Uneven playing fields fosters violence

The recent outbreak of violence in Mozambique, widely suspected to be the work of RENAMO, is deeply worrying not only for Mozambique but the whole sub-region. Already calls are being made for SADC and AU to engage with the deteriorating situation after four policemen and three civilians were killed in ambushes of a truck and two buses at the weekend.

Ozias Tungwarara's picture

Regional manager with the Africa Regional Office

April 11th, 2013

The recent outbreak of violence in Mozambique, widely suspected to be the work of RENAMO, is deeply worrying not only for Mozambique but the whole sub-region. Already calls are being made for SADC and AU to engage with the deteriorating situation after four policemen and three civilians were killed in ambushes of a truck and two buses at the weekend.

The has come as a shock to most people in the region but tensions have been on the increase in Mozambique for some time. Indeed, a warned about the potential dangers of the country’s uneven political playing field – and if more deadly violence ensues then there is little doubt that this will have been among the major culprits.

The debilitating 1975-92 civil war brought the country to its knees. For the last one and half decades the impact of the peace dividend has been evident – with the country attaining growth rates of more than 7 percent, the highest for non-oil producing countries. However, there have always been serious concerns that such economic growth was not translating into improved livelihoods mainly due to poor governance characterized by a neo-patrimonial political system and high levels of corruption. The public service in Mozambique has a deplorable reputation for incompetence and ineffectiveness, corruption, bureaucratic red tape, and poor service delivery.

Huge deposits of natural gas and coal – enough to supply Germany, Britain, Italy and France for the next 15 years – provide Mozambique with a real opportunity to consolidate economic development and improve the quality of life of its citizens. On the other hand if access to and distribution of such national resources is not equitable, it could easily stoke the fires of a civil war.

The OSISA/P 2009 report on Democracy and Political Participation in Mozambique identified the dominance of a single political party, FRELIMO, as the greatest challenge in establishing a stable and accountable democratic government. The continued marginalization of RENAMO was seen as a clear threat to democracy in Mozambique.

The APRM country review report also noted that the political playing field is not level for all political parties in Mozambique. It went on to state that the Country Review Mission (CRM) was inundated with allegations of discriminatory administrative practices, which make it costly for individuals to identify openly with another party other than the ruling party, FRELIMO.

It is alleged that while it is not formal state policy to discriminate against non-FRELIMO supporters in recruitment into the public service, in practice most vacancies are filled on the basis of affiliation with the party. FRELIMO supporters are also allowed to organise cells in their work places, hold meetings during office hours, and make financial contributions to the party using official channels to effect deductions from salaries of members.

Yet Mozambique has been hailed as a success story of a democratic transition.

The AfriMAP report recommended a transition from the current closed list proportional system to an open list proportional system, in which the order of candidates is defined by the number of votes they obtain in an effort to make elected representatives more accountable to the electorate. Other reforms are also needed in order to enhance the credibility and independence of the Electoral Commission.

As Mozambique prepares for elections next year, it is imperative that reforms that ensure inclusive politics be put in place. Sadly, recommendations such as the ones in the OSISA/AfriMAP and APRM reports are rarely followed up. This has led to tragic consequences as we saw in Kenya’s 2007 post-election violence, South Africa’s 2008 xenophobia attacks, and Northern Mali’s takeover by rebels last year – all these issues had been flagged in the respective APRM reports.

Already there is war talk by Mozambique’s neighbours. Recent reports indicate that Zimbabwe is already mulling troop deployment on the pretext of protecting its territorial integrity. While the narrative so far has been that RENAMO has no capacity to execute a rebellion, any form of violent armed conflict is a sure deterrent to much needed investment and must be avoided at all costs.

About the author(s)

Ozias Tungwarara is the regional manager with the Africa Regional Office of the Open Society Foundations (OSF) network based in Johannesburg.

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