As Mozambique holds general elections next Wednesday, many will be hoping that the country will find the peace and stability that have eluded it since independence.
Civil strife and instability have dogged the country since it attained independence from Portugal in 1975. Alarmingly, over the years there have been run-ins between government forces and rebels from the opposition Mozambican National Resistance (Renamo) party.
Led by long-time former rebel leader and top opposition figure Alfonso Marceta Macacho Dhlakama, 61, Renamo has for a long time been a thorn in the flesh of the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo).
The bad blood culminated in the implacable opposition leader some time ago abandoning his home in the capital Maputo and taking refuge at a hideout in the remote Gorongosa Mountains.
Dhlakama, however, recently emerged from hiding and is a presidential candidate nobody seems to be taking for granted, particularly given that his belated campaign rallies have reportedly been surprisingly well attended.
DISPUTED ELECTIONS Despite past disputed elections, former Minister of Defence Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, a leading member of the ruling Frelimo party and ally of incumbent President Armando Emílio Guebuza is still expected to win the election.
Observers have already tipped Nyusi to beat both Renamo’s Dhlakama and third candidate Daviz Simango of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM).
Whoever wins, Mozambique is expected to rapidly sail full steam towards a new economic era sparked by the discovery of huge oil and natural gas deposits expected to make the country one of the world’s top producers.
Already blessed with major coal deposits, the country seems set for a jackpot that is expected to remove it from the list of the world’s poorest countries and one also notorious for serious inequalities and corruption.
In the meantime, along with the presidential race, Mozambicans will on Wednesday vote for Members of Parliament to constitute the National Assembly, which has 250 seats. Elections will also be held at the provincial and local government levels.
There have been hiccups in the run-up to the coming polls, though, with Frelimo accused of taking advantage of its incumbency to favour its candidates during the campaigns.
There have also reportedly been claims of harassment and detention of some opposition campaigners.
Despite the alleged state bias and tilting of the playing field, in recent months there have been concerted efforts to set the stage for the coming elections.
To that end, a peace deal was recently agreed and signed by the government and rebel forces, ending two years of the most recent armed conflicts.
Having been plunged headlong into a brutal 15-year civil war that erupted just two years after independence, Mozambique has throughout been governed by Frelimo, and had to wait a long time before eventually holding its first multi-party elections in 1994.
Since then there has been relative stability in the country, with President Guebuza having been in power since February 2, 2005. To his credit, the incumbent has agreed to retire as president after having completed his two constitutional terms.
He will however remain the president of Frelimo, a formidable outfit said to be even more powerful than the government.
As the elections approached, the challenges facing President Guebuza’s government have been daunting.
In 2010, for instance, the country was hit by serious riots over escalating food prices. The disturbances left 14 people dead and came just a year after Guebuza swept to a second term after general elections held on October 28, 2009.
Further, the country has over the years suffered from devastating floods that have damaged railway lines and caused serious production problems as goods piled up. The problems notwithstanding, the looming elections are widely recognised as crucial.
Consequently, they will be monitored by several observer missions, most significantly the regional Southern African Development Community.
Also present will be groups from the African Union, Commonwealth, the European Union and the community of Portuguese-speaking countries.
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