Rule of law develops slowly but constantly in Mozambique

The University of Helsinki’s Rule of Law Centre is collaborating with a number of universities and the Centre for Legal and Judicial Training in Mozambique and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to develop the rule of law in the East African country. The challenge is great, but auspicious signs are showing.

“The rule of law includes not only the classic independent elements of the administration of justice, but also democracy and human rights, leaving no room for corruption,” says Tuija Brax, Director of the Rule of Law Centre. 

In Mozambique, the situation is complex. “On the one hand, there is free press and freedom of opinion. On the other, corruption is rife and difficult to quickly weed out of government structures,” says Professor of Social History Sakari Saaritsa, who has lived and worked in Mozambique.

Development and guidance carried out collaboratively 

Cooperation with the Centre for Legal and Judicial Training CFJJ on the training of judges is constructive.

“In a democracy, judges must be impartial and incorruptible,” notes Brax.

After the end of the Cold War and the regional struggle for decolonisation in southern Africa, a new constitution was established in 1991 in Mozambique, followed by the establishment of a multi-party democracy a year later.

The large size of the country poses challenges to democratic development. According to Saaritsa, the large poor majority of rural areas lack access to the expensive services provided, for example, in the capital of Maputo. Disseminating democracy and human rights from Maputo to rural areas dominated by agriculture is difficult.

“Ordinary citizens may not be aware of their rights or how to act in the face of injustice,” Saaritsa says. “A central problem is that, in the modern legal system, solving matters is difficult, expensive and uncertain.”

However, there are community courts on the village and neighbourhood level that date back to traditional tribal customary law, which were nevertheless recognised as part of the formal legal system in 1975 after independence was gained following the Carnation Revolution in Portugal. In connection with the dissolution of the one-party socialist system, the current ‘Tribunal Comunitário’ courts were defined as more independent and open to the local variation of customary law. They operate according to a principle of rapid proceedings primarily based on mediation. 

There is a mission to wipe out misconduct in power structures 

The development of the rule of law is affected by corruption, politics and violence underlying the power structures. Despite Mozambique’s multi-party system, those who held power under the one-party system are still generally considered to retain a disproportionate status in the entire officialdom. Even electoral fraud is not unknown. 

“The abuse of power is considered a problem in general,” says Saaritsa. “In the group discussions observed by the Rule of Law Centre, one of the topics has been what judges working in the provinces can do if they receive a threatening call in the middle of the night to modify a sentence.” 

Involved in the collaboration is the United Nations Agency for Drugs and Crime (UNODC), whose remit includes anti-corruption efforts and the promotion of the rule of law.  

According to Saaritsa, international media reports indicate that, only a few years ago, European journalists working on stories on rhinoceros poaching could be questioned by local police under the direction of criminal bosses.

“Moreover, it has been estimated the drugs that travel from Brazil to Europe via South Africa are significant enough to be the third-largest export item of the country right after aluminium and coal,” Saaritsa notes. 

Recently, there have been reports of police investigations of drug trafficking focused on persons in high political positions. The brutalities committed by Islamists who initiated guerrilla activities in a new civil war in the northern part of the country have shocked many, but Mozambique’s security forces too have reportedly committed atrocities, with locals complaining about the actions of the authorities. 

According to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the war has internally displaced nearly a million people. In the region that is host to significant gas reserves, the government is supported by troops from several African countries and, for example, Portugal, the former colonial power. EU countries also provide training to Mozambique’s armed forces outside the conflict zone.

Corruption is still common but also visibly opposed

Corruption is familiar in everyday life, and characteristic of authorities from the police upwards. Traffic fines are often paid with bribes. 

Saaritsa cites a well-known example some years ago of high-level corruption that plunged the entire country into financial difficulties and major cuts. In 2014, the outgoing president and his immediate circle wheeled and dealt an illegal government guarantee for a two-billion US dollar loan, which was nominally to be used to acquire new vessels for fishing or military use. However, the president and his circle lined their pockets with a significant share of the money. In the end, the judicial system and the authorities in Mozambique and elsewhere took action. In fact, some of the defendants have recently received long prison sentences in Maputo, including the son of the former head of state. In other words, things are not black and white, and there is also progress in the right direction in terms of the rule of law.

Light at the end of the tunnel

All hope is not lost. The country has, at least in Maputo, a distinct middle class, the media are free, and non-governmental organisations are independent. Universities and research institutes operate independently. The tripartite separation of powers is functional, at least partially. The profession of judges wishes to develop itself.. The country is also looking for training in security and the requirements of the rule of law.

 “When striving for the rule of law you must, however, expand activities outside the capital. It takes a lot of effort,” says Brax.

University cooperation in Mozambique

In addition to the Rule of Law Centre, the University of Helsinki is conducting a lot of other cooperation in Mozambique. Examples: 

Professor Maria Brockhaus collaborates with the Eduardo Mondlane University in an extensive project, led by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), in which comparative research is conducted on how emissions caused by deforestation and forest degradation can be reduced. 

Liisa Korkalo leads the Team Finland Knowledge project, which develops teaching and capacity building in the field of nutrition and food sciences in two universities in Mozambique. 

Jonna Katto and her team have designed a virtual exhibition entitled The Queen is the Boss based on oral history research, which describes the history of women, gender and power in Mozambique. See also Katto’s book entitled Women’s Lived Landscapes of War and Liberation in Mozambique, published by Routledge, which offers a new perspective on the struggle for freedom in Mozambique from the viewpoint of women. 

The geology team under the Natural Sciences Unit of the Finnish Museum of Natural History (Luomus) conducts research collaboration in Mozambique, for example, in field studies, dating and geochemical research focused on the flood basalts and dikes in the igneous province of Karoo from the Jurassic period.

The University of Helsinki Centre for Continuing Education HY+ leads a technical assistance project that supports the Ministry of Education of Mozambique in the creation of a continuing education strategy for teachers.