By Phyllis Johnson
The leading candidate to be the next President of Mozambique comes from the northernmost province as the country begins to shift focus to the resource-rich north, and back to its roots. Filipe Jacinto Nyussi, 55, the Minister of Defence, who was elected as their presidential candidate by the Central Committee of the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo) in early March, was born at Mueda in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, which borders on southern Tanzania.
Cabo Delgado was the heart and headquarters of the war of liberation in Mozambique (1964-1975), supported by the United Republic of Tanzania. Both countries have recently identified significant reserves of natural gas offshore in the border area, and many strategic minerals are located in the area.
Nyussi was born on 9 February 1959 and brought up in the national liberation movement that won independence from Portuguese colonial rule.
Before he was two years old, an incident occurred in Mueda on 16 June 1960 that was as significant in mobilizing and politicizing Mozambicans as the Sharpeville massacre was for South Africans just three months earlier.
The colonial police fired on unarmed protesters demanding better living conditions and wages on the cotton estates, in what became known as the Mueda massacre. As many as 500 people died, although the exact figures were disputed by the colonial authorities.
Both of Nyussi’s parents were veterans of the war, which was starting at the time he was taken across the nearby Ruvuma River, the boundary with Tanzania, to the Frelimo primary school at Tunduru just across the border.
Tanzania provided shelter for Mozambican refugees and a rear base for Frelimo guerrillas, including training and equipment as well as hosting the Liberation Committee of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
Nyussi is from the Makonde ethnic group, and the Makonde African National Union (later Mozambique African National Union) was one of the first movements formed to demand independence, and one of three parties that came together to form Frelimo in 1962.
Frelimo launched the liberation war from Cabo Delgado on 25 September 1964, and the man credited with firing the first shots is Nyussi’s popular predecessor as Defence Minister, Alberto Chipande, who was appointed by the first President, Samora Machel, at Independence in 1975 and held the position until 1986.
Chipande, who hails from the same province as Nyussi, has been consistently the most popular figure re-elected to the Frelimo Central Committee with the highest number of votes and continues to be an influential member of the top decision-making body, the 17-member Political Commission, as he has been since Independence.
Frelimo guerrillas attacked the Portuguese airbase at Mueda in one of its first major military actions, in 1967, seriously damaging the base, and again in 1972, when all 19 airplanes were destroyed.
Young Filipe Nyussi was able to return home during the war to start his secondary education at the Frelimo school at Mariri in Cabo Delgado, by then a liberated zone, and finished later at the Samora Machel Secondary School in Beira, after Independence was achieved on 25 June 1975.
He later earned a degree in mechanical engineering at a military academy in Czechoslovakia, completing in 1990, and returned home to join the national ports and rail company, CFM, becoming Executive Director of CFM Norte from 1995-2007, during a period when Guebuza was Minister of Transport.
If elected on 15 October this year, he will become the first President to originate from the north of the vast country that stretches 2,470 kilometres along the south-east coast of Africa between the Tanzania and South Africa, although President Armando Guebuza, from the south, also grew up in the north and fought in the liberation war.
Nyussi was appointed by Guebuza as Minister of Defence in 2008, and elected to the party central committee in 2012.
Of the five contenders to be Frelimo’s presidential candidate, Nyussi had the closest links to the liberation struggle, although this is the first post-war transition and none of them actually fought in the war.
Three candidates had been pre-selected, including Nyussi, but a significant sector of the party, including the war veterans, argued that other candidates should not be excluded, and also called for the restructuring of the Frelimo secretariat.
“The veterans think it necessary that we should have a strong party and a strong secretariat,” a spokesperson said, adding that a strong secretariat would raise morale within the party and “would be able to mobilise the people so that Frelimo wins the elections.”
This had the effect of ensuring a clear and transparent contest, won handily by Nyussi with two-thirds of the vote.
The Frelimo Secretary-General, Filipe Paunde, resigned following his defence of the pre-candidates system and the Central Committee replaced him with Eliseu Machava, the Governor of the same Cabo Delgado province.
This double emphasis on Cabo Delgado and its attendant focus on the twin values of renewal of the liberation struggle coupled with post-veteran leadership has set the tone for Frelimo’s election campaign, causing one commentator to pronounce that, although the time is short to introduce a new leader, with just eight months to election day, “Frelimo has likely won the election with these decisions taken in the first days of March”.
Cabo Delgado province, which ignited the liberation war more than 50 years ago, and became the dry grass that fuelled its rapid expansion, is now the site of a more recent discovery — 80 trillion cubic feet of natural gas discovered off the coast, acknowledged as the largest natural gas find of the last decade.
In announcing this, the governor said that seven areas had been identified where hydrocarbons occur, located in the districts of Palma, Mocímboa da Praia, Macomia, Ibo, Quissanga, Metuge and Mecúfi.
The date for national elections has been set for 15 October and the process is well underway, although negotiations with the Renamo party resulted in a delayed start to voter registration in February, due to run until the end of April, and expanded electoral commissions to include additional representatives of political parties and civil society.
This was approved by the National Assembly in late February, facilitating an agreement by Renamo to participate in the presidential and parliamentary elections with its leader, Afonso Dhlakama.
Another contestant in the elections is the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM) led by the Mayor of Beira, Daviz Simango, who broke away from Renamo in 2009.
The MDM hold only eight seats in the National Assembly, but did well in municipal elections held in 54 municipalities in November 2013, winning mayor and council elections in three of the four main cities (Beira, Quelimane and Nampula) and a smaller town, while Frelimo swept the rest and is confident of victory.
The MDM, also confident following the expansion of its support in urban areas, has announced its objective to win a majority in the National Assembly.sardc.net