Mozambique elections key to country’s peace and stability

In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2019 opposition Renamo leader, Ossufo Momade, left, greets supporters at an election rally in Maputo, Mozambique. (AP)
Updated 13 October 2019

Mozambique elections key to country’s peace and stability

  • Mozambique has a strategic place in southern Africa with a 2,470 kilometer Indian Ocean coastline and substantial deposits of natural gas
  • Pummeled by twin hurricanes earlier this year, it has also been troubled by sporadic violence from opposition rebels

MAPUTO, Mozambique: Mozambique’s elections on Tuesday are almost certain to be won by the ruling party, Frelimo, and President Filipe Nyusi — but it is unclear if the results will establish badly-needed stability and economic growth.

Mozambique, with a population of nearly 30 million people, has a strategic place in southern Africa with a 2,470 kilometer (1,500 mile) Indian Ocean coastline and substantial deposits of natural gas. Pummeled by twin hurricanes earlier this year, it has also been troubled by sporadic violence from opposition rebels and a new spate of attacks by suspected Islamic extremists.

Frelimo has never lost a national election since 1975 when it overthrew Portuguese colonial rule, though its leaders have never clung to power beyond the maximum two terms.

Although the main opposition party, Renamo, is unlikely to win the national elections, the party’s new leader, Ossufo Momade, has been unexpectedly effective.

Momade “has been a big, big surprise on the campaign,” said Fernando Lima, veteran journalist and head of independent media house Mediacoop. “He speaks in very straightforward language — very populistic — and he benefits from Renamo’s popularity, particularly in the countryside.”

This is also the view of Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at British think tank Chatham House and a veteran Mozambique-watcher.

“Momade’s magic is that he is drawing a large following in Nampula and Zambezia provinces,” said Vines, who is in Mozambique as part of the Commonwealth election observation mission.

Renamo is doing well enough to worry Frelimo, said Vines — particularly after last year’s municipal elections saw an increase in turnout but a decline in the Frelimo vote.

“That is an indicator for a worse performance in the national elections,” Vines said. “Frelimo knows this and has less resources to splash this time — and this is why this looks to be an ill-tempered and nasty election.”

There have been killings — most notably of Anastacio Matavel, who headed a consortium of local election observers in Gaza province, a Frelimo stronghold where a suspiciously high number of voters were registered. Matavel was gunned down by a gang of five assassins, police said, admitting that four were members of the police’s own elite rapid reaction force.

There have also been confrontations between the main parties up and down the country, with the opposition frequently complaining of being prevented from campaigning by Frelimo dirty tricks — ranging from physically blocking roads in the country’s largest city, Matola, to booking out the municipal square for the whole campaign period, in the ruby mining town of Montepuez, in northern Cabo Delgado province.

Nyusi’s first term in office has been dominated by an economic crisis caused by a $2 billion corruption scandal known as the hidden debts.

Companies set up by the country’s secret services and the Ministry of Defense borrowed $2 billion in secret, with the help of then finance minister Manuel Chang, to set up maritime projects that never materialized, but which allegedly enriched a range of local and foreign players. Chang is currently jailed in South Africa resisting extradition to face trial in New York in connection with the scandal.

Mozambique is now trying to legally disavow part of the debt and restructure another part which the country will be repaying for years to come. The debts have triggered economic problems felt by ordinary voters.

The deals were cooked up before Nyusi became president — but while he was defense minister, meaning questions of his involvement have never gone away and remain an electoral liability.

“Frelimo will be tested electorally as never before,” says Vines. “An angry electorate frustrated at widespread delivery failings and the undisclosed loans scandal have resulted in significant numbers of voters wanting change.”

Nyusi’s supporters point to his success in signing a peace deal with Renamo, but the longed-for “definitive peace” still seems elusive. A group of Renamo rebels who reject Momade’s leadership threaten violence in Mozambique’s center. Since the peace deal was signed in August, there have been a number of attacks believed to be by the self-styled Renamo Military Junta, although it has not claimed responsibility.

Nyusi can also claim credit for the $25 billion Mozambique Liquid Natural Gas project controlled by France’s Total. But a bloody insurgency in Cabo Delgado, the northern province where the gas is located, overshadows any optimism there and has contributed to a delay in a final decision on a nearby larger gas project by ExxonMobil.

In recent days, the government has stepped up its offensive against the insurgents, who began attacking Cabo Delgado coastal communities in October 2017. Little is known about the rebels, who are blamed for killing more than 400 civilians and military, including many beheadings. Recently the Daesh group has claimed alignment with the rebels.

This elections will also see provincial governors elected for the first time — a key Renamo demand which will allow the opposition to administer provinces where it wins a majority. Previously all governors were appointed by the ruling party.

However, Frelimo has established a new management layer, a provincial Secretary of State, which will be appointed by the president and will take on many of the powers that governors have had up to now.

The provincial elections will be hard-fought. Renamo’s Momade is expected to become governor of Nampula province — his home province and the country’s most populous — but it is harder to predict the outcome in neighboring Zambezia province, the second-most populous and another opposition stronghold.

“Frelimo seem to be working hard in Zambezia — but in private their strategists are pessimistic about Nampula and Zambezia,” Lima says. “Clearly the Renamo campaign is much more vibrant in Zambezia than Frelimo.”

In its traditional heartlands in Mozambique’s center, however, Renamo could find the going tougher. “Splits in Renamo may punish the party in Manica and Sofala provinces — and I worry that Renamo is saying that it will win impressively across the country, and that’s unlikely,” Vines says.

Electoral results far below the expectations of opposition supporters could create a volatile post-election atmosphere — but Lima says the solution is largely in the hands of the ruling party.

“In the environment that we have, with the problems in Cabo Delgado, and in central Mozambique, and the strong sense of suspicion within Renamo, if Frelimo plays all the fraud tricks it has done in the past this will be a very poisonous recipe for trouble,” concluded Lima. “So, Frelimo should try to play clean, by the book.”

Testimony of former National Security Council aide ties Trump closer to pressure on Ukraine

Updated 7 min 4 sec ago

Testimony of former National Security Council aide ties Trump closer to pressure on Ukraine

  • Former National Security Council aide Tim Morrison recounts that Sondland told him he was discussing the Ukraine matters directly with Trump

WASHINGTON: Gordon Sondland, President Donald Trump’s emissary to the European Union, had a message when he met with a top Ukrainian official.
Sondland said vital US military assistance to Ukraine might be freed up if the country’s top prosecutor “would go to the mike and announce that he was opening the Burisma investigation,” a US official told lawmakers. Burisma is the gas company in Ukraine where Democrat Joe Biden’s son Hunter served on the board.
Sondland relayed the exchange moments later to Tim Morrison, then a National Security Council aide. In his private testimony to impeachment investigators made public Saturday, Morrison recounted that Sondland also told him he was discussing the Ukraine matters directly with Trump.
Morrison’s testimony ties Trump more closely to the central charge from Democrats pursuing impeachment: that Trump held up US military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into Democrats and Biden’s family. Morrison’s testimony also contradicts much of what Sondland told congressional investigators during his own closed-door deposition, which the ambassador later amended.
Both Morrison and Sondland are scheduled to testify publicly next week as part of the historic, high-stakes impeachment proceedings into the nation’s 45th president. Democrats charge that Trump abused his office for personal political gain, while the president and his allies argue that the process is politically motivated and that nothing in the testimony so far meets the bar for impeachment.
Transcripts from the closed-door testimony from Morrison, a longtime Republican defense hawk in Washington, and Jennifer Williams, a special adviser to Vice President Mike Pence on Russia and Europe, were released Saturday as investigators accelerated and deepened the probe. They provided another window into the alarm within the government over Ukraine pressure.
Immediately after the exchange with Sondland during an international gathering in Warsaw, Morrison called his boss, John Bolton, then Trump’s national security adviser.
“Stay out of it,” Bolton told him, “brief the lawyers.”
For Morrison, Burisma was a catch-all for a “bucket” of investigations — of Democrats and the family of Joe Biden — that he wanted to “stay away from.” They had nothing to do with “the proper policy process that I was involved in on Ukraine,” he testified.
Morrison said Sondland and Trump had spoken approximately five times between July 15 and Sept. 11 — the weeks that $391 million in US assistance was withheld from Ukraine before it was released.
While some, including Trump himself, have begun to question Sondland’s knowledge of events, Morrison told House investigators the ambassador “related to me he was acting — he was discussing these matters with the President.”
Pressed by Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the Intelligence Committee leading the probe, as to whether Sondland had actually spoken to the president, Morrison said he had verified it each time.
Pence, so far, has been a more unseen figure in the impeachment inquiry, but testimony from Williams raised fresh questions about what Pence knew about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.
Pence was also at the Warsaw gathering. For the new government of Ukraine, situated between NATO allies and Russia, the security aid Congress had already approved was a lifeline to the West.
Williams was among the staffers in the White House Situation Room who listened and took notes during Trump’s July 25 call when he asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for “a favor.” A whistleblower’s complaint about that call helped spark the House impeachment investigation.
Williams testified that Trump’s discussion on the call of specific investigations struck her as “unusual and inappropriate” and seemed to point to “other motivations” for holding up the military aid.
After the call, Williams told investigators, she put the White House’s rough transcript into the into the vice president’s daily briefing book.
“I just don’t know if he read it,” she said.
Williams corroborated the testimony of a previous witness, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an NSC aide on the call, who said the White House dropped the word “Burisma” from the transcript. She said in an addendum to her testimony that Zelenskiy had mentioned the word “Burisma” in the call.
Vindman and Williams at scheduled to testify together during a public impeachment hearing on Tuesday morning.
The White House’s decision to put the transcript of the July 25 call on a highly classified server has drawn keen interest throughout the probe. But Morrison said the unusual move was unintentional.
Morrison said he was concerned if the call got out it would be politically damaging. He talked to White House lawyer John Eisenberg and they agreed that access should be restricted, he testified.
But Morrison said Eisenberg later told him that he did not intend for the call summary to be placed on a highly classified server. Eisenberg’s staff apparently put it there by mistake, he said.
As the transcripts were released, impeachment investigators wrapped up a rare Saturday session interviewing Mark Sandy, a little-known career official at the Office of Management and Budget who was involved in key meetings about the aid package.
Sandy’s name had barely come up in previous testimony. But it did on one particular date: July 25, the day of Trump’s call with Zelenskiy. That day, a legal document with Sandy’s signature directed a freeze of the security funds to Ukraine, according to testimony.
Throughout Morrison’s account, he largely confirmed testimony from current and former officials about what has been described as a shadow diplomacy being run by Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, often at odds with US national security interests.
A few days after the Warsaw meeting, Sondland was on the phone telling Morrison Sept. 7 he had just gotten off a call with the president.
Morrison said Sondland related that Trump assured him there were no strings being attached to the military aid for Ukraine.
“The president told him there was no quid pro quo, but President Zelenskiy must announce the opening of the investigations and he should want to do it,” Morrison testified.
Morrison had what he called a “sinking feeling” that the aid may not ultimately be released. About that time, three congressional committees said they were launching inquiries into efforts by Trump and Giuliani to investigate the Bidens.
At a Sept. 11 meeting at the White House, Pence and GOP Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio “convinced the president that the aid should be disbursed immediately,” said Morrison, who said he was briefed about the meeting but did not attend it. “The case was made to the president that it was the appropriate and prudent thing to do.”