Presented by the African Conflict Prevention Programme (ACPP-Pretoria)
ISS Seminar Report
In August this year, the ACPP-Pretoria hosted a seminar that unpacked the causes, dynamics and possible future scenarios of the crises in Swaziland and Malawi amid growing concerns over escalating political crises. This seminar discussed similar challenges faced in Mozambique and Angola, considering the political and socio-economic dynamics in the two countries, as well possible future scenarios and policy recommendations as to how the situation in these two Lusophone countries might be managed.
Mr. Francisco Lopes, Secretary General, Bloco Democratico, Angola
IntroductionThe chair, Dr Judy Smith-HàƒÂ¶hn, opened the seminar by welcoming the speakers and guests, noting the topic of discussion surrounding nascent political issues and challenges in Mozambique and Angola, as a Lusophone sequel to the ACPP seminar on Swaziland and Malawi in August 2011. She introduced the speakers: Mr Rafael Shikhani, and Mr Francisco Lopes.
First Presentation: Mozambique ââ‚¬â€œ Notes on Peace and DemocracyIn his presentation, Mr Shikhani sought to illustrate some of the key factors which demonstrate challenges in the Mozambican political domain at present, and touched upon possible solutions to these challenges.
He started off by illustrating some problematic factors present in Mozambique, including a weak opposition and pressure groups within civil society, large-scale domestic migration, and a growing gap between the elites and the poor of the country. Speaking from the point of view of economic challenges, he identified food price inflation and high unemployment rates as fertile ground for social unrest to sprout. Moreover, an economic dependence on international aid to fund the country`s budget, as well as a reliance on imports for crucial goods, places the country in a position of certain vulnerability. From a social perspective, the rising levels of education have made people more critical of government, spurring questions regarding the status of expected deliverables. The gap between rich and poor, particularly in urban versus rural settings, compounds this worrying confluence of factors and also introduces an aperture in values between different communities. In terms of politics, strategies aimed at fighting poverty are seen to be both ineffective and failing due to an approach which addresses the consequences of poverty as opposed to the root causes thereof.
Shikhani expanded that within Frelimo, political and ideological lines have morphed and shifted from what they were in the early 1980s, to a progressive and phased adoption of a multiparty system. Nonetheless, a one-party state has emerged and a condition of armed peace has remained as a result of the country`s militarised past.
An overview of the key political players was also provided in order to contextualise the key issues raised in the presentation. The ruling party Frelimo and the country`s president, Armando Guebeza, are some of the most notable players. Here, a difference has been noted in the rhetoric of the incumbent and that of his predecessor, Joaquim Chissano; however, there has been little variation between the two when it comes to policy and addressing the socio-economic needs in the country. Nevertheless, the political agenda is largely influenced by this party, and important issues such as constitutional amendment, and Guebuza`s succession dominates the political debate. This has allowed space for much political gossiping and speculation over the political future of Mozambique.
Renamo and its leader, Afonso Dhlakama, are other important political players in the Mozambican political domain. Dhlakama is known for threat-mongering, particularly in light of conflicts being suffered by neighbouring countries, despite his political hibernation following a defeat at the polls in 2009 and seeking to relaunch hiself as a pivotal political actor.
Both parties face significant challenges, as Shikhani pointed out. Frelimo needs to: reinvent itself as a party connected with the issues faced by its people; address issues of poverty more effectively by implementing bread and butter policies; diversify the economy in order to mitigate vulnerability to external shocks; minimise the economic dependence on external donors; and attack issues of corruption. Renamo, on the other hand, should aim to: offer a viable political alternative to Frelimo; abandon its conflict-driven strategies and transition from guerrilla movement to political party; engage in debate surrounding the most consequential issues such as poverty, corruption and infrastructure development; begin to, through the process of decentralisation, implement its strategies at a local level.
The food price riots of September 2010 illustrate how susceptible Mozambique is to social unrest on the basis of bigger issues sparked by smaller catalysts. As a result, the Mozambican government will need to work hard towards national economic recovery, fight poverty and corruption, and create conditions of peace and openness.
Mr Shikhani fielded several questions from the floor, particularly concerning mechanisms for poverty reduction. One of his suggestions involved a move away from mega-projects to smaller initiatives, which are more viable and can be reproduced if successful. He noted the example of South Africa`s tourism industry having created a niche market, and proposes an approach which would capitalise on the unique features that Mozambique boasts.
Second presentation: Angola ââ‚¬â€œ Social movements in Angola and the elections of 2012Mr Lopes focused his presentation on the social movements and demonstrations that have been taking place in Angola recently, and expanded upon the impact that these developments may hold for the upcoming elections in the country in 2012.
Lopes elucidated on the roots of the recent social movements in Angola, which have centred around two concerns in particular. First is the excessive political power that resides in the presidency of Eduardo dos Santos which thereby removes the agency of the citizenry in domestic political processes, and has allowed for economic and political marginalisation in Angola. Second is the low level of socio-economic development in the country despite strong economic growth on the back of the oil industry; both of which have led to widespread discontentment, from the youth especially. Angola has some of the worst socio-economic indicators in Sub-Saharan Africa in the face of large-scale accumulation of oil wealth in the country. What`s more, the opposition in Angola is severely underrepresented in local political platforms and processes, being either suppressed by the ruling MPLA, or being firmly in their back pocket.
Lopes finds the youth in the country to be a great source of hope for a break from the current political dispensation, and explains that the youth have played an indispensible role in the rise of vocal social protest in the country of late. Many of the youth feel discontented by the three-decade long rule of dos Santos and the monopolisation of power by his party, as well as the political patronage and mismanagement of state funds derived from oil, which leaves them with little opportunities for education and employment. In fact, many of these opportunities that do exist, Lopes articulates, are reserved for card-carrying members of the MPLA. Yet, having been born post-independence, the youth are less caught up the rhetoric of the past, and are therefore able to highlight the issues of greatest concern in a more open manner.
The demonstration that took place in Angola on 7 March 2011 represented a watershed in Angolan politics, raising unease within the ruling party with regards to their grip on power in wake of the Arab Spring. This event, organised on facebook yet poorly attended, garnered global media interest and prompted the government to take a heavy-handed approach. The majority of those in attendance of the demonstration, including a journalist, were arrested and put on trial where there is some suspicion that the outcome may be pre-determined. These events also offered the MPLA some ammunition to use against opposition party UNITA, claiming that the latter intended to bring forth insurrection in Angola.
Following the events of 7 March, there has been a flurry of further protests and demonstrations, occurring again in April, May, August and September of 2011. The MPLA has responded with more force, as well as using bribery as a tactic to dissuade young demonstrators and has changed the laws regarding demonstrations, which if followed will limit the reach of such demonstrations dramatically. The youth are reported to be anti-government, but have protested around a variety of issues, including the dubious and unconstitutional amendments of electoral law ahead elections in Angola in 2012.
The question surrounding the succession of dos Santos was raised, following a recent announcement of Sonangol chief, Manuel Vicente. It is speculated that this announcement was made on the back of rising pressure illustrated by way of the aforementioned demonstrations, as well as increasing internal debates in the MPLA. Dos Santos may well be testing the waters and appeasing unhappy factions, yet the question remains as to how certain succession of dos Santos is in the immediate future. Lopes makes clear that dos Santos would not want to relinquish his position unless absolutely necessary, and would thus want a candidate to follow him that will garner sufficient support to win elections. Nonetheless, if social discontentment and political pressure continue to rise in the country ahead of the 2012 elections, dos Santos may indeed be forced to step down.
Lopes concluded that despite years of independence, the initial objectives of the country have not yet been achieved, and the citizenry of Angola have not benefitted from social-economic development or the ability to participate actively in the country`s politics. As such, he has called on regional bodies such as the AU and SADC to require compliance of member states to principles of good governance and democracy and to verify such compliance. From the domestic perspective, Lopes called for opposition parties to align in Angola, in order to present a viable opposition strong enough to depose the MPLA.
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