Vibrant emerging 'middle class' parties threaten old order in Mozambique, Angola

Elections in these two post-conflict countries have always been contested by the Big Two. Not any more.

As Mozambique heads for its fifth presidential election in October, a new party that is creating a rare buzz in a country that has only known electoral contests between its two dominant former armed movements will be closely watched.

Formed only in March 2009, the Movimento Democrático de Moçambique (MDM) in elections held seven months later went on to bag eight parliamentary seats. The party also controls the local authorities in two of the country’s largest cities.  

While the ruling Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Frelimo) is widely expected to win, the emergence of MDM as a counterweight to the struggling main opposition Renamo party will provide the refreshing storyline in an election that looks to follow the script of the last two ballots.

Frelimo has won all elections since the civil war ended in 1992, in large part due to its liberation movement credentials but also because of the inability of the former guerrilla force Renamo to offer an alternative to voters weary of the ruling party’s hegemony.

At its peak Renamo was the largest opposition party in Africa before Zimbabwe’s MDC came along, and in the 1994 and 1999 elections almost matched Frelimo vote for vote. But the next two elections saw it fall away dramatically, and in 2009 the Afonso Dhlakama-led party managed only 18% of the vote. 

Its plunge is attributed to Dhlakama’s failure to transform from a guerrilla fighter into an effective opposition leader, opening the door for its splinter party, the Daviz Simango-led MDM, to gain growing support at its expense.

Renamo’s strength in the last election rapidly shrunk from 90 seats to 51, with the added pain that the MDM’s showing would feasibly have been even better if electoral authorities had allowed it to contest in all the constituencies. 

To compound matters for the hard on its luck Renamo, Frelimo in the same election grew its share to 191 seats, from 160 in 2004.

In addition to those disillusioned by Renamo’s—and to an extent Frelimo—failings, the MDM has been intriguing Mozambique’s emerging middle class, as resource billions start to roll in.  

Dealt a major blow
MDM in 2008 won municipal elections in Beira, the country’s second largest city, where Simango is now the mayor. To further unsettle Renamo, MDM in December 2011 won another city, Quelimane, which is the administrative capital of Zambezia, the country’s richest province. Both cities had been Renamo bastions.

To a large part Renamo has aided MDM’s rapid emergence. Simango joined Renamo in 1997 and was elected Beira mayor on its ticket in 2003. Renamo, alarmed by his growing profile, refused to renew his candidacy, spurring his departure. He was re-elected on the MDM based on his service delivery record, dealing a major blow to Dhlakama. 

To further shake things up, the youthful Simango, who has no war credentials, and who survived an assassination bid blamed on Renamo but which the party denied, is a Protestant in a country where everyone else is either Catholic or Muslim.

Simango’s father Uria was the first vice-president of Frelimo but was assassinated as a dissident during the brutal civil war, having lost out in a struggle for Frelimo leadership.

MDM will be looking to shore up its vote and emerge as a serious alternative to both Frelimo and Renamo and will seek to leverage on the non-war image of Simango. 

MDM’s main challenge to even bigger inroads has been the claim that it is funded by international donors, a perception important for a country that fought a liberation war against former colonial master Portugal, even if Renamo also owes its creation to white Rhodesian officers. 

Frelimo is firmly in the driving seat, but with MDM’s gains it will give short shrift to the complacency that had crept within its ranks following Renamo’s sharp decline. 

Mirrored in Angola
This narrative of a splinter party from a major armed movement making political gains is also mirrored in Angola, where the Broad Convergence for the Salvation of Angola—Electoral Coalition  (CASA-CE) made waves in 2012 elections.  

CASA-CE split from Unita, the main Angolan opposition party, in March 2012, and went on to garner eight seats in the National Assembly.

The ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) won 175 seats in the assembly, with Unita managing 32 seats—itself a doubling of its tally from the previous election.   

CASA-CE was formed after its leader Abel Chivukuvuku lost out in the internal battle for control of Unita to Isaías Samakuva following the death of Jonas Savimbi in 2002. 

Samakuva, in contrast to Dhlakama, has worked hard to transform Unita into a democratic and political force, helping to turn around its fortunes, but has, like Renamo, found the transition stymied by a lack of funds, and the immense patronage system enjoyed by MPLA.  

This has opened the door for Chivukuvuku to tap the middle class and intellectuals, and the growing disillusionment with the failure of resource cash to trickle down to the ordinary Angolan—37% did not vote in 2012.

In Mozambique, MDA will hope it can have an even bigger say in October elections and upend the unsettled Renamo. 

Dhlakama is in hiding in his Satunjira stronghold, from where he has instigated cycles of deadly unrest with the hope of drawing concessions from the ruling Frelimo. 

But given he has no capacity to lead a major rebellion, his guerrilla warfare default setting looks to have been solely reactivated to allow him to remain relevant. But for most Mozambicans, a continuation of the  successful post-conflict period will be higher up their priorities. 

Twitter: @LMAfrican

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