From Cabo Ligado Monthly: October 2021, published 15 November 2021
In a presentation to international partners in late September, Mozambican prime minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosário made it clear that his government believes the conflict in Cabo Delgado is in its final stages. In his opening remarks, do Rosário said that recent military successes by the coalition of Mozambique, Rwanda, and the Southern African Development Community “gives us confidence in the gradual normalisation of life” in conflict-affected districts. With the government predicting that insurgent violence is winding down, it has decided to inaugurate a phase of post-conflict reconstruction by drawing up a reconstruction plan for Cabo Delgado.
As discussed in the previous Cabo Ligado monthly report, it is not at all obvious that the conflict is coming to a close. With the Mozambican government determined to act as though it is, however, it is worthwhile to investigate what the reconstruction plan says about the government’s priorities for post-conflict life in Cabo Delgado.
Both the structure of the plan and the government’s rhetoric around it emphasise the urgency of rebuilding the province after the destruction of the past four years. Although do Rosário said in his speech that the security situation would determine the pace with which displaced people would be allowed to return to their home communities, he also acknowledged that time is of the essence for government interventions to help avert a food catastrophe among displaced people. Among the government’s immediate priorities, he said, is the distribution of seed and fertiliser “for the relaunching of agricultural production in order to capitalise on the rainy season that is about to start.” Indeed, that process was continuing in October, with agriculture minister Celso Correia and ADIN head Armindo Ngunga personally delivering agricultural inputs to displaced people in Ancuabe district. More broadly, the government’s plan aims to spend roughly $200 million in the next year pursuing what it calls “quick wins” in reconstructing infrastructure and expanding state capacity in conflict-affected districts.
Yet the structure of the reconstruction plan also indicates Maputo’s other priority for Cabo Delgado: re-establishing political control over the province. Ever since the discovery of natural gas in Cabo Delgado, the Mozambican government has worked to consolidate political power over the province in Maputo, a process that only accelerated over the course of the conflict. The reconstruction plan pushes control further into the hands of Mozambique’s president. As the plan makes clear, the lead implementers of the plan at the national level are the Council of Ministers — the president’s cabinet, which serves at his pleasure. At the provincial level, implementation is led by the provincial secretary of state, with the provincial governor explicitly relegated to an “assistance” role. The distinction is important because, under Mozambique’s recent constitutional reforms, provincial governors are directly elected by citizens of each province, but provincial secretaries of state are appointed by the president.
In one sense, this centralisation of control is useful for carrying out the president’s agenda. President Nyusi has repeatedly focused on youth employment as an important goal for Cabo Delgado, both as a path to economic development and as a way to prevent insurgent recruitment. That priority is reflected in a proposed budget for reconstruction spending in Mocimboa da Praia district, in which the district’s education, youth, and technology department is slated to receive nearly half of the $42.5m allotted for the district. District security services, which would be allotted the second-most money in the proposed budget, would receive only about 16% of the funds. Rebuilding infrastructure for the district’s central government and rebuilding public-health facilities are the next two largest categories of spending, with 13% and 6% of the budget, respectively.
In another sense, however, centralisation of implementation allows Frelimo to pursue political consolidation with international partners’ money. The total reconstruction budget is $300m over three years. This does not include the development projects planned through ADIN, yet it is still multiple times larger than annual state spending was in Cabo Delgado in the years leading up to the conflict. In an era in which Mozambique is ostensibly decentralising government control and giving provinces and communities more say in how they are run, implementing the reconstruction operation through the presidency exacerbates the resource imbalance between local leaders and the president. Even if the money was distributed only on the basis of merit, it would be impossible for people in Cabo Delgado to escape the conclusion that access to crucial infrastructure funds is predicated on approval from the president — who is also the leader of the Frelimo party.
Furthermore, there is plenty of evidence in the proposed budget for Mocimboa da Praia district that there is slack built into reconstruction expenditures that can be used to line the pockets of political allies. For example, in the budget, the central district government intends to spend $7,833 on 150 photos of the president and national flags to display in and around rebuilt government buildings — so roughly $52 on each pair of flags and photographs. These are important symbols of the state, and necessary expenditures for re-establishing state sovereignty in a district that was long under the control of insurgents. Yet the district office of the National Institute of Social Action also sets aside money to buy photographs of the president for its new offices — at a cool $94 per photograph.
More seriously, the budget reports wildly different cost estimates for core supplies that will be necessary to rebuild district governance. Four different district offices set money aside for tents as temporary housing for the officials who will be in the vanguard of rebuilding state power in Mocimboa da Praia. Cost estimates per tent range from $28 for the district central government to $156 for the public health service and to an incredible $783 for the district office of economic activities. These kinds of discrepancies do not represent large dollar amounts in the scheme of government corruption, but they are harbingers of the kind of creative budgeting that could fund what amounts to a direct patronage system from the presidency to Cabo Delgado communities. If implemented, such a system could leave Cabo Delgado citizens with even less local control over their political future than they had before the conflict.