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Mozambique democracy under threat as opposition loses leaders

  • Joaquim Nhamirre

    Agence France-Presse

Maputo, Mozambique   /   Thu, February 25, 2021   /   09:02 pm
Mozambique democracy under threat as opposition loses leaders In this file photograph taken on October 13, 2014, Mozambican Democratic Movement (MDM) President and then presidential candidate Daviz Simango gestures as he speaks during an interview with AFP in Maputo, ahead of the country's 2014 general elections. - The leader of Mozambique's second largest opposition party and a top mayor who fought climate change in his low-lying coastal city Beira, Daviz Simango, died on February 22, 2021, aged 57, his family said. He was transferred to a South African hospital last week for treatment, his brother Lutero Simango said in a text message, without disclosing the nature of the illness. (AFP/Gianluigi Guercia)

The death this week of an opposition leader has inflicted a heavy blow to Mozambique's fragile democracy after the loss of Afonso Dhlakama, a charismatic former guerrilla fighter, analysts say.

Daviz Simango, the 57-year-old founder of Mozambique's second largest opposition party, died of an undisclosed illness in a South African hospital. 

His sudden death came little more than two years after Dhlakama died following a heart attack.

Dhlakama, the former leader of the Renamo rebel movement, had been the face of opposition to the Frelimo government after the country's long and brutal civil war. 

The loss of these two prominent figures deprives the country of two nationally-heard voices of dissent, say commentators.

"The opposition was already dying, fighting this big elephant which is the ruling Frelimo party," said political science professor Domingos do Rosario of the Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo.

"It is a dark scenario." 

Dhlakama signed a historic peace accord in 1992, ending a 14-year civil war that devastated the economy, left a million people dead and caused 1.5 million others to seek refuge in neighbouring countries.

The pact paved the way for multi-party elections in 1994.

Renamo came second in that election and subsequent ballots, although its presence as a recognised opposition party strengthened the democratic arena.

But Dhlakama's death caused a struggle for succession that stoked internal divisions and weakened the party's clout.

International relations professor Hilario Chacate warned Mozambique was at risk of turning into China, a single-party state.   

"Mozambican democracy is increasingly weakened," said Chacate, who teaches at Maputo's Joaquim Chissano University.

"The country needs to reinvent itself." 

Frelimo dominance

Only three of Mozambique's 40-odd registered parties have seats in the 250-member parliament.

Frelimo has the lion's share, with 184 lawmakers, followed by 60 Renamo members and just six from Simango's Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM).

Renamo lost 29 seats in the last polls due to internal conflict during he run-up to the election in 2019.

Party members disapproving of Dhlakama's successor Ossufo Momade had broken off into a splinter group known locally as the Renamo military junta.

They staged dozens of attacks during the election campaign and called on supporters to boycott the poll.

Experts fear Simango's passing could sow similar discord through the MDM, which was only founded in 2009.

"With his death I foresee a case parallel to that of Renamo," warned Chacate.

"MDM was not prepared to lose its leader, and Daviz Somango did not prepare its successor."

Rosario said the MDM was likely to "disappear" altogether in the next round of elections.

"This is a serious problem for democracy in Mozambique," he told AFP. 

In an infamous interview, former defence minister Alberto Chipande once boasted that Frelimo would comfortably rule Mozambique for a century.

That statement, which still resonates with public fears, is "more in reach now" than ever, said Rosario.