The end days
Constitutionally, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi ends his second term of office in January 2025 – and if all things are equal, his successor will come from within the ranks of the ruling Frelimo party.
Because of the 2024 presidential elections, Frelimo will have to present its presidential candidate by the first quarter of 2024, the latest,
With his succession still shrouded in a fog of obvious group interests, almost a year and a half from the end of his reign, Nyusi is trying desperately to find ways of maintaining or controlling power by manipulating the succession process.
In fact, successive manoeuvres were attempted to consolidate this idea: from the manipulation of party bodies to the underhanded attempt to manipulate the Constitution – under the guise of amending a constitutional clause that called for district elections in 2024, observers claimed that Nyusi wanted to either use Frelimo’s two-thirds majority in Parliament to introduce a third term or to adopt an Angolan-style electoral system (closed list), whereby voters elect the president and members of parliament simultaneously with a single ballot paper – and remain in power as he and his crony Roque Silva, Frelimo’s Secretary-General, colluded in the run-up to the party’s last congress to strengthen Nyusi’s power and control of the party.
If the plan failed, Nyusi would anoint a successor who would guarantee him immunity and a quiet retreat in the sunset after stepping down in January 2025. Meanwhile, any potential candidate would by now have got their ducks in a row.
In a succession process, there are elements to consider, namely the potential successors and the king-makers.
Below is Mozambique Insights’ list in alphabetical order of possible potential successors and king-makers by their political characteristics and servility to Nyusi and the group he has ruled with since 2015.
Currently, Public Works minister, Mesquita is a businessman turned politician, who seems to be a key piece in the empowerment of the group. Mesquita has been elevated to ministerial portfolios (Transport and Communications, and Industry) with high inflows of financial resources, where he secures contracts for people within Nyusi’s circles and/or the Makonde conclave.
In business and Frelimo circles, Mesquita is considered one of Nyusi’s closest friends, with whom he has private conversations and spend most of their time together in social gatherings with specific characteristics.
Mesquita fits the profile of the ideal potential successor: not political coy, he would support Nyusi in managing the party, although he would be a little more autonomous in managing business opportunities or would reserve the lion’s share of public businesses for himself and his new friends.
Celso Ismael Correia
Currently, the country’s Agriculture and Rural Development minister, and Nyusi’s friend, confidant and right arm. A type of his strategic lieutenant.
He seems to be Nyusi’s obvious and natural successor. Especially because much of Nyusi’s governing visibility derives from Correia’s political, economic engineering and political marketing.
What is more, the 2019 Frelimo landslide victory was due to the genius of Correia even though he subordinated the party.
For Correia, Nyusi’s continuity is also a crucial question of political survival for the “young tigre” as more conservative sections of the media treat him.
Celso heads and represents a rather dynamic and audacious lobbyist group within the party and the national economy concerned with amassing both economic power and considerable political influence.
The strategy and alleged strong ascendancy over Nyusi raise an atmosphere of mistrust in the party hosts and discomfort within Nyusi’s inner circle.
Dynamic, quick and with some pragmatism to the mix, Correia has been doing a very visible work whose gains only time can show. Affable, controlling and manipulative, he thinks outside the box and looks for solutions, which earns him some resentment from some of his peers.
One of Nyusi’s strategic errors was to have delayed Correia’s entry into the Political Commission, which was at the mercy of intrigue and anti-Nyusi conspiracies diametrically opposed to his adulation.
In this mandate, Correia rehearsed flights on international stages and fora: the World Bank and more recently Chathan House, without being in Nyusi’s company.
Being light-skinned, Correia may be a victim of the non-statutory curse of colour – despite singing unity, equality and inclusion, Frelimo is run by the fear of any minority taking over the party. The majority fears losing power and being turned away from feasting on resources. As such, despite an over-performance in Nyusi’s two terms, Correia may succumb to this political taboo.
But he has also over-promised. There is every sign that his signature agricultural programme “Sustenta” is failing, which might work against him. This seems to have also burst his bubble within donor circles.
Cristóvão Artur Chume
A career military man, whose public career began in the Defence Policy Directorate of the Ministry of Defence when Nyusi was minister, continued with the latter successor as Defence Minister, Atanásio M’tumuke, Chume went to the Samora Machel Military Academy, then to the Northern Operational Theatre where he coordinated military actions with the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) in the taking back of Mocímboa da Praia, and from there appointed the Defence Minister, replacing Jaime Bessa Neto.
Chume would fulfil a regional tradition of military men ending up on the presidential chair (Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia, followed this model).
He is said to have been on a collision course with Nyusi because of his Don Juan inclinations, when he made public his affair with Helena Kida (see below). The affair is said to have earned him a strong admonition in the Council of Ministers.
Chume was recently featured in the publication Africa Confidential for an alleged animosity with the Army Chief of Staff, Joaquim Rivas Mangrasse. The same publication reported that Chume is accepted in military circles, an element that reinforces his position as a potential successor.
A judge by training, Kida is currently the Justice, Constitutional and Religious Affairs. She previously held the post of deputy-Minister of the Interior.
She has already been considered to replace Beatriz Buchili as Attorney-General by the conclave, Helena Kida is a probable successor. She is from the north (Niassa), daughter of a liberation war veteran hero and former minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Mateus Oscar Kida, a regional and political details that satisfies the conclave, but despite her refined vocabulary, she is not political or governmental coy.
With a military career, he entered public life in 2018 as Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Electricidade de Moçambique – EDM. Internal sources say that he undertook a process that destructured EDM and is said to have left with no glory in 2018. However, other sources claim that he was maligned because he stopped corrupt practices.
Magala went back to the African Development Bank where he was appointed Deputy-President for Corporate Services and Human Resources until 2022, when he was offered the post of Transport and Communications minister, replacing the ineffectual and grey Janfar Abdulai.
In the meantime, Magala has chosen the way of spectacular and adventurous moves: he over-promises. His dynamism seems to be without any basis or coordination with the ministry, to the extent that the initial optimism around him has yet to yield palpable results.
The reduction of LAM (Mozambique Airlines)’s historic debt, after decades of haemorrhaging money and running at a loss, his latest sleight of hand, has caused widespread incredulity. The airline remains technically bankrupt and all the campaigning and marketing around the reduction has turned out to be a personal coup to position himself as a presidential candidate.
Magala may be part of Nyusi and the Makonde conclave’s plans to keep power for another term to ensure ascendancy in public affairs (gas, oil and public tenders), and secure impunity for Nyusi and above all prevent the return of the tsouth to presidential power – Magala is from Niassa.
These are candidates who fulfil Frelimo’s successions dynamics so far: the regional roulette whereby presidential power transitions from one of the country’s three regions to another. Former presidents Joaquim Chissano and Armando Guebuza hail from the south, and Nyusi is from the north.
Aires Bonifácio Aly
A Niassa born technocrat. Does not fill the regional roulette. His star shone brightest during Guebuza’s presidency. He was appointed provincial governor twice (Niassa, under Chissano, Inhambane under Guebuza), and became Education minister, and eventually promoted to Prime-Minister.
Defeated in the Guebuza’s succession battle, Aires Aly was dispatched to Beijing as an ambassador by Nyusi. He acts relatively far from the Makonde conclave and refuses the moniker that he is a Guebuzist, choosing to present himself as a politician with enough credits to run the party and control the country.
Despite his strong will, he might have to make alliances with another northerner and team up efforts to overcome the incumbent manipulations to stay in control.
Being a northerner, he might benefit from the conclave and some other regional circles’ growing fear that the south might regain power.
António Hama Thai
A retired general, war veteran, former Army Chief of Staff, former Deputy-Defence minister, Chief of Air Force and minister for Veterans’ Affairs.
Hama Thai has reinvented himself as an academic. He lectures at the Escola de Altos Estudos Armando Emílio Guebuza, as well as being a researcher and writer.
He is described as a military authority and security connoisseur, with an unimpeachable political moral compass many do not have; more like a Samorist in that area, and not related to the corruption epidemic that is eating at the political ranks and war veterans.
Maybe because of his stellar credentials, he was targeted by some political circles in a tricky interview in which he seemed to rubbish the notion that party statutes countenance the “regional roulette” route during transition.
In many circles, Hama Thai enjoys admiration and consensus as a man with courage to clean the party and the country from many of the current problems: corruption, anachronism, nepotism and terrorism.
José Condugua Pacheco
A former minister of Foreign Affairs, of the Interior, and Agriculture, Pacheco was a defeated candidate in the primaries to succeed Guebuza. Party insiders say that he hitched his political future to the eventual winner, Nyusi, in exchange for his support down the line.
Apparently, the move disappointed Guebuza who had bet on him as a successor.
Seen as a though guy, he is also pragmatic, with a strong character and political will and personality to clean both party and state ranks.
One thing betrays his candidacy: Nyusi turned his back on him and sacked him from Foreign Affairs ministry, letting him fade away from the internal and external political stage.
These can be groups (ethnic, economic and/or ideological). The order lists the importance and weight of each factor in the process.
Ethnic – the largest ethnic group in Mozambique, the Makuas, led by Labour Minister and member of the Political Commission, Margarida Talapa, are strategically in the race and well placed. In the last Frelimo presidential primaries, they had two presidential candidates who were sidelined: Aiuba Cuereneia (former Planning and Finance minister) and António Vaquina (former Prime Minister).
Good team players, they know how to strategically position themselves. For example, they placed Francisco Mucanheia, a former parliamentarian, as Nyusi’s adviser, meaning that he has the president’s ear.
The group has been arguing that it is their turn at the helm of the country. Consequently, it has been fighting hard against any notion that Frelimo should adopt a regional route for choosing a presidential candidate, thus, quashing any suggestion that it is the turn of the central region to select a presidential candidate.
The two former presidents, Joaquim Chissano and Armando Guebuza, are also potential king-makers, with political clout to strengthen the hand of any potential successor, including the incumbent, who still needs some backing for his manoeuvres to continue or to manipulate the process.
Economical – economic interests are crucial. The domination of Frelimo economic circuits is an advantage because it ensures the continuity of the servility of the economic groups that gravitate towards the orbit of state power. These include the Chinese, Turks, Portuguese, South Africans and locals, in alliances that include or spearhead the transnational underworld.
Economic strength today guarantees the domination of bodies because it determines their composition according to the objectives to be achieved.
Ideological – ideologically, Frelimo is a pale shadow of its former self. It is so moribund in this respect that the succession does not include any ideological debate.
There are still a few sparks of Guebuzismo within Frelimo, which means that he may have a say if ideology enters in the choosing of Nyusi’s successor.
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