It seems the most dangerous political activity in Africa is attending the Mozambican president’s campaign rallies.
Last month, 10 people were killed and 98 seriously injured in a stampede at a stadium in Nampula after Filipe Nyusi delivered a speech. Days later, seven people died and 50 were hurt when a truck flipped on the way back from a Nyusi rally in Tete province. This month, a child was killed by a vehicle carrying people en route to hear the president speak in Gaza province.
These deaths were not the result of malicious intent. But another death — that of an election observer by police officers — was.
The general elections are on October 15. Human Rights Watch’s Zenaida Machado told journalists in Johannesburg last week: “These elections, we can safely say, they are on track to be one of the most violent the country has ever had.”
Nyusi and his party, Frelimo, face a tough fight for re-election. Machado said: “For the first time in 40 years since independence, Frelimo faces the real risk of losing.”
Nyusi was handpicked as the successor to former president Armando Guebuza, but his appointment proved to be divisive with both party members and the public. He has not had an easy ride.
Since taking office in 2014, he has had to deal with vicious internal faction-fighting; the emergence of a dangerous insurgency in the north; the re-emergence of conflict with Renamo, the ruling party’s arch-rival, in the central areas; sluggish economic growth; a scandal about $2-billion in hidden debt that made global headlines; and two cyclones earlier this year that killed more than a thousand people and displaced hundreds of thousands more.
Nyusi can point to some successes, such as the historic peace deal with Renamo concluded earlier this year. But political opponents have not had to work hard to highlight his shortcomings, with his poor handling of the debt scandal coming in for special criticism.
Chief among those opponents is Ossufo Momade, who took over as head of Renamo after Afonso Dhlakama died last year. But Momade does not enjoy Dhlakama’s name recognition or easy charisma, and has struggled to present a united front even in his own party. A Renamo splinter group has refused to recognise his leadership, or to abide by the terms of the peace deal.
Another prominent challenger is Daviz Simango, the mayor of Beira and head of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique, who has been campaigning energetically, especially in central areas. He has faced intimidation from Frelimo supporters throughout the campaign, who have repeatedly prevented him from holding rallies. This prompted a rare rebuke for Frelimo from Mozambique’s electoral commission.
It is difficult to predict who will win.
Observers have raised strong concerns that these elections will not be free and fair. The electoral commission has not yet accredited thousands of civil society observers who intend to monitor the vote, while civil society groups have raised concerns about some 300 000 “ghost voters” on the electoral roll. In Cabo Delgado, the centre of the insurgency, many districts are unlikely to be able to vote.
Earlier this week Anastancio Matavele, the director of the Forum of NGOs for Gaza who was leading a team of election observers, was shot and killed by police officers in the city of Xai-Xai. The identity of the killers is known because their vehicle crashed while they were making their getaway, killing three of the occupants.
“The apparent involvement of police in killing an election observer is a chilling development that casts a dark shadow over the Mozambican elections,” said Human Rights Watch.
Another shadow over the elections is Mozambique’s enormous gas reserves, which are to come online during the next presidential term. This could transform the economy, and it is likely to make many people very rich. The election will determine who is in prime position to take advantage of the bonanza.
For all Nyusi and Frelimo’s obvious faults, however, the election is still theirs to lose.
Benedito Machava, a historian writing for African Arguments, a pan-African platform for news, investigation and opinion, predicts: “Judging from the campaign, Frelimo will be relieved to make it through another set of elections still in power, while the opposition may be content with winning a few provincial governorships and increasing its representation in Parliament.”