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Op-Ed: Mozambican government’s legitimacy crisis reinforces authoritarianism

President of Mozambique Filipe Nyusi. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Shawn Thew)

By Boaventura Monjane and Teresa Amal | Daily Maverick | 11 Jan 2023 

The current crisis in Mozambique is due mainly to the inability of the state and the government to respond to the primary concerns of the Mozambican people. These include jobs, housing, basic public services and food. It will lead to a period of greater arbitrariness that aims to stifle any potential popular uprising and impose the authority of the government.

Authoritarian regimes emerge or strengthen precisely when they are no longer able to democratically maintain their legitimacy in the eyes of the people. The unpopularity of the Mozambican government has increased.

The cost of living and the lack of employment opportunities for many, especially young people, have undermined the government’s credibility. 

The informal sector of the economy, which is strong in both urban and rural areas, tends to become illegalised, especially in urban areas, and is subjected to a kind of social fascism.

No surveys are needed to sense the widespread discontent among the population. In the traffic, in the markets, in the pastures, at family gatherings, in WhatsApp groups, the impression that the government no longer serves the masses — and that they are increasingly left to their own devices — is imposing itself.

This discontent has recently become more visible in the state apparatus as well. The failure of the so-called Unified Salary Tariff (TSU) — a salary adjustment announced in the last quarter of 2022 that included a promise of a significant increase in civil servants’ salaries — has increased state employees’ distrust of the government.

The TSU announcement created great expectations. But when it materialised, it led to discontent because it disappointed workers’ expectations about the improvement in salary levels; even worse, it called into question acquired rights, which, according to several experts, is unconstitutional.

This situation caused important public sectors such as doctors and teachers to paralyse their activities for some time in the last months of 2022. It was interesting to observe how creatively the protests were implemented. Primary and secondary teachers, for example, went on a fervent and silent strike. They did not stop going to schools, but they stopped working in almost all cases.

Doctors went on strike openly, but also went public with their reasons and what services they would continue to provide so that the population would not turn against this professional group.

Discontent was also expressed within the police and the army, the real vehicles of oppression, although not very actively.

Rising authoritarianism

These ingredients are enough to give rise to a broad front of articulation that seriously challenges the government and demands reform of the state apparatus and perhaps a change of government.

For this very reason, the crushing of this possible articulation is done by tightening authoritarian measures and mechanisms, by more or less subtle repression.

These include, above all, the constant propaganda measures and the blackout or control of the media, with serious threats to freedom of expression, up to and including the arrest of journalists and social activists and threats to their safety and that of their families.

It is no coincidence that recently there has been a massive recruitment of young people into the police force, who patrol the streets in groups only a few metres apart, especially in the country’s largest cities and particularly near strategic state buildings, namely ministries and other buildings of various state organs.

It would not be surprising if, in 2023, security and weapons procurement funds were increased, including under the pretext of counterinsurgency in the north of the country. In fact, President Filipe Nyusi has already announced the acquisition of more military equipment under the pretext of fighting terrorism.


As is well known, Mozambique was hit by an unprecedented security crisis in the north of the country when an insurgency broke out in the province of Cabo Delgado in 2017, which was initially ignored by the state, but gradually proved to be an extremely serious problem. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: The conflict in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique — a five-year summary

After failing to bring the situation under control, Mozambique requested assistance from foreign forces, particularly the Southern African Development Community and Rwanda. 

Rwanda sent the largest military contingent — two thousand troops — in August 2021 to assist Mozambican forces in combating the spreading insurgency. 

Rwandan president Paul Kagame offered this “support” to Nyusi under a bilateral agreement in which the Mozambican side guaranteed:

  1. Access to the exploitation of natural resources by the Rwandan regime;
  2. The extradition of Rwandan citizens who were refugees in Mozambique and who the regime wanted to arrest for their opposition to the Kagame regime.

France would directly fund the Rwandan military, and the European Union and Portugal would take the lead in funding military training and supplying so-called non-lethal military equipment.

In September 2022, Rwanda was promised support from the European Union in the form of a €20-million package. It is legitimate to ask how much of the arsenal to be mobilised by Kagame will be used to fight Al-Shabaab and how much to strangle citizens.

While it is undeniable that Kagame’s troops have greatly helped Mozambican forces contain the spread of insurgents, particularly in the Palma area and Afungi Basin — which has provided some relief to Nyusi and the Mozambican defence forces — this Rwandan presence is being used to raise funds for further militarisation.

The consolidation of authoritarianism in Mozambique manifests itself not only in the most conventional forms, namely the restriction of citizens’ democratic freedoms. Other developments in Mozambique suggest that the authoritarian agenda is spreading to other sectors, including the realm of state policy.

The land sector 

Several years ago, the government of Mozambique initiated a process to revise the national land policy, leading to an amendment of the current 1997 land law. The revision represents a major shift in Mozambican land policy toward an even more neoliberal framework that allows for the transfer of individual land titles on market terms and expands the conditions for expropriation of peasant land. 

Land activists have accused the government of adopting an authoritarian approach, excluding civil society participation and falsifying public consultations.

In a recent academic article in the Journal of Agrarian Change, this is termed “neoliberal agrarian authoritarianism”. The revision of the national land policy represents a setback for the autonomy and popular sovereignty of the population, as it allows the appropriation of Mozambican peasants’ land for the benefit of national and foreign agrarian capital.

Given the lack of political imagination of the opposition in the country, especially the parties represented in parliament, Mozambican civil society organisations — including progressive trade union organisations — face the great challenge of formulating a political response to contain the authoritarianism that hovers over Mozambique. DM/MC 

Boaventura Monjane holds a PhD on Postcolonialisms and Global Citizenship (Sociology), from the Faculty of Economics, University of Coimbra. He is a fellow at the Institute for Poverty, Land and Agrarian Studies and a fellow of the International Research Group on Authoritarianism and Counter-Strategies of the RLS. He is a campaign coordinator at Alternative Information and Development Centre.

Teresa Amal has a Ph.D in Sociology from the University of Coimbra and her main research field is postcolonial feminisms in southern Africa and Southeast Asia. She is a senior researcher at the Centre for Social Studies of the University of Coimbra, Portugal and at the Centre for Peace Research Gernika Gogoratuz, Basque Country. She is an associated researcher at Codesria and the Centre for African Studies of the University Eduardo Mondlane, Mozambique. 

*This Opinion Piece was first published by the Daily Maverick

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