Mozambique’s ex-president Joaquim Chissano talks to PM Communications about the country’s major achievements as it completes its 40th anniversary of independence. He takes the chance to criticize the attitude of Renamo – the main opposition party – as it threatens to return to war for not recognizing the victory of Frelimo in the last elections.
Mr Chissano, what does June 25, 2015, represent for you?
June 25 represents two things: the day a huge movement for unity started the fight for the people, bearing in mind a common objective was the achievement of independence through which Mozambicans – regardless of ethnic groups, region or religion – got together to initiate a fight for freedom, not merely through armed means but also through diplomacy, policy and culture, all the time seeking to bring dignity back to our people.
It was the day our flag was raised for the first time, following the adoption of a constitution and the expression “Peoples Republic of Mozambique”. Today, we no longer use the term “Peoples” but the country is still the Peoples Republic as the power was achieved and is managed by the people.
That also meant the beginning of a construction process that aimed at building a new and modern economy for Mozambique and at conveying development to all sectors.
For 40 years now Frelimo has been working for the people. How would you describe its role in transforming Mozambique into what it is today?
Frelimo always played this guiding role in Mozambican society, inspiring and getting its inspiration from the people itself, gathering their aspirations and giving back in terms of implementation.
That happened during the fight for independence and keeps happening today through construction efforts. We became a political party but never changed the essence of a party of the masses.
Frelimo played this important role due to the experience of organization and unity it acquired during the fight for independence. We structured our leadership from within the people – that is why it was natural for Frelimo to stand up as a leader in Mozambican society.
So it is that today, even after the foundation of other political parties, Frelimo continues to inspire the people and even opposition parties.
Mozambicans, due to their colonial past, had never been involved in politics; it was Frelimo that created a sense of politics, and it was the only party that continued to exist before and after independence.
When the Peace Agreement was signed in 1992, we were supposed to have the elections in 1993 but we did not, because we had to wait for the institution of other political parties (including Renamo, which at that time was not a political party) to make things more democratic.
You were the leader who headed Mozambique the most: 20 of the 40 years of independence were lived under your leadership.
Actually I led this country for 18 years and three months, divided into eight years as the successor of former President Samora Machel (meaning eight years fighting for peace and reconstruction in a one party regime) and then, 10 years as a result of winning two elections of five years each term.
After 1993 we started to implement this new constitution that was previously adopted in 1990 (that constitution already previewed the multiparty regime). Our first five-year term election was conducted in 1994.
In the election of October 2014, Frelimo won with 70% of the votes, but Renamo claimed the elections were not credible. How did you take this?
So far Renamo never managed to organize itself well enough to win an election; actually it never managed to totally erase the discreditable image it created for itself in the past.
They even provoked the people by saying that Frelimo did a sort of brainwash of the people. Fortunately, most people no longer believe in such moves of Renamo.
In order to become visible and relevant, they would remain armed and use that as an advantage through which they caught the attention of the world.
Today, Renamo is no longer interested in war; in fact they are more concerned in intellectual progress, improving their knowledge and getting studies at the universities.
Renamo presented its claims, with which we sat together to discuss and culminated in a Memorandum of Understanding that was fully accepted by the leading government.
All processes of that Memorandum were implemented; even the creation of a supervision mechanism (being one of Renamo’s demands) and only then the elections came.
In its 10 years of existence, what have been the main challenges of the Joaquim Chissano Foundation?
As a matter of fact in the past 10 years the Foundation has worked in a very difficult situation that caused us to change our modus operandi.
We lost a lot of time; we spent five years looking for financial support that would allow us to accomplish our main objectives.
As from five years ago we changed our tactics with regards to finding financial support to take our philanthropic programs ahead.
We have been taking this uncommon message of peace to every school we visit, especially to all the children, teachers and parents.
Our concept of peace is not merely the absence of war between governments or countries, but that peace is due in each and every home, the peace everyone has to develop from within oneself, the peace needed by the afflicted, and the peace that allows people to master their emotions.
This is the type of peace we are propagating in many ways but mainly from the young age, by means of specific programs with children (inside Mozambique).
I say that because up to this time we would take our children abroad to participate in summits with the intention that they would come back and teach the others the concepts of living in a community.
Mozambique being rich in terms of natural landscapes, beautiful beaches, and wonderful gastronomy, what have you been doing to attract tourists that usually go to Kenya or Tanzania?
I think we are doing well in this regard as we have been taking our message that Mozambique is a peaceful country to the world. So far we see that foreigners were afraid to come, even those from neighboring countries.
Even now they sometimes ask whether everything is really calm in Mozambique. They seem to have not so far understood that the war ended more than 22 years ago; it is also noticeable that when people arrive here, they expect to find this underdeveloped place, with scarce food with no electricity or internet.
We are doing a huge communication campaign through different vehicles.
The main thing people overlook is that we have welcoming people who are easy to talk to. This is a country like any other and to some extent better than many.
The problem is that sometimes people prefer to generalize things about the country based on one or two negative things that happened in the past. We have to work so these negative aspects fade away.
On the other hand we have to do more towards improving our hotel infrastructure. We have hotelier training schools, two universities with hotelier courses.
We already have people capable of managing hotelier infrastructure but more than that, tourists have to know that Mozambique has a unique geography with beaches like Vilanculos and famous islands like Bazaruto.
We have a long coast of 2,750km and the archipelago called Quirimbas. Sea tourism has huge potential here. And we have forests with a big variety of animals.
We have protection programs for turtles, corals etc.
Maputo is a 10-minute flight from a famous elephant park.
Your Excellency I would now like to talk about education, as it is a vehicle through which nations can fight poverty and violence. What are you doing towards a better education in your country?
Through the Joaquim Chissano Foundation, we implement our social responsibility programs through which we support and complement what the government is doing in the realm of education.
As our fund increases we will build small schools, but we think that is not the most fundamental aspect; the most important would be to work in association with the government in increasing families’ incomes, so they are able to give assistance to their children in schools.
As a civil society we have to do what is in our reach to complement the programs of the government.
Education is a fighting instrument, like I said in the beginning, during the armed fight it was a key element for the victory. I remember that we invested in primary and secondary schools prior to training soldiers.
How would you describe the relations with the United Kingdom bearing in mind it is home to Europe’s financial capital?
Talking about the UK is always interesting because during our fight for liberty the UK was on the side of Portugal.
When we became independent the UK hesitated to establish diplomatic relations with us, just like the United States did. So, I would say that the UK was not the first country to establish diplomatic relations with Mozambique, excluding trading relations that already existed during the colonial age.
After all, it took a long time until the UK opened its embassy here.
It was Italy that started technical cooperation with Mozambique, and then France came with investments and only after seeing that things could work here, investors from England came and our cooperation increased.
How would you describe Dr. Eduardo Mondlane, a very important leader of Mozambique?
Eduardo Mondlane was a great intellectual that carried the people of Mozambique in his heart.
He understood the culture of the people. He was a man that knew Africa and had a huge knowledge of the fight by many (including the African-Americans) for emancipation, as he also lived in the United States.
He was a teacher but above all he held Mozambicans in his heart.
And another one, Samora Machel?
Samora Machel was an important strategist in the fight for independence throughout its three chapters but mostly in the chapter of the armed fight.
He was as much a strategist and an internationalist as Eduardo Mondlane. He was a man of strong convictions.
What about Nelson Mandela?
Nelson Mandela was one of the most charismatic figures in Africa who went through different types of fights. From a young age he had been incarcerated but always kept fighting from jail and above all he kept in contact with his party and people.
For these and other reasons he is regarded as a leader. Mandela was the kind of person who knew how to stand up for his arguments.
And to close the interview how do you like to describe Joaquim Chissano?
I like to describe him as a Frelimo militant that was for a certain time in charge of accomplishing a task that in his view was well accomplished.
When he saw the mission was accomplished he allowed the people to exert the power of democracy and choose another leader. In the book I wrote, I ask myself whether I was actually a politician, that is, the person whose mission is to fight for power and protect it, or being an expert in state administration things.
All these definitions are valid but Mr. Chissano is found as a militant who was in charge of accomplishing a mission for his people.
The Mozambique we have today is also the fruit of the fight he fought along with other militants.
What moments of your presidency are you most proud of?
While president I am more proud of the way we signed our peace agreement, also of the way we finished the war and destabilization and restored the new environment of peace – here, I am talking about October of 1992.
Of course this moment had its precedents but this specific moment was the most remarkable for me.
Your Excellency, it has been a pleasure. Thank, you very much for your comments.