Mozambique Must Learn The Lesson That Egypt Did Not

Mozambique Must Learn The Lesson That Egypt Did Not

On Friday, August 8, a senior member of the Mozambican National Resistance party rose in the country’s parliament to give a short speech denouncing the country’s recently proposed constitutional changes. Leopoldo Ernesto, speaking for his RENAMO (Resistência Nacional Moçambicana in Portuguese) compatriots, decried the process on two fronts.

According to the Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, RENAMO’s objections were as follows, first; the ad hoc commission was a profound drain on the country’s immensely finite coffers without a justification. Second, that the changes, in his mind, drafted “unilaterally” by the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (Frente de Libertação de Moçambique or FRELIMO in Portuguese) could “plunge the country into chaos.”

According to the report, the second objection made the parliamentarians in the room visibly uncomfortable. To understand why it is worth taking a look back at the particular history of the two parties and the sub-Saharan state.

During the Mozambican Civil War, a 15 year conflict that caused the loss of nearly one million lives and displaced millions more, FRELIMO and RENAMO were at war.

FRELIMO, a former left-wing independence movement backed by neighboring countries, was met with resistance by the “anti-communist” RENAMO after achieving independence from the Portuguese in the early 1970s.

With this history of violence in the country and between the two now-political-parties, it is no wonder that the prospect of a political conflict that “plunge[s] the country into chaos” is uniquely terrifying.

Eduardo Mulembue, chairman of the commission tasked with amending the country’s constitution responded with optimism. While previously RENAMO had refused its seats in the commission, boycotting the entire process, the words of Ernesto were a contribution from the party and hopefully would lead to further dialogue.

It is difficult to overstate how important this goal is.

A “consensual constitution,” or a constitution that receives meaningful input from a wide range of political actors and the public, can help put to bed deep seated political rivalries, such as those that exist between former warring parties.

Such a document can set the stage for peaceful elections and give opposition parties the ability to be heard, reducing the likelihood that they resort to extra-constitutional options.

While Mozambique, since its first multi-party elections in 1994, has been largely peaceful and, despite FRELIMO dominance at the polls, opposition parties have worked within the constitutional system, one need not even leave the continent to find a cruel cycle that can occur when constitutional processes are seen as unilateral and imposed.

A Lesson From Egypt

In Egypt, during the three decades of military strongman Hosni Mubarak’s rule, the relationship between the military leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood was, to say the least, strained. Through much of his rule the Brotherhood was outlawed and its members were arrested and tortured.

In June of 2012, more than a year after Mubarak’s 2011 ouster, the country went on to elect a president, Mohammed Morsi, from among the Brotherhood’s ranks.

A few months later, Morsi issued a “constitutional declaration” granting himself wide ranging powers and extending the mandate of a constitutional drafting assembly that would create a lasting foundational legal document for the country.

The resulting outcry would cause him to rescind much of the declaration, but it would contribute to the fundamental distrust that had existed between the military and the Brotherhood during the Mubarak years.

This trend would continue when the liberal members of the constitutional drafting committee opted to boycott the process, saying it had been dominated by Islamists and the Brotherhood, and the Brotherhood responded by passing what would become the new constitution nearly overnight.

After the document was approved at referendum, alleged overreach by Morsi and the Brotherhood led to a military coup, leading to the current era of rule in Egypt by Abdulfattah el-Sisi, supported by the same network that once stood behind Mubarak, including the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

It is always impossible to make predictions in the negative.

What would have happened had Morsi governed more inclusively and gone out of his way to include non-Islamists in the drafting and decision making process? No one can say for sure. Perhaps Morsi would still be President, perhaps the coup would have taken place anyway, or perhaps the entire Egyptian body politic would have changed in fully unpredictable ways.

One can be sure that when two parties have a history of animosity, it takes extraordinary effort toward inclusive governance and a constitution that solicits opposition and public opposition to overcome the years of conflict.

Time will tell whether the objections of RENAMO are warranted and/or lead to further dialogue between the former military rivals. While it is difficult to defend RENAMO’s complaints on not being consulted on such changes as they chose to forgo their allotted seats on the drafting commission, this difficulty will not prevent the issue from growing.

A consensual constitution, where all parties and the public are not only consulted, but also listened to, can go a long way in ensuring that all future politics will operate within the constraints of that constitution.

Andrew Friedman is a human rights attorney and freelance consultant who works and writes on legal reform and constitutional law with an emphasis on Africa. He can be reached via email at afriedm2@gmail.com or via twitter @AndrewBFriedman.