaningful progress on corruption.

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. In 2006, the requirement that a party win 5 percent of the national vote to gain representation in the parliament was abolished. Officials in the provincial assemblies have historically been appointed by the central government, but a 2006 constitutional amendment mandated provincial elections; they were initially scheduled for 2008 but have been postponed until 2009.

Relations between the ruling FRELIMO party and the opposition RENAMO 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, which took 160 seats—compared with 90 for RENAMO—in the last parliamentary elections. RENAMO’s chances have been diminished by the efforts of its leader, Alphonse Dhlakama, to suppress talented young politicians who could threaten his authority.

Corruption in government is pervasive. Guebuza has ostensibly made anticorruption efforts a top priority, and journalists and civic groups have reported a noticeable increase in government attention to the daily activities of civil servants. In June 2008, a Labor Ministry investigation revealed that officials in the country’s social security agency had stolen between $8 million and $10 million. Separately, former interior minister Almerino Manhenje faced an investigation for alleged misuse of ministry funds. Nonetheless, international donors have begun to criticize the effectiveness of Guebuza’s anticorruption policies. The government in 2008 approved a draft bill giving the public the right to access information held by public authorities, but it had not been enacted at year’s end. Transparency International ranked Mozambique 126 out of 180 countries surveyed in its 2008 Corruption Perceptions Index.

The constitution provides for press freedom, but the state controls nearly all broadcast media and owns or influences the largest newspapers. However, O Pais, a successful independent weekly newspaper, started publishing on a daily basis in 2008. Criminal libel laws promote self-censorship, and only a fraction of the population has access to the internet.

Investigative reporting suffered greatly in the years following the 2000 murder of eminent investigative journalist Carlos Cardoso and the government’s subsequent decision to protect the primary suspect, former president Joachim Chissano’s son, Nyimpine Chissano. The authorities finally began investigating Chissano in 2006, but he died in 2007; meanwhile, the Supreme Court upheld lengthy prison sentences for the six men convicted of carrying out the assassination, and since then the situation for reporters appears to have improved.

The constitution provides for freedom of religion, and political parties are forbidden from being associated with religious institutions. In 2007, three mosques were burned in a matter of weeks in northern Mozambique, where the Muslim population is concentrated. However, the incidents were believed to be the work of a vandal and not symptomatic of religious tensions.

Academic freedom is generally respected. Although the government invested extensively in the school network during 2008, including teacher training, the education minister announced that the country had been unable to provide enough teachers to staff the 722 new schools that were opened in 2007. Instead of the 12,000 teachers needed for 2009, only 6,902 were set to graduate from the training program in 2008.

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. In February 2008, demonstrations over a recent mass-transit fare increase, which had been tied to a rise in fuel costs, degenerated into riots, killing four people and injuring more than 250. In March, more than 1,000 Mozambicans marched peacefully to the South African embassy to protest recent violence against foreigners in South Africa that had forced more than 40,000 Mozambicans to flee the country and left a dozen Mozambicans dead.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operate openly but must register with the government. In 2008, the government expressed concern at the lack of coordination among the more than 60 local and international development organizations operating in Mozambique. Officials accused some international NGOs of failing to communicate with local leaders, causing problems when immediate disaster relief is necessary, including during seasonal floods and cyclones. The authorities suspended one organization, Oxfam-UK, from conducting relief operations after it launched an international aid appeal against the wishes of the Mozambican government.

The Organization of Mozambican Workers, the major trade union confederation, is nominally independent and has been critical of the government’s market-based reforms. A 2007 labor law made it easier for employers to hire foreign workers, among other provisions. Labor unions particularly objected to the law’s rules for short-term contracts, which they said would reduce job security.

The judicial system has improved since the end of one-party rule in 1994, but judicial independence is still elusive. Corruption continues to be endemic in the judicial system, and the country faces a dire shortage of judges. Former justice minister, Esperanca Machavela, before being dismissed by Guebuza in March 2008, streamlined judicial operations that had previously been divided between the justice and interior ministries. She managed to reduce the backlog of cases, speeding up trial and sentencing procedures and significantly reducing the number of individuals held improperly in pretrial detention. An independent 2008 study conducted by the country’s preeminent human rights organization, the Mozambican Human Rights League, found that the number of suspects who remainedin prison illegally past their preventive detention deadline (usually a maximum of 48 hours for most crimes) had dropped from 219 in 2007 to just 4 in 2008 in the south of the country. Improvements, though less dramatic, were also seen in the north and central regions where the numbers of suspects in illegal pretrial detention fell from 119 to 40 and from 61 to 15, respectively. The study also found that while the treatment of inmates had improved and there was no evidence of torture in prisons, living conditions are still abysmal and most cells are overcrowded.

Human rights abuses by security forces—including extrajudicial killings, torture of suspects, and arbitrary detention—remain serious problems despite pay increases and human rights training. Public dissatisfaction with the police has led to a rise in vigilante groups. A 2007 Amnesty International study found that there had been an increase in the number of extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals by police, and that few of the cases were ever investigated or followed up with prosecution of accused officers. Nonetheless, the lack of torture in prisons—a result of an improvement in prison-guard training—serves as a potential model for similar improvements among the police.

Women serving in elected office are particularly rare; in the 2008 municipal elections, only three of the eight women who ran for office were successful. A 2004 Family Law revision advanced women’s rights in the legal system, partly by ending the husband’s formal status as head of the household. Rape is illegal, but spousal rape is not covered.

While the government has made children’s welfare a priority, child prostitution remains legal except when parents are instrumental in the practice. In addition, human trafficking, particularly of children from Mozambique to South Africa, is a serious concern. Save the Children–United Kingdom reported in March 2008 that there had been 52 cases of trafficking of young women or children since the beginning of the year, an increase over 2007. However, in April 2008, the government unanimously passed a law providing for the prosecution of traffickers, the protection of victims, and the prevention of future trafficking. There had been no prosecutions under the law by year’s end.