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While the $2bn-plus ‘tuna bonds’ scandal rumbles on in international courts, Mozambique’s reputation has generally been boosted on President Filipe Nyusi’s watch. The authorities have coped relatively effectively with crises like Cyclone Idai (AE 389/21) and in ending armed conflict with Renamo (AE 369/18), while the Rovuma Basin gas developments could transform the economy by the mid-2020s (AE 401/13, 380/17). An impressive upturn in internationally financed solar and other projects underlines Mozambique’s emergence as a hub in the global energy transition, aided by the hard work of committed local officials.

The realities are complex: the economics of daily life for many Mozambicans remains precarious and development indicators can be alarming. An Islamist insurgency in the north will not go away (AE 388/17, 371/1). The hidden loans crisis – when, under the pretext of financing a modern fishing industry, three state-owned entities borrowed some $2.2bn without creditor approval (AE 320/16) – revealed a rotten system enriching a small elite. Those abuses dated back to 2013-14, when president Armando Guebuza’s administration – which included Nyusi as defence minister – was criticised for its crony relations and deeply flawed governance. The current government has pushed back with some arrests and trials, but the families of senior officials – including Nyusi’s daughter Claudia Filipe Jacinto Nyusi – remain heavily involved in oil and other businesses.

Analysts had expected that disillusion would cost Frelimo votes in the 15 October presidential and parliamentary polls and possibly two or three of the ten provincial governorships; a more dramatic fall in the vote might even trigger a humiliating second round of presidential voting. But as counting continues, Nyusi has won over 70% of the vote.

Frelimo also secured a two-thirds majority in parliament. Nyusi’s score was Frelimo’s second highest result ever – not behind independence leader Samora Machel or his successor Joaquim Chissano, but behind Guebuza, who in 2009 polled 75%. Officially, the polls represent a victory for democracy: Renamo stuck to its commitment to peaceful participation and the 52% turnout was the highest since 1999.

However, turnout was inflated by ‘ghost voters’ in Gaza, Zambezia and other opposition areas. Mozambique-watcher Joseph Hanlon reported on 21 October that “district election results show that entire districts were stuffing the ballot boxes for Nyusi”. The European Union complained of an “unlevel playing field” and “climate of fear”. The US embassy “witnessed a number of irregularities and vulnerabilities”. In Gaza province, the national election commission registered over 300,000 more voters than there were voting age adults. Renamo has complained of violence against its election staff and scrutineers; opposition officials and civil society activists were reported murdered or were victims of ‘accidents’. Hanlon believes this election featured greater Frelimo control and intimidation than ever before. Nyusi’s landslide was manufactured from abuses that were encouraged to ensure he reached the 50% threshold and avoided a potentially disastrous second round of voting.

Renamo secretary-general André Magibire has called for a rerun, but unless there is unexpectedly intense international pressure that will not happen. Transparency and governance campaigners will argue that Frelimo cannot be given a free ride, but few major players are likely to jeopardise their relations with an emerging economy in southern Africa, whose resources are of strategic significance and whose internal stability remains a cause for concern. Business may feel relieved that Nyusi is back, but Mozambique is not a more stable place for having further alienated Frelimo’s opponents. Nor will its governance be improved by ignoring abuses that give the elite an easy ride. Stealing elections may not be as good for business as advocates of stability at all costs might believe.