Anastancio Matavele, a Mozambican election observer, was gunned down by police in Xai-Xai city on Monday. The news was tragic but — perhaps more tragic still — it came as no surprise, given the escalation in tensions in the country ahead of the vote on October 15.
There have been near daily reports of incidents of harassment and intimidation, committed mostly — but certainly not exclusively — by members of the ruling party. As the election nears, the likelihood is that this febrile atmosphere will only get worse.
The chances of conducting a free and fair election in this environment are slim, especially given the concerns raised about 300 000 “ghost voters” on the electoral roll, and the continued difficulties faced by election observers in obtaining accreditation.
Equally tragic are the numerous deaths related to the campaign, including a stampede at a rally for President Filipe Nyusi, in which 10 people died, and multiple road accidents involving ruling party supporters travelling to campaign events. The latter accidents are related to the practice of bussing in supporters, sometimes from many kilometres away, to fill up stadiums.
It is no wonder, however, that Mozambican leaders think that they can get away with these abuses — of both the deliberate and accidental variety. Over successive election cycles in multiple countries, the Southern African Development Community has shown itself unwilling to grapple meaningfully with problems that undermine the integrity of elections. This has created a culture of impunity, where politicians can and do get away with repressing opposition and manipulating results.
But it is never too late to speak up.
With less than a week to go, now is the time for regional leaders to tell their Mozambican counterparts that violence in all forms cannot be a feature of elections, and that electoral irregularities will not be accepted by the regional community.