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Mozambique: how Frelimo betrayed Samora Machel’s dream of a free Mozambique

Forty-six years ago Samora machel, leader of the Mozambique liberation movement and the country’s first president, stood before a euphoric crowd at Machava Stadium and declared the complete and total independence of Mozambique.

He inspired the Mozambican people to imagine and build a new nation in which development, social justice, solidarity with – and caring for – the oppressed took center stage.

Four decades later, Machel’s statements ring hollow. His words and the new dawn they heralded have since disintegrated.

I am a Mozambican political sociologist. I have been a keen observer of the evolution of the economic, social and political structures of the country since the beginning of the 1990s.

The 1975 Declaration of Independence proclaimed a social contract that contained the ideals of freedom. These included economic and social justice, the eradication of hunger and poverty, health and education for all, equality of all without distinction of ethnicity, race and sex, women’s empowerment, the rule of law and human rights.

But Frelimo squandered the enormous political capital it had at independence. The party remains in power using violence, intimidation, harassment and threats. Generalized iniquity characterize Mozambique today.

Governance crises and deep roots Corruption permeate all aspects of political, economic and social life. Popular discontent with the government of Frelimo is on the rise. This explains the armed conflict in central and North Regions.

The context

Mozambique was the first country in southern Africa to become independent by armed insurrection. This threatened the white minority regimes of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. Both feared that Mozambique would become a refuge for the guerrillas of the liberation movement of the respective countries. It was therefore in their interests to overthrow the Frelimo government.

As Mozambique celebrated independence, Ian Smith’s regime in Zimbabwe carried out air raids in southern and central Mozambique. Civilians have been killed and communications systems bridges and crops were destroyed.

The Rhodesian regime also joined forces with discontented Portuguese who still had interests in Mozambique, to create a surrogate terrorist movement, Renamo. When the Rhodesian regime fell and Zimbabwe became independent in 1980, the South African apartheid regime intervened to finance Renamo’s operations. Its 16-year war of destabilization consisted of acts of terrorism that produced deep psychological trauma.

The war of destabilization and natural disasters created the need for foreign aid. In collaboration with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, Frelimo introduced structural adjustments in 1987. These programs involved economic liberalization and deregulation.

The programs involved widespread privatization of state-owned enterprises, massive layoffs and unemployment, and cuts in government spending on social services. The cost of food, water, shelter, electricity, transport and telecommunications have increased. Poverty and inequality have increased.

At the same time, the Frelimo elites set out to build a vast system of patronage.

Natural resources

In my opinion, the political elites of Frelimo have presided over the mismanagement of natural resources, looting and environmental crimes.

Over the past 20 years, many rural communities have been forcibly removed from their homes to make way for agri-food, mining, oil and gas companies.

In addition, natural ecosystems have been plundered. Deforestation in the central and northern regions has left areas subject to vicious cycles of drought, cyclones and floods.

In 2013, the Environmental Investigation Agency investigation found that 93% of logging in Mozambique was illegal.

But the most marked exploitation of natural resources followed the discovery of large reserves of natural gas in the district of Palma, province of Cabo Delgado.

Local rural communities have been dislocated and impoverished. The relocation of the Afungi peninsula to the district of Palma, where the French company Total has built its liquefied natural gas infrastructure, has been marked by government threats, intimidation, coercion and lack of transparency.

Without fair compensation and meaningful free, prior and informed consent, communities that for centuries depended on fishing for their livelihood were evicted from their fishing grounds forever.

State of human rights

Mozambique’s declaration of independence committed the new nation to respect the rights enshrined in international and regional human rights covenants. Yet human rights organizations year after year document violations of basic human rights protected by international law.

In Cabo Delgado, nearly a million internally displaced people are desperate need to have their basic needs met. This includes housing, water, sanitation and education.

Those suspected of helping the enemy are reported missing, tortured and kill.

Journalists trying to cover the conflict face intimidation and harassment, arbitrary arrests and torture.

The 1975 declaration of independence also proclaims the “total emancipation of women”. But most Mozambican women live in deplorable conditions, deprived of their rights, humanity and dignity.

Poverty and inequalities

In the declaration of independence, Frelimo proclaimed that the new government would fight and eliminate all “faces of colonialism and underdevelopment”. These include disease, illiteracy and hunger. He said the network of health services would be extended to the whole country. Frelimo too promised to promote the dissemination of education at all levels.

These promises have not been kept. The Frelimo government oversaw growing poverty and inequalities. It presides over low indices of human development, especially in rural areas, especially in the central and northern regions. Among these are:

health (infant mortality, nutrition),

education (years of schooling, enrollment),

standard of living (water, sanitation, electricity, cooking fuel, soil, assets), and

unemployment (especially of young people).

Corruption is rife. A glaring example was the revelation of the country’s biggest financial scandal in 2016. Senior government officials acquired secret and illegal loans from Credit Suisse International in Switzerland and VTB Capital in Russia. It later appeared in court that over US $ 17 million was paid in bribes to the Frelimo party and to two sitting ministers of the time – defense and finance.


The ideals of the freedom struggle set out in the 1975 Declaration of Independence are lost and forgotten.

In my opinion, the Frelimo mocked the ideals of liberation. Mourning, not celebration, is appropriate for the occasion.

David Matsinhe, losophone research specialist / adjunct professor in African studies, Carleton University

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