Aug 31, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Conventions, Mozambican Style

American taxpayers, through no fault of their own, invested US$ 136 million in the Republican and the Democratic conventions this year: US$18 million for each “party” (in every meaning of the word) plus US$ 100 million allocated for security and police force during the events.

The sum has sparked a lot of questions, but it could be much more outrageous. Far from here, in Mozambique, which as we know occupies the 4th worse place at the UNDP Human Development Index, the party in power, Frelimo, is about to spend ridiculous US$ 8 million for their X Congress Convention, where it should be decided who will  “run” for president next.

Frelimo’s Congress will take place on September 23-28 in Pemba (north), and 3000 party delegates and 2000 guests are expected to attend. In order to host all these people, part of the budget – around US$ 3 million, according to Frelimo’s secretary general, Filipe Paunde – is being used to build infrastructure.

At least it is not taxpayer money. Paunde said that the millions were given by members and supporters of Frelimo and that contributions have started a year ago. Still, the political implications are big. Around Maputo, rumors run rampant about who exactly is contributing: the most common stories involve big industries, organized crime, drug lords and rich immigrant communities such as the Indians. (I’m obviously mentioning this to give an idea of the general feeling of Mozambicans, and want to make clear that these are just rumors.)

Asked during an interview about spending that much money in a party congress during a crisis, the secretary general said: “We must understand what it is to govern. To govern is to make a plan and prioritize. The congress is the most important part of the party, the one which will make decisions about the next five years of Frelimo.”

Armando Guebuza, Mozambican President

Not using public money might be an advantage in terms of waste of resources, but the non specified donations sound very tricky. At least the Frelimo Congress has one big advantage over the US conventions when it comes to popular interest: There is actually a surprise element. It is not known yet who the party will choose to replace the current president, Armando Guebuza, and the internal fighting seems intense at the moment. It is important to note that in spite of the fact that Frelimo has officially been in power since independence (though during the civil war they didn’t have full control of the country all the time), the head of the party has indeed changed regularly, unlike other countries such as Angola.

However, this time the chosen name might not matter that much. Guebuza, elected in 2004 and reelected in 2009, has just been nominated as candidate for president of the party, a post he has occupied since 2005. Should someone else run for president, it will be a rare occasion when the head of the party and the president are two different people. Paunde argues that, should this be the case, there will be no fragility to the presidency. “The party orients the government. There is no conflict of powers. The president receives instructions from [Frelimo’s] Political Committee and implements them in the Presidency.”

…And here I was thinking that government and party should be separate institutions.

There is, of course, the fear that he will try to change de Constitution so as to run for a third term. Frelimo has denied that this could happen. But even if he doesn’t, if  the Presidency is subordinated to the “politburo” of Frelimo, Guebuza will keep most of the power in his hands anyway.

Who wants to spell out implications for consolidation of democracy in Mozambique?



  • I’m not sure what the problem is here, Andrea. Mozambicans get to vote in elections. Why is it problematic that the ruling party is the main source of government policies? In the US, Democrats and Republicans have party platforms that the candidates for office, especially the president, endorse. I can see why it would be problematic if there were no institutional separation between the party and the state, but that does not appear to be the case.

  • When Putin left office but in practice remained calling the shots, there was a big discussion regarding real alternation of power in Russia, the state of their democracy etc. And Putin is much more popular than Guebuza. Not to mention the state of elections in Mozambique that all but assures Frelimo will remain in power, even more so than in Russia. There is a big struggle within the party right now between new and old forces, and Guebuza is clearly maneuvering so that he can continue to call the shots. Frelimo itself says that the president will follow the head of the party’s guidelines. Why limit presidential terms at all then? Particularly in a country where the main party is so strong, at least some measure of internal democracy and alternation is important. Do you disagree?

  • I agree that term limits generally are a good idea. The Russia analogy doesn’t work so well because Putin created a position for himself by using his immense personal power to change the constitution. Demagogues are always dangerous and no constitution can prevent their corrosive impact. This is quite different than parties designing the policies governments implement. For decades this is how the LDP ran Japan. I don’t see how it eroded Japan’s democracy.

  • Ok, you are right. Now, I might be completely wrong here and Im enjoying this discussion, but I still think there are different dimensions to this scenario in Mozambique. The problem is not Frelimo designing policies for the government to implement. What I find problematic is a president that leads the most powerful group of old generation party members who, faced with the constitutional impossibility of getting a third term, found a way to keep calling the shots by dissociating the roles of president of the party and of the country (which have usually been tied there) and making sure he wins the first. There is little question of Frelimo’s chances of winning the next presidential elections, which in itself is telling about the lack of real competition in Mozambique. Thus, while the current president might not be the official head of state, he will be the most powerful man in politics anyway. What we will have is a useless choice of party candidate, because the old leader is already asserting that he will remain as head of party and will dictate policy. Younger generations and other internal groups are bypassed, and to voters it will be just like voting for the same president, regardless of the end of his constitutional terms. Mozambican democracy has been considered more advanced than, say, that of Angola for several reasons, one being the actual alternation of party leaders (and presidents). That is what might be endangered.

  • I agree with this point and it may turn out to be a fatal mistake on Frelimo’s part. Without turnover in the party, younger people in it have very little incentive to work for the party. This isn’t about incomplete separation between state and party however, but mismanagement within Frelimo.

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