Mozambique’s 2013 elections: The end of liberation movement politics?

In Mozambique’s latest municipal elections the governing party FRELIMO (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique) appears to have obliterated any opposition when it managed to win 49 out of 53 contested municipalities. RENAMO (Resistência Nacional de Moçambique) has virtually ceased to exist as a representative political party, due to its boycotting of Mozambique’s fourth municipal elections on 20 November 2013. Closer scrutiny, however, shows a very diff

Four factors appear to have fundamentally influenced the rapid expansion of MDM: Firstly, the ongoing political suicide of RENAMO exacerbated by the ruling FRELIMO’s more radical wing stating its unwillingness to provide any political concessions. Secondly, the dichotomy between power politics and development politics that distinguishes the nature and approach of the three Mozambican major contestants FRELIMO, RENAMO and MDM. Thirdly, the emergence of a new politically active urban population pushing for a fresh political dispensation in the country and; finally, an apparent retaliation by the people of Beira, Quelimane and Nampula against political and economic marginalisation.


After an overwhelming defeat in the 2004 national elections RENAMO had progressively been losing the power struggle through the ballot box. The 2004 electoral results represented the most dramatic defeat for RENAMO since 1992 and boosted FRELIMO’s confidence as shown by the immediate end to the traditional type of dialogue FRELIMO had been having with RENAMO on political issues since 1992. In 2009, this was exacerbated by yet another sharp loss for RENAMO in municipal elections coupled with the appearance of MDM threatening to usurp its position as the second major political force in the country.

RENAMO’s response to these factors couldn’t have been more strategically disastrous. Dhlakama asked his party’s elected candidates not to take their 49 seats in the national parliament but he was completely ignored. Then, in an attempt to force the government to return to the traditional dialogue, Dhlakama retreated to Nampula. His withdrawal also indicated Dhlakama’s abandonment of the political engagement in the capital city of Maputo. Having realised that this strategy had not produced the desired impact on FRELIMO leadership, RENAMO threatened to disrupt elections and subsequently kept its promise by not taking part in the fourth municipal elections, thereby furthering Dhlakama and the party’s political confinement. In October 2012 Dhlakama retreated to RENAMO’s military headquarters in Satungira with some of his supporters from where he is conducting guerrilla attacks against government and civilians. Despite substantial widespread pressure not to retaliate with force, the Guebuza-led government counterattacked, which led to Dhlakama fleeing to an unknown location further entrenching the party’s political confinement.


After 38 years of independence FRELIMO’s attitude and political discourse still reflect a rhetoric that is based on a narrow interpretation of the liberation struggle, delegitimising any opposition and thus reiterating its right to retain unlimited and eternal power. Alternatively, RENAMO’s rhetoric is based on the struggle against communism and for democracy. RENAMO claims to have brought democracy and a free market economy to Mozambique and thus demands the right to enjoy all the resultant political and socio-economic benefits.

Despite being a splinter RENAMO party, MDM was formed at a time when the country’s main agenda was neither the struggle for independence nor the establishment of a multiparty democratic system. Faced with widespread poverty, economic development has become the biggest national aspiration. While FRELIMO and RENAMO constantly exchange hostile political accusations, MDM’s remains neutral and is based on development-driven (alternative) discourse. Whereas Guebuza has been increasingly delegitimising RENAMO’s political relevance, Dhlakama has never accepted and has avoided participation in the country’s political institutions. By contrast, Simango has always recognised both Chissano and Guebuza as heads of state. Unlike FRELIMO and RENAMO parliamentarians, the public and parliamentary interventions by MDM’s members are always impartial. The MDM’s discourse and practice of development politics are underscored by its local governance successes in Beira and Quelimane.


The results of the 20 November 2013 reflect the current attitude of the urban population to the governing party and send a resounding message of discontentment. Apart from reinforcing its control over Beira and expansion into Quelimane (and now Gurué), MDM captured the important city of Nampula. The gap between FRELIMO and MDM votes in other important urban municipalities including Maputo is insignificant.

This expression of dissatisfaction by the urban populace is not a recent phenomenon. Despite good macroeconomic performance and economic growth valued at around 7% since 1992, the impact of the efforts towards poverty reduction has been negligible. The percentage of Mozambique’s population below the poverty line even rose from 54.3% in 2003 to 54.7% in 2010.

More important than the statistics was the response from the population. Major riots broke out in Maputo and Matola with 13 deaths recorded on 1 and 2 September 2010. In the past 5 years, Mozambique (particularly Maputo) has become a centre of threats of riots, effective historical riots and general demonstrations. On 31 October 2013, Mozambicans demonstrated against their own government. They were triggered by the threatening spectre of war as well as a sense of insecurity caused by an increasing number of kidnappings. Since the beginning of kidnappings in 2011, 50 people had fallen victim to this criminal activity.


The inhabitants of Sofala, Zambézia and Nampula (non-Southern Mozambicans) have always regarded themselves as being both political and economic marginalised by FRELIMO. The recent history of the country, as presented in school curriculums, seems to be framed in propaganda that ignores the role locals from these provinces played in the country’s history. It was in the region, formerly the province of Manica and Sofala, where some of the most important forms of contestation against the Portuguese colonial regime took place. Surprisingly, the importance of these historical events has systematically been ignored.

Sofala is a controversial region. It is home to the late FRELIMO vice-president Uria Simango and others who were later accused of Eduardo Mondlane’s assassination. Sofala is also home to most of the RENAMO guerrilla’s top leaders and commanders. After independence, Samora Machel accused the region of giving birth to a number of political parties that antagonised the regime (Chichava 2010). After the Peace Agreement, the majority of Sofala residents voted for RENAMO. This momentum was halted in 2009 with the advent of MDM.

According to Chichava (2007) the Zambézian vote in favor of RENAMO is a reaction to the harassment and marginalization of the locals by FRELIMO. Post-independence, FRELIMO adopted a strategy of hostility and “decolonisation” towards the Zambézian inhabitants. This strategy further radicalized during the civil war when FRELIMO wrestled control away from RENAMO in the area.

FRELIMO’s hostile and radical approach to Sofala and Zambézia may also have taken the form of economic repression. The urban municipalities of Beira, Quelimane (to some extent Nampula) have long been considered “forgotten cities” under FRELIMO municipal administration. This sentiment is expressed by the locals when trying to explain the economic stagnation of their cities. There is no doubt in their minds that there is deliberate and premeditated “economic punishment” for their continued lack of support for the party. Meanwhile following the recent historical victory by the MDM in Nampula there is a mixture of both economic exclusion and political arrogance by the FRELIMO top leadership towards the locals.

It is against the backdrop of these unresolved historical, political and socio-economic differences that the population of Sofala, Zambézia and Nampula went to the ballot box on 20 November 2013.


There is little doubt that the rapid growth of MDM is a major indicator of the imminent end of bipolarisation within Mozambique’s political environment. This does not ignore the extent to which the vacuum created by the absence of the old alternative (RENAMO) gave its supporters no other option but to vote for MDM. For the people of Beira and Quelimane and, to a certain degree, Nampula, it was important to send a message to FRELIMO that its strategy based on marginalisation and political arrogance not only doesn’t work but also creates local resentment with devastating electoral consequences. In the final account, however, the rise of MDM is the result of the emergence of a new political and economic dispensation to which it seems both the political liberators (FRELIMO) and anti-communism activists (RENAMO) have so far been unable to adequately respond.

The full article (including sources) can be downloaded from:

Post published in: Africa News
  1. mandla

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *