Opinion

Mozambique: the West is propping up a failed state

Donor countries and international organizations are propping up a corrupt government rather than criticizing it—leaving millions of Mozambicans mired in poverty.

President Fillipe Jacinto Nyusi of the Republic of Mozambique.

On Jan. 15, 2020, Filipe Nyusi was sworn in for his second term as the president of Mozambique following his reelection in October. Elections have been held every five years since 1994, soon after the country ended its decades long civil war and embarked on a democratic path. On the economic front, Mozambique has an opportunity to tap into its rich energy resources in natural gas, coal, and hydroelectric power, which are set to attract billions in foreign investment. Unfortunately, the prospects for political stability and wealth don’t look promising.

While some observers have seen it as an African success story, Mozambique has become a borderline failed state, its democracy a sham, and its energy riches won’t guarantee that its security or governance will improve in the future. And Mozambique is not unique. It is an example of how rich countries say they want to improve the lives of people in poor countries, but through their failure to insist on better governance inadvertently wind up ­­­­ensuring that their poverty will endure.

This gloomy prediction about Mozambique is due to several factors. First and foremost is the government’s corruption. It has been run by the same small group of politicians since independence in 1975. They have succeeded in abusing their power because of the lack of the countervailing forces such as an independent legislature and judiciary, a free press, and a strong civil society sector.

As a country where the per capita gross domestic product is less than 1 percent of that of the United States, Mozambique is simply too poor to afford the necessary trappings of democracy that could provide a check and balance on the power of the ruling elite.

And these rulers have been aided by the complicity of some countries, energy companies such as ExxonMobil, and aid organizations such as the U.N. Development Program and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the indifference of others.

When Mozambique abruptly gained its independence in 1975, it was totally unprepared for self-government because Portuguese colonial authorities had invested nothing in the education of the local population. As a result, when the Portuguese departed, they handed the government over to Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), a Marxist-Leninist guerrilla group that had been fighting for independence from Portugal for over a decade.

The leaders of Frelimo have been running the country ever since. There have been regular elections since the civil war ended, but the government has continually used its power to rig them. The European Union sent observers to the October election that Nyusi won, but they did not issue their final report until mid-February. When it did come out, the observers did not mince words. Among the multiple problems they found were “ballot-box stuffing, organised multiple voting, intentional invalidation of votes for the opposition, altering of polling station results with the fraudulent addition of extra votes, unlikely turnout figures, [and] major results deviations between polling stations in the same polling centre.”

The EU found irregularities in every province that were made possible by the complicity of local election authorities, the police, state officials, and Frelimo sympathizers. In major opposition strongholds, the observers noted “an astonishing reversal of results” from those in the 2018 municipal election results, giving further evidence of fraud.

Yet Nyusi supposedly won a second term with 73 percent of the vote when he garnered only 57 percent in his first election. That is even more implausible given the poor record in his first five years as president, on which he had to run. One independent report found the country’s position in a number of important social welfare indicators had deteriorated significantly compared to its neighbors during his first term.

In part because of that poor performance, Frelimo took no chances that its grip on power might slip in the election and even employed intimidation and violence against those that it perceived as a threat. The worst example of this was the murder of a civil-society activist, Anastacio Matavel. He was killed on Oct. 7, 2019, after he attended a training session for local observers for the presidential election that was only a week away.

A report in the weekly newspaper Savana, based on court documents, made clear his assassins were not the most professional of hit men. They crashed their getaway car, which was owned by the local mayor, less than a mile from the scene of the crime, which is the only reason they were caught. About two weeks earlier they had murdered by mistake someone else, who they thought was Matavel. That person, ironically, was a former police officer—the irony being that the five assassins who later pumped 10 bullets into Matavel are also police officers.

It is unclear who ordered the hit on Matavel, but four of the five policemen were members of an elite unit called the Rapid Intervention Force. In many poor countries, the police are a national force under the control of the central government and are neither accountable to nor under the control of local officials. In many of those countries, the main mission of the police is not to protect the people from criminals; it is to protect the government from the people. – The Africa Report.

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