Writing on Mozambique, pt. 7: Forming an argument

I think, after over a year, and having read widely (to say the least) on Mozambique, I think I’ve arrived at a point where I can write a paper that answers the question that was posed by Saul — though perhaps not according to his framework:

Assess the nature of the chief liberation movement (Frelimo) in [Mozambique], trace that movement’s development in the post-colonial period (including an assessment of any meaningful opposition it has faced), and assess the prospects that that movement has offered and now offers for realizing the meaningful development of the people for whom it professes to speak.

I want to address the question of the relationship between the economic and the political in Mozambique, in the terms of bourgeois scholarship. A good way to get into this is Peter Lewis’s article on the paradox of “growth without prosperity” in Africa. Lewis takes, as his starting point, the notions that a) economic liberalization (market economy) and political liberalization (liberal democracy) share an “elective affinity” because they both rely on openness, transparency, and such, b) that economic liberalization should lead to economic growth, c) that political liberalization should lead to redistributive measures. The paradox is that, despite economic and political liberalization, sub-Saharan Africa as a whole might have seen economic growth (in Mozambique, one of the highest sustained rates of GDP growth in all of sub-Saharan Africa), but human development indicators has not matched up (in fact, is awful) and inequality is high as poverty persists massively.

So the question Lewis asks is why political liberalization hasn’t led to redistributive measures and better human development indicators. His answer is twofold: i) on one hand, neopatrimonialism (networks of clientelistic linkages between ‘big men’ in government and their social support bases), which defines the “nature of politics in Africa”, undermines a properly democratic structure — i.e., political liberalization has only been skin-deep, ii) on the other hand, the pervasive influence of international donors and lenders (IMF, WB) and their singular focus on neoliberal models have led to perverse outcomes with respect to generalized prosperity.

Now something becomes evident here — notably that Lewis is not your typical bourgeois scholar, in that he’s actually concerned with redistribution of wealth. However, this is not so typically unbourgeois, especially in African studies in this day and age. The IMF and WB line, as well as that of the imperialist powers (G7, G8 types) focuses, of course, on poverty reduction. What is important to note, I think, is Lewis’s fundamental assumptions — that economic liberalization and political liberalization, if they didn’t have to deal with the messiness of, well, actually-existing economics and politics, would somehow both lead to economic growth and more redistributive measures. What’s also not typically unbourgeois is the emphasis Lewis puts on neopatrimonialism.

There’s a few critiques of neopatrimonialism that need to be hashed out. Thandika Mkandawire points out that calling a state neopatrimonial tells us, well, not much. States described as neopatrimonial have pursued different types of policies — all of which have been described as results of neopatrimonialism. So, in seeking to explain everything, the concept doesn’t really explain anything, except to note that capitalist relations don’t exist in their ideal forms in African states.

One of the reasons Marxist analysis was often seen to be irrelevant in analysis of Africa was because, well, class didn’t exist in Africa (apparently). There was a giant rural population, which could be categorized as “peasantry” in the same way as a sack of potatoes could be categorized as a “sack of potatoes” (well, there’s an application of Marx) — i.e., nothing actually held them together (no class-consciousness) other than the accident of geography. The working-class in urban areas was small. There was no bona fide bourgeoisie in the sense of a domestic capitalist class (unlike in India, or even Russia and China when they had their revolutions — because the capitalist class was the colonizing race). The landed classes were significant in some countries (i.e., with feudal-ish relations), but it was unclear to what extent they were organized. The petty bourgeois then became a bourgeoisie, but not as a result of their control of capital, but their control of the levers of state and the rents that accrued to them therewith.

So neopatrimonial analysis often steps aside the issue of class because it looks at vertical linkages — big men controlling bases of support based on the exchange of material benefits — rather than horizontal class-based linkages.

Yet, what happens when there are burgeoning or actually-existing classes? What happens when you can actually point out horizontal, class-based linkages? Or point out how the development of burgeoning bourgeoisies leads to certain forms of intra-class conflict — i.e., people are in fact vying for the control of the levers of state for greater access to rent, resources, etc., but the people who are vying for those levers already constitute a certain section of the population in terms of class.

What happens, moreover, when you can also point to the existence — however shortlived — of horizontal linkages among peasants? The Chinese revolution turned a lot of Marxist thinking (where the proletariat, i.e., working-class, was the revolutionary agent) on its head. The Chinese showed that, yes, the peasantry could be mobilized as a revolutionary class. To some extent, the mobilization of the peasantry in Mozambique showed that there could be certain degrees of class-consciousness (though, a lot of this was based on opposition to the oppressive apparatus of Portuguese colonialism and its indigenous intermediaries who benefited from the oppressive state of affairs).

The question of neopatrimonialism, and its connection to liberal democracy, then becomes this: What are the analytical classes that we can determine (i.e., “class-in-itself” — class as an economic category, representing relationship to means of production), and what are the political classes that we can determine (i.e., “class-for-itself” — class with consciousness of its own interests) — if, indeed, such classes can or do exist. What are the factors that prevent working classes (I am referring to rural, peri-urban, and urban working masses) from making use of the existing democratic structures to, well, vote the way they (one would presume) ought to vote?

The issue is raised interestingly in a recent study on Nepalese liberal democracy. The authors assume that peasants should have voted for the Maoists back in the 1990s — because the Maoists were the only ones who were all about land reform — but they did not. (Since the end of the People’s War, of course, the Maoists surprised everyone in the world by winning the greatest number of seats in the Constituent Assembly.) In fact, the Maoists seem to have been better to mobilize peasants for armed struggle than they were at getting their votes back in the day. Why was this? The authors attribute this to the fact that the way peasants accessed land — through patrons, of whom they were clients — also affected the way they voted. That is, they voted the way local patrons wanted them to vote (for established bourgeois or compromised parties), else they risked losing their access to land and resources, connections and networks. When the Maoists used violence to get rid of these patterns of access to land, and when other peasants saw that this form of class conflict could lead to actual improvements, they supported the insurgency. And, we can see from the latest elections, they supported the Maoists in droves. So one of the questions I have to look at is what applicability a kind of “local interference” model has to the Mozambican context.

But then one of the more important factors in the Mozambican context is the role of the two major parties: Frelimo and Renamo. There’s pretty much no one else to vote for, and they’re both market economy, yada yada types. It does appear that, while the same imperatives of vote coercion do not exist in Mozambique as they do in Nepal (and India and Pakistan), there are other factors operating here. The first set of post-war elections saw, apparently, a general trend of people voting for whatever party was hegemonic in the area. Frelimo won massively. But the presidential elections were not as straightforward. In any case, the next two set of elections saw a massive drop in voter turnout. Instead, it appears that at least in some cases that many people are directing political grievances outward in violent ways (in the northern parts, Cholera riots, in the capital Maputo, fuel riots).

What’s significant is that patron-client links may operate on a local level, but it doesn’t seem like the kind of ethnic or regional based vertical patron-client linkages are operating. Indeed, Jason Sumich points out that there is something of a ruling class. One can certainly point to the existence of an upper-class in Mozambique, both a bourgeoisie based on domestic capital and a bourgeoisie based on its comprador linkages to international aid/control of state resources — in many cases, there is overlap as well. The significant factor of the national/comprador bourgeoisie is that it is linked deeply to Frelimo in various ways. The point is that the rich overlap startlingly with the rulers. I.e., there is a ruling class, at least a nascent one, with strong horizontal linkages. (I think there is a book in French somewhere that just looks at the social linkages of leading members of Frelimo.) Disagreements and conflict within Frelimo have rarely, if ever, led to splits in the party (since 1969) — its leading members are a tight-knit unit. They are all rich. Even the wife of the late Samora Machel, Graca Machel, who is now working with NGOs (and is now married to Nelson Mandela), is quite well-to-do, and still sticks with Frelimo.

So if we’re talking about neopatrimonialism, well, one thing is evident from Frelimo — it’s not a personalistic, big-man type of thing. They’re quite collegiate. So what are we talking about when we talk about vertical linkages here? It doesn’t really operate in the same way as it is purported to do so in other states, and to see why that is we have to look at the operation of political representation in post-socialist/post-conflict Mozambique in historical context.

Argument 1: The formation of an economic elite-ruling class

In fact, the first argument I want to make is that the formation of the nascent ruling class — the politico-economic elite that rules Mozambique — is linked to the alienation of Frelimo from its stated bases, i.e., the rural peasantry and the working class. This alienation itself occurred in waves. The first perhaps went from independence in 1975 to 1983: a) Frelimo’s political organization (e.g., democratic practice) was not robust enough, b) its economic policies were disastrous or largely inconclusive with respect to their usefulness, c) its socio-cultural reforms were not well implemented, too heavy-handed in some cases. Although these factors led to alienation in some respects — particularly among many sections of the peasantry, there was still a considerable degree of support for Frelimo and its practices. Moreover, Frelimo was self-critical enough to take steps to correct its practice. However, these steps also led to some alienation.

In 1983, the party held a congress where it revised its economic policies. Part of this involved a little bit of economic liberalization (e.g., allowing certain members of the party to accumulate certain amounts of land, business, or something like that — I need to check on this, as it might have been in 1986 after Machel’s death that Joaquim Chissano undertook this). The question of the relationship between party and state was also studied — as there was little to distinguish the party from the state apparatus.

But strangely enough, right after the congress, Frelimo carried out “Operation Production” where supposedly unproductive people were expelled from cities (due to overpopulation concerns) into rural areas to become productive. Prostitutes and thieves, and generally a lot of people, were the subjects of this expulsion. In one case, if I recall correctly, a university professor was carted off (I think this is in Cardoso’s biography by Fauvet). This alienated a lot of people from the party, because before now Frelimo was seen as being for the people, not against it.

However, also very significant during this period and after this was the ratcheting up of the war of destabilization being waged first by Southern Rhodesia (until Zimbabwean independence in 1980) and then South Africa. The economic collapse, and the steady devolution of Soviet aid, led to Frelimo’s turn to the west: joining the IMF and WB in 1984, and settling a peace agreement with South Africa (which, of course, racist apartheid Pretoria violated soon). The war stepped up in 1986 and kept going — starting in 1986 is when the Soviet Union provided the greatest amount of assistance to Mozambique, technical, yes, but no doubt also military.

In 1986, Samora Machel died/was killed by South Africans. Economic differentiation increased as party strictures had been relaxed and party members began to accumulate money. In some areas, forced labour was reintroduced to meet export quotas for cotton and other crops. In 1987, Frelimo capitulated and implemented a structural adjustment program, and introduced high user fees for education and health. Food prices went up as subsidies went down. Folks in cities and in rural areas were turned off. Many people, more-or-less middle-class thus far, in the cities lost their jobs with the bureaucracy. This led to yet more alienation.

As Renamo (the belligerents) made inroads into occupying large areas of Mozambique, Frelimo’s authority and reach declined as did its popularity. The state wasn’t quite a failure, but it just wasn’t everywhere. Renamo was not necessarily better than Frelimo rule, and in fact it was often worse, but it did manage to establish some kind of social base. (More on this as it becomes significant in Argument 2.)

Yet, because Frelimo controlled the state apparatus, and because the privatization taking place through the structural adjustment program of the IMF/WB was operationalized through the state, Frelimo members happened to get good tracts of land, businesses, state enterprises, and so on. In 1989, Frelimo officially abandoned Marxism-Leninism and let anyone into the party, capitalists, business owners, chiefs, so on — and so enter the party they did. The process of privatization, guided by Frelimo, continued into the 1990s and even later. Being in government, controlling the state, Frelimo members enriched themselves. Corruption, once unheard of in socialist Mozambique, was the order of the day. Meanwhile, rich people joined Frelimo, and became part of government, controlling the levers of state.

So what you got here is the formation of a ruling class defined by income/relationship to means of production and access to means of governance.

Argument 2: The re-extension and consolidation of party-state control through political liberalization

Why is it that a ruling class, as such, would turn to democratization and even take upon decentralization, which would threaten its rule? Economic elites in the United States, for instance, are not necessarily closely tied to either of the two parties, and put their eggs in both baskets (does this make sense?). This is not true of Mozambique — if Renamo wins many Frelimo members lose their access to government and state. I think what is going on is that Frelimo is using democratization and decentralization as a means to expand state reach, incorporating potentially oppositional elements into state apparatuses, and then looking to hold on to state power by just about any means necessary. What this means is that democratization and decentralization, rather than being ways for, well, democratization and decentralization, are actually ways for Frelimo to re-extend and further extend its reach. By controlling formal levers of power and with a very poor population without counter-hegemonic political organization, this means the ruling class rules well.

Indeed, it seems that if Frelimo didn’t have to undertake democratization and decentralization, it wouldn’t. Part of the answer is that Frelimo had and has to undertake democratization and decentralization largely in response to pressures from international donors and bodies, which was tied deeply to the process of reaching a peace settlement with Renamo. The continuing insistence of international bodies, and Renamo, for Frelimo to democratize and decentralize in various ways is a tremendous amount of pressure. Underlying this, at least until until about 2000 or so, was the threat of Renamo taking up arms and returning to the bush. That hasn’t happened yet, nearly 17 years later (after peace accords were signed in 1992), and the very existence of a split in Renamo that led to the recent creation of a third-force political party (MDM, more on this later) indicates some level of normalization of liberal democratic practice. Indeed, Carrie Manning calls this “elite habituation” to democracy, or some form of it. Yet, it should be noted that Frelimo has always undertaken democratization and decentralization with varying levels of reluctance, and with a strong focus on unitary, centralized government.

What is key to look at in examining the establishment of electoral democracy, with the first general elections taking place in 1994, is that there was a tremendous effort at reaching out to the various areas in Mozambique and to push the state apparatus into all of these areas. This is important, as the war had created a situation where the state was not able to consistently and reliably reach all areas of the country, it had been largely delegitimized due to its absence or its enforced absence (i.e., retreat from public welfare), and increasing gaps between rulers and ruled. The first set of general elections saw a strong effort by the Mozambican state — the Frelimo state — to establish reach everywhere.

The first set of general elections seems to have resulted in parties winning in districts/areas where they were already dominant and hegemonic. Half the country voted for Renamo — largely in rural areas in the Centre, the other half for Frelimo — largely in urban areas and its ‘heartland’ rural areas in the North and South, but overall Frelimo won. Frelimo has resorted to corruption and underhanded methods to win subsequent elections (not as if Renamo hasn’t, it just hasn’t been able to use these methods to win), though its rigging didn’t change the outcome of the elections. Whatever democracy means to most Mozambicans, it’s unclear to what extent the support for parties actually changes in significant ways in districts and provinces.

Winners take all in the Mozambican elections, and that includes the ability to appoint governors in each of the provinces, and, as far as I can tell, every position down to district administrators. However, this system exists parallel to a municipalities law (implemented reluctantly by Frelimo, the first set of elections in 1998 were boycotted by Renamo), where 33 municipalities have been declared and local elections take place for municipal assemblies and mayors. Needless to say, Frelimo controlled that whole pot until 2003, when Renamo took part in municipal elections. However, even now Frelimo dominates in municipal assemblies — 42 of the now 43 municipalities — and has mayors in 41.

To be sure, this form of decentralization opens up some space for new voices — in some cities, candidate lists have been assembled by citizens’ groups unassociated with either Frelimo or Renamo (except that they are often former members or sympathizers of Frelimo). Yet, overall, the acquisition of land and business in urban areas proceeds along the same lines as it does in rural areas — i.e., dependent on how well one is connected to Frelimo. (Note, this is in a country where the state officially owns all land.) Representative democracy also undermines previous institutions of direct, popular democracy, but that’s not central here.

What happens to the rural areas, though? One would imagine that, exercising considerable influence there, Renamo would push for decentralization in rural areas — and, indeed, it does. Yet, perhaps the way Renamo does this is ultimately counterproductive for its own goals. Renamo’s opposition to Frelimo back in the day, and its campaign of destruction, was predicated on support for “traditional authorities” (i.e., régulos who had been appointed by the Portuguese, and weren’t always so “traditional” — where “traditional” refers to pre-colonial). Frelimo was strictly opposed to traditional authorities (in theory, anyway). During the peace process, and even now, Renamo largely pushes for this idea of recognition of traditional authorities. A lot of push also came from international donors, NGOs and post-modern scholars who looked at “traditional” authority as being somehow more authentic and representative, or something.

Yet, starting in the late 1980s, Frelimo started courting chiefs — by allowing them membership in the party, for instance, and calling upon them to in some cases exercise some degrees of authority. All this without abandoning its top-down appointment structure. And in 2000, Frelimo passed a decree recognizing traditional authorities — or more accurately, “community authorities” found legitimate by a “community.” So, this could include the secretaries that Frelimo had introduced for administration in various parts of the country back in the day and who persisted. What the decree did was to open up new sites of contestation of who, exactly, was a legitimate, “traditional” authority. But it also extended, once again, the reach of the state by establishing (or, in some cases, re-establishing) layer of bureaucracy/administration. Frelimo especially attempted to court these traditional authorities, and even link its own leadership as a traditional lineage (Machel to Chissano to Guebuza, how traditional).

Needless to say, this sucked the wind out of Renamo on an overall level, because now Frelimo was recognizing “traditional” authorities, or community authorities, found to be “legitimate.” In the absence of the kind of democratic structure in place in municipalities, overt party politics would seem to have less influence here. (But that’s not necessarily the case, as is evidenced by Frelimo’s courting of these authorities.) In any case, the extension of the state is an attempted extension, again, of Frelimo’s authority, attempting to provide legitimation to its rule in Mozambique.

(There is, perhaps, something to be said here about the Mozambican land law, as a consequence of democratization, that many people find to be particularly progressive — though, there are problems.)

Argument (?) 3: What are the alternatives?

Through formal democratization and decentralization, the ruling class of Mozambique, economic elites tied to Frelimo, legitimize their continuing rule domestically and to the international donor people, who are key to their funding. But there are other strategies being employed here to try and keep control over an impoverished population, in particular, a shifting of discourses that elide the socialist history of Mozambique, and that — in crude appropriations of neoclassical economics — place the burden of poverty on the laziness of the poor. (No kidding, Guebuza basically said that. His wife also called on the youth of the nation to take an active role in building its economic capacities.)

This kind of discursive shift is met, in many instances, with skepticism — the youth being exhorted to take a role in economic development, for instance, rolling their eyes and pointing out that there are no opportunities for them to do so, else they gladly would. Moreover, in 2008 soaring fuel prices provoked riots in Maputo, and more recently, people in northern Mozambique, convinced that the rich and powerful (linked to aid agencies and the government) were out to get them rioted against aid workers and government officials trying to sanitize wells to prevent cholera. The people thought these folks were, in fact, poisining the wells to cause cholera. Sociologists in Mozambique have shown these riots to be, in effect, anti-poverty protests.

However, if there is resistance, it is not counter-hegemonic (these instances I’ve noted were sporadic and, as far as I can tell, not very organized) and some new alternatives, such as the Movement for a Democratic Mozambique, are not progressive. The MDM is a split from Renamo, which is also not progressive, and doesn’t seem to have a significantly different platform — at least, not as of yet — but is rooted more in a rejection of the paranoid personalistic politics of the leader of Renamo. Trade unions in Mozambique are weak and, it seems, pliant. Their reach also does not extend toward the rural areas where a substantial portion of income is from wage-work.

Some people look for relatively progressive tendencies within Frelimo. It’s not like they don’t exist, for instance, Marcelino dos Santos, who is magnificently still alive (at 80) and so is the incorruptible Jorge Rebelo, but it seems they are not very central anymore (or at least, no one is listening to them). Joseph Hanlon and Teresa Smart see capitalist development guided by the state with strong welfare policies as the way to go — and see that there are elements within the Frelimo leadership and rank-and-file pushing for this. Yet, the leadership in control — what they call the predatory group — and the larger comprador group (relying on international aid, etc.) of which it is part, are oppositional/skeptical to this approach for a variety of reasons.

So is this it? The socialist revolution that once attempted to mobilize millions has reduced itself to a struggle in the leadership between a corrupt, comprador acquiescence to international capital and a relatively less corrupt, nationalist attempt to build domestic capital? As certain cases show, relatively progressive elements in Frelimo can mobilize mass pressure (rural semi-proletariat and progressive bourgeoisie), through protests, media, and backbencher revolts in parliament, to intervene in issues (I am thinking of the cashew crisis) — but how often this happens is unclear, and likely it’s very rare indeed.

There are peasants’ movements (a peasant association that is pretty small) and women’s movements. But these are also insignificant. Perhaps the demobilization of civil society can be explained by the war, and the lack of political alternatives by the legacy of a one-party state and, also, the war.

The hegemony of Frelimo seems to be based, thus, more on the weakness of any oppositional movement than on its own hard-won legitimacy. It should be noted that participation in general elections declines steadily every year, though it is unclear what the elections in October 2009 will have in store.


There need to be more surveys and ethnographies done (or, published in English for my benefit) to see how various strate and sectors in Mozambique feel. But what is evident is that there are exploiters and exploited, those who dominate and those who are dominated, and that it is not working out for the masses of poor Mozambicans, who have not seen substantial reductions in poverty — despite the number crunching of the government and associated institutions — in the past decade or so. Some ameliorations have taken place (I think, at some point in 2005, primary education was made free again), but that doesn’t mean that people can afford the registration fees, uniforms, or letting their kids go to school instead of working. Microcredit doesn’t work for the poorest of the poor, and instead makes the better off ones better off (which isn’t to say it shouldn’t be tried, it just … isn’t working for the mass of masses). I could go into more detail about the economics here, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

The point is that economic liberalization led to the enrichment of a few, due to their control of the state apparatuses. Political liberalization was used by these few to consolidate and re-extend their power through their control of the state apparatuses.

Back in 1980, Samora Machel noted the infiltration of enemy agents into the state apparatuses, using their positions to make anti-people decisions, introduce red tape, and to enrich themselves while carrying out the agenda of international capital and imperialism. That the leadership of Frelimo itself devolved into this category of enemy agent, and that this identity became central to the entire apparatus of Frelimo, is a shame. But it calls for the kind of purges and revolutionary struggle called for by Machel. This wasn’t straightforward then, and it’s probably nowhere near as straightforward now. How this will happen, and where it comes from, I have no idea. But I’d like to learn Portuguese and do deeper study to try and find out.

A luta continua.

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