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Frelimo Territoriality in Town: the Example of Maputo

Territorialités d’un parti politique en ville - L’exemple du Frelimo à Maputo, capitale du Mozambique
Karine Ginisty et Jeanne Vivet
Cet article est une traduction de :
Territorialités d’un parti politique en ville - L’exemple du Frelimo à Maputo, capitale du Mozambique [fr]


Cet article souligne le rôle du parti politique dominant (le Frelimo) dans la gouvernance urbaine à Maputo à partir d’une étude des cadres et des pratiques politiques locales. Il analyse comment un certain nombre de préceptes liés à la « bonne gouvernance » sont appropriés et détournés localement. Au Mozambique, comme dans bien d’autres pays africains, la décentralisation et la démocratisation, amorcées au début des années 1990, cristallisent le débat sur la recomposition des pouvoirs politiques et leurs relations à l’Etat. En 1992, la fin de la guerre civile ouvre sur une nouvelle ère politique et le régime du Parti Unique, mené par le Frelimo depuis 1975, laisse place à une gouvernance démocratique, multipartite et décentralisée. Maputo, ville capitale, dispose d’un statut particulier et proche du pouvoir central. Les formes de territorialités développées dans la ville par les pouvoirs locaux renseignent sur la récupération politique partisane des réformes imposées « d’en haut », par les bailleurs de fonds. Ces territorialités urbaines révèlent la permanence du personnel politique local et de certaines pratiques héritées de la période autoritaire et socialiste. A travers l’étude de Maputo, cet article propose donc une approche critique de la décentralisation, de la démocratisation et de l’instauration du pluripartisme, processus politiques communs à de nombreux pays africains au cours des vingt dernières années. On voit comment le contrôle de l’espace de la ville et de l’espace du quartier assure au Frelimo un contrôle de l’espace politique. Aujourd’hui, dans une ville caractérisée par de fortes inégalités sociales, les territorialités du Frelimo sont plurielles ; alors que les citadins des quartiers les plus pauvres demeurent sous l’influence et le contrôle du Frelimo, les citadins des quartiers du centre-ville échappent bien davantage à ce contrôle.

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1Since the 1990s, a significant portion of aid to African countries depends on the respect of democratic rules. Donors, international organizations and NGOs have made the "good governance” principle a sine qua non condition to pursue their assistance. This chapter is part of a series of studies on the relationship between decentralization and democratization in Africa (eg, Otayek 2009). In Mozambique, municipalisation was presented like a tool to foster democracy after civil war (1977-1992). But for political actors, municipalisation meant an extra level of power to occupy. As in many other African countries, decentralization and democratisation, which began in the early 1990s, crystallize the debate on the reorganization of political power and the relationship of dominant Party to the state. While the first municipal elections in 1998 seemed to really open up a space for political expression to the main opposition party, Renamo, who conquered Beira, the second largest city, the municipal elections of 2008 reflected the decline of Renamo (Cahen 2010; Nuvunga 2012). In 2009, President Armando Guebuza was easily re-elected in the first round and his party won 80% of seats in the assembly. These elections not only testified to the fact that Renamo – the opposition party – was losing ground, but established the uncontested domination of Frelimo, which has been in power since 1975 (Brito 2007, 2010; Cahen 2010).

2This chapter highlights the role of Frelimo in the urban governance of Maputo based on a study of local state officials and local political practices. The chapter examines how principles and practices of “good governance” are locally implemented, appropriated and sometimes diverted. Our analysis is based on the scientific literature on policy evolutions in Mozambique and extensive fieldwork conducted between 2006 and 2010 (interviews with 200 city-dwellers living in different urban areas of Maputo and more than 60 local leaders). The analysis of Frelimo’s local practices in Maputo shows that the link between decentralisation and democratisation of Mozambican society is far from obvious. It underlines the fact that the former single party is firmly rooted locally. It also reveals the permanence of political frameworks, political local representatives and certain practices inherited from the socialist period. By examining the local political practices that affect the residents of Maputo on a daily basis, one begins to question decentralization with regard to the change of regime and the existing relation between the former single party and top-down transformations. With the classic challenges of development and state disengagement (Lebris 1999), the decentralisation debate in Mozambique has been focused on restructuring political authorities and their relations to the state (Cahen 2000). This chapter, like other studies on decentralization in Africa have suggested (eg. Fay, Kone and Quiminal 2006), that we do not make a clean break with the past and that actors and practices can outlive even significant policy reforms. Decentralization, as a process making local political practices visible in city dwellers daily life, raises questions about the regime change and the way it adapts to transformations that are imposed "from above". This article also contributes to recent research on the role, impact and place of political parties in urban governance in Africa, their mobilization strategies, their ability to redistribute resources, and their inclination to control civil society at the local and metropolitan level (Bénit-Gbaffou and Piper 2012; Bénit-Gbaffou et al 2012).

3In the first part, we adopted a historical perspective and we successively analyse the new urban management structures implemented by the young regime, the urban crisis in the 1980s and its consequences on urban governance. As the main political force at the end of the liberation war (1964-1974), Frelimo merged with the state apparatus and established a single-party. The socialist doctrine was officially adopted in 1977. The state became interventionist and centralized, and Frelimo was present at all levels of power. Local space was not just a level chosen to apply policies elaborated in high places; it was also used as a political tool. It was by controlling space that Frelimo ensured its political base. Beyond the classic relations developed by a party in relation to a territory, the management, control and organization of residents’ daily space were conceived as the cornerstone of societal transformation and party reproduction (Brito 1987, 15-27). At the end of the 1980s, following major political and economic disruptions (civil war, state insolvency, departure from Marxist-Leninist doctrine, application of structural adjustment plans), the discredited state began to retire from the public sphere. The decentralization reforms that accompanied political openness contributed to the multiplication of urban governance actors.

4In the second part, we will see how local political practices question the actual adoption of some democratic principles and “good governance” practices in Maputo. We analyse how Frelimo has taken over some political reforms imposed by donors. Forms of territoriality developed by local political authorities question the exploitation of the decentralisation process by Frelimo executives. In this regard, territoriality refers to all intentions and practices structuring a territory and defining its functioning (Lussault 2007, 360). Between permanence and rupture, forms of territoriality developed by local political authorities in different districts of the capital raise the question of decentralization as a political tool for Frelimo executives. Today, Frelimo territorialities take other, less visible forms in the political and institutional landscape. In Maputo, the partisan principles of Frelimo are found together with local governance and international aid, mobilizing many non-political actors from different horizons. This is the product of decentralization and the multiplication of related decision scales, which also uncovers the state’s reluctance to recognize the existence of other political forces (Manning 1998). As a result, the former population administration and supervision system created by Frelimo at independence has been partly coexisting with the new governance system stemming from the democratization and decentralization reforms.

Territorialities of Politics in Maputo: from Controlling to Opening Local Political Space

5The independent government of Mozambique sought to ensure its legitimacy and had also committed to improve popular participation at a local level. It sought to administrate, organise and control the populations in rural areas where it began a “villagisation” policy, and in urban areas where it created new administrative and political structures. The urban management of Maputo reflected both the political orientations developed by the young state and the practical difficulties and challenges they faced (Grest 1995). This new system was implemented within the context of rapidly contracting resources and disastrous economic decline. Through a very dense territorial network, the ruling party had aimed to deal with problems of city management encountered. This administrative and political network was also designed to control the urban population and to implement socialist principles to transform the urban society. The economic and social crisis of the 1980s added to the rapid urbanization corresponded to the end of a certain urban order. The subsequent decentralisation reforms and multiparty system partially opened the local political space, and created real hopes of democratisation.

Frelimo Territorial Control: a solution to deal with residents’ daily problems or a means of exerting social control?

  • 1 The official press of the government, particularly the review Tempo and the daily Noticias are very (...)
  • 2 Resolução sobre a organização da direção estatal das cidades, Ia reunião nacional sobre cidades e B (...)

6In 1975, the presence of the Frelimo was relatively limited in Maputo and other cities of the country, these being the seats of the colonial power. Frelimo leaders were fairly suspicious of cities which were perceived as centres of “parasites”, “marginal groups” and potential disputes.1 As such, cities became the subject of reinforced political control: the Frelimo implemented an extremely centralised urban management system inspired by the principles of democratic centralism. City Assemblies (established in 1977) and Executive Councils (created in 1978) 2 ensured the execution of the Party line, constituting only a form of deconcentration of the central administration at the local level (Grest 1995, 156).

  • 3 Imprensa nacional de Moçambique, Maputo, 1979. 

7The Frelimo implemented a hierarchical structure resulting in the territorial control of urban space on a very fine scale. The authorities divided urban space into very small units called “bairros”, each divided into quarteirões which usually included around 50 families. Bairros were organised by “Grupos Dinamisadores” (Dynamising Groups) created already at the beginning of the transition government in 1975. The role of Grupos Dinamisadores (GD) (also referred to as “pre-Soviet GD” or “Frelimo pre-cells”) (Cahen 1985, 48), was to solve daily problems in the area and promote “people’s empowerment” according to a self-management principle.3 Indeed, GDs were part of a political strategy to deal with a growing number of problems in the city: rapid rural-urban migration, rising unemployment, the critical food shortages and escalating crimes. Strong emphasis was placed on the organized participation of citizens as a way of overcoming problems in towns (Grest 1995).

Table 1: Post-independence administrative organisation: highly centralized structures

Table 1: Post-independence administrative organisation: highly centralized structures

8The political and administrative structures set up by Frelimo were part of its objective of socialist transformation, but they were practical in import. In many instances they worked in the sense of serving practical needs. Self-management referred more to a strategy for getting round budget difficulties to administer and serve the population than to the actual promotion of public participation. These collective structures which depended on the Party were also a means of exerting social control (for instance, in giving access to ration cards and controlling newcomers and population movements) in the name of the struggle against the ‘bourgeois enemy’ (Cahen 1985). GD members were assisted by Chiefs of quarteirão who, in turn, designated the “heads of 10 households”. All residents were required to attend each and every quarteirão meeting and strict control was practiced as regards ration cards in particular. This pyramidal organisation also served to centralise all information intended for the state, to disseminate the Party’s ideology and implement national policies. Dividing urban space in this way gave the regime a strong hold over the territory, thereby ensuring its maintenance and reproduction. Urban space had been completely taken over by the Frelimo, leaving no place to other actors, controlling people and activities very closely: in such a system, there was no room for protest. As such, urban space became not only the support but also the means for the political project of the Frelimo, and it is in this sense that we are speaking of territorial control.

  • 4 This dimension has been explicitly confirmed during the 3rd Congress of the Central Committee.
  • 5 Interview dated 27 February 2008.

9This dimension was all the stronger since cities were considered unreliable, infiltrated by “spies”, “enemies” and “a parasitic middle-class”, which justified the reinforced control of residents,4 as well as the limitation of flows towards cities by means of “internal passports” and resident cards (Vivet 2012). This internal passport was called guia de marcha and recorded all the residential movements of every Mozambican citizen. In Maputo, the guia de marcha allowed the police and GDs to control the residential and daily movements of citizens. In the words of the secretary of the bairro of Luis Cabral, “the ten household chiefs are there to help the chief of quarteirão, to watch and see when someone arrives. It’s a matter of vigilance. All this to find out who the person is, where does that person come from, why, etc5. The “Operation Production” conducted in 1983 was symbolic of the vision of most of Frelimo leaders. This operation officially aimed at ridding the city of all “unproductive” and “marginal” groups and, at the same time, helped oust many political opponents. The majority of them were deported to the Northern Province of Nyassa, an operation which was only possible with the active participation of the GDs who, because they knew the residents of their suburbs well, were behind this mass deportation.

10Political control was further reinforced by Mass Democratic Organisations such as the Mozambican Women’s Organisation (OMM) or the Mozambican Youth Organisation (OJM), whose delegates and secretaries were present in every quarteirão of the city. These partisan organisations responsible for co-ordinating cultural and educational activities, were also supposed to manage daily life issues as well as social conflicts, thereby reducing the line between private and public life. These new supervisory structures were supposed to replace the social function of regulos or traditional chiefs who were ousted from the urban political and social scene. This new politico-administrative organisation reflected the very strong territoriality of Frelimo authority in the urban space.

Urban Crisis: De-Territorialisation of Socialist Power Structures

  • 6 According to the official census of the National Statistics Institute.
  • 7 “Caniço” means “reed” in Portuguese and refers figuratively to all the spontaneous suburbs in Maput (...)

11The civil war led to the destruction of the physical and administrative infrastructures of most of the country. War, in addition to natural disasters and the economic crisis, pushed close to 5 million people – mostly peasants – to seek refuge in neighbouring countries or in the main cities of the country. As the Renamo had never directly attacked the capital, Maputo was considered as a place of refuge, (Vivet 2012; Oppenheimer and Raposo 2007; Cahen 2002). In order to survive, migrations were carried out in emergency, not taking into account the economic and social realities of the city. Faced with the unworkability of the systems introduced at independence, Felimo was forced to begin reconceptualising its methods of administration at the local level towards the end of the 1980 (Grest 1995). The administrative organization of the Frelimo proved inefficient during the urban crisis of the 1980s and local officials could not manage to control population growth which exploded in Maputo (Oppenheimer and Raposo 2002; Vivet 2012). Chiefs of quarteirões who, initially, were responsible for supervising around 50 families each, were faced with a tripled and sometimes quadrupled population volume. In addition, people began settling in areas where no building was permitted, without authorisation from the local authorities. These latter tried to control this spontaneous urbanisation by creating new quarteirões but in a context of economic crisis and lack of urban management skills, the state was unable to plan the urbanisation of the capital city (Jenkins 1999; Raposo 2007). On the scale of the bairros and quarteirões, Party executives did not have the means to supervise the arrival of rural migrants. More generally, the socio-spatial knowledge of chiefs of quarteirões decreased and became inefficient in meeting the demands of a mainly growing population. Maputo’s population increased by 80% during the civil war, from 537,000 residents in 1980 to 871,000 in 1991,6 when public services were almost the same as at independence. Demographic pressure had a serious effect on existing infrastructures, thereby provoking the degradation of that service. In 1992, more than 80% of the population of the spontaneous suburbs (or caniços7) did not have access to drinking water (CEDH 2005).

12During the second half of the 1980s, the urban crisis affected territorialities developed by the Frelimo, furthering the discredit of local Party executives, which had already begun in 1983 with the “Operation Production”. GDs could not help and solve residents’ daily issues. Party executives witnessed the informalisation of the urban fabric, the degradation of the public services and the development of the informal sector. The economic and social difficulties led to the multiplication of individual initiatives unsupervised by the Frelimo. For example, at the end of the 1980s, the public transport sector, the food-producing and consumer goods markets were run by residents, as informal ventures (Cruz e Silva 2003; Frias 2006).

13New territorialities which were non-recognised but controlled by the government emerged without really challenging Frelimo territorialities. Indeed, the urban crisis, economic neo-liberalisation and subsequent social changes did not initiate the de-territorialisation of power structures set up under the socialist regime. The territorial base of the Party and its local operation was maintained. While Frelimo territorialities turned out inefficient in controlling and managing urban changes, they carried out another important function which was to control the political space: no real political opposition emerged after the successive failures of the Frelimo in terms of urban management. The urban crisis disrupted the daily life of residents without implying the de-territorialisation of the power structures.

Decentralisation: Change Towards Political Opening

14During the second half of the 1980s, the economic crisis and the major war-related difficulties forced the state to subscribe to the IMF and to launch a number of reforms (Oppenheimer 2006). In ten years or so, deep changes took place in urban and national management methods. This period (i.e. from 1987, when the first structural adjustment plan was implemented, to 1997, when the first local authorities were created) appeared as a period of democratic transition and openness, and created much hope for the opposition and the international community.

15At the end of these reforms, a decentralised and democratic management method appeared progressively, clearly separating the state from the Party. In this new political configuration, Frelimo leadership was being challenged and gave way to the emergence of new – mainly international – urban governance actors (Lachartre and Lena 2002).

  • 8 Acts 2/97 and 10/97. Out of the 33 municipalities created in 1997, 23 are cidades or towns, i.e. al (...)

16Donors, bilateral agencies and the international community have played a crucial role of in the local reform process (Weimer 2012). These actors insisted on the necessity to change the system from one of local administrations under centralised control into a system of elected representatives. Under their influence, the Frelimo had to accept these reforms. Decentralisation was launched at the beginning of the 1990s with the Programme for the Reform of Local Government Organs which was adopted in 1991 and financed by the World Bank and implemented by the State Administration Department. Indeed, for the IMF and the World Bank, the urban crisis was proof that socialism had failed, and that the state was unable to exercise its prerogatives. Following the example of other African countries, the state launched a municipalisation project in 1994 (Faix et al. 2006; Fourchard 2007; Dubresson Jaglin 1993). It was completed in 1997 with the creation of 33 local authorities (towns mainly).8 Despite the Frelimo’s reluctance, the first local elections occurred in 1998 and have opened a new political space for the opposition. In 2003, the victory of the Renamo in major towns like Beira and Nacala, was interpreted by the international community as a visible sign of democratisation in Mozambique (Moyana 2005).

  • 9 The five national presidential and legislative elections confirmed the domination of the Frelimo on (...)

17Despite its national supremacy,9 the Frelimo was no longer the only actor on the local political scene and it had to deal with the expectations of the international community concerning the “good governance” and “civil society participation”. Urban governance options were limited in Frelimo-led municipalities such as Maputo, which were financially dependent on donors: obtaining funds depended on the “proper” application of national development programmes such as the Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (PARPA). The Frelimo no longer had the same freedom of action to conduct its policies locally and nationally, and from then on it had to compromise with various actors (donors, private sector, associations, etc.). The new governance agenda has promoted forms of partnership between the government, civil society and the private sectors. The benefice of such partnership and their complementarities were meant to diffuse responsibility in favour of positive social outcomes, enhance efficiency as well as promoting participation and accountability (Gentili 2004). During the second municipal mandate (2003-2008), “good governance” imperatives took on the form of privatisations, public-private partnerships and formalisations by contract (Raposo 2007).

  • 10 According to Resolutions n°17/AM/2000 and n°50/AM/2001.

18Be that as it may, the multiplication of urban governance actors did not really change the top-down functioning of power in Maputo. Districts, as part of the national decentralisation display, had no decision power and no structures for the public consultation and expression of citizens. Certain municipal administrative functions were decentralised to the benefit of municipal districts, only to ensure that the application and follow-up of municipal decisions were carried out efficiently. In this regard, intra-urban levels were still functioning as relays for the municipal executive power. Moreover, institutional evolutions supported by donors could have lead to a revision of the intra-urban territorial network inherited from the days of the single party, as was the case in Mali for example (Faix et al. 2006). However, in Mozambique, municipalisation did not lead to deep territorial transformations: it was in line with the division of existing bairros and districts. In this political configuration, the new municipal organs of the executive and legislative powers were linked to the intra-urban administrative structure (i.e. districts, bairros and quarteirões10) inherited from the previous period. Was this the sign of a transition period or the mark of political continuity and the maintenance of inherited political mechanisms? The co-presence of state and partisan structures in the bairros, as well as their inter-relations, raise questions about the links between the Party and the state. It also questions the opening of the socio-political space to civil society (Lachartre and Lena 2002).

Decentralisation: Rebuilding Political Territories Locally

19Despite the establishment of decentralised power structures and the organisation of municipal and local elections in the bairros, the study of local political practices in Maputo shows that the Frelimo still maintains his control in the very local urban management. Maputo’s case is not unique; decentralisation in Africa has often been understood as a means to multiply ways of rewarding loyal party members by offering them positions in decentralised political and administrative offices, and as a means to embed political control at a more local level (Otayek 2009). The new democratic order promoted by international development actors, forced the Frelimo to reinvent its relation to the territory. From then on, Frelimo territorialities in town were to take on new and multiple forms.

Between local reforms to promote "good governance" and continuity of inherited practices

  • 11 Conselho Municipal, Regulamento do funcionamento das estruturas administrativas dos Bairros municip (...)

20Some decentralised local structures in Maputo (bairro and quarteiroes) are closely intertwined with FRELIMO structures and despite the promotion of democratisation at the very local level, we observe the persistence of inherited political practices. The new politico-administrative organisation of the city was based on the division implemented by the Frelimo after independence: a pyramidal structure dividing the capital city into 7 districts and 64 bairros, with each bairro divided into quarteirões11. As such, there was no rupture with the territorial functioning implemented before municipalisation.

Map 1: Administrative division of Maputo city

Source : Enquêtes personnelles, 2006-2009

This map shows the current dividing of the city (urban districts and bairros). There is no official map of quarteirões, but their boundaries are known by the majority of the residents

  • 12 Article 3 of Resolution n°51/AM/2006, Regulations on the Functioning of the Administrative Structur (...)
  • 13 Although the official results of these elections were not published, we found out during our interv (...)
  • 14 Article 3 of Resolution n°51/AM/2006

21According to the prescriptions of the donors, local leaders (e.g. bairro secretaries and chiefs of quarteirões) were to be elected by the residents12 and the Frelimo, as a political party, was to be officially separated from the local administration. Although in practice electoral campaigns were enacted, they led to very high abstention rates.13 Residents were not always informed about coming elections, some poll stations closed earlier than expected and polling was not always supervised rigorously. As to the chiefs of quarteirões, their designation was carried out by a show of hands during meetings, a method reminiscent of that used during former GD member elections. In actual fact, their mandates did not include “expiry dates” and many of them were heading quarteirões for more than ten years, without ever having been “re-elected” whereas their mandate are officially established at 4 years14. As a result, the legitimacy of these actors and the democratic reality at the local level were being challenged. Since legislation on the election of barrio secretaries and chiefs of quarteirões was recent (2006), these issues could have been understood as a sign of adaptation and transition between two systems. However other elements of local political reality shows that local politics is not really democratic and transparent.

  • 15 This information is based on 18 interviews with bairro secretaries in Districts 3, 4 and 5, and wit (...)

22The permanence of the local political personnel at this management level is another important element that clearly indicates the continuity of practices implemented by the Frelimo. Municipalisation and the reorganisation of intra-urban structures, under the cover of “participative democracy”, were an occasion for the Frelimo to re-legitimise the frameworks of the former regime and, as such, to renew the political control exercised locally. a large majority of current bairro secretaries had already been filling posts in the GDs or other Frelimo structures since independence.15 The fact that these local executives were and are still involved in Frelimo structures contributes to the confusion between state and Party, and to the continuity of inherited political practices. In certain bairros, a person cannot head a quarteirão unless s/he is a Party member, failing which s/he could be perceived as a member of the opposition.

Box 1: From State to the Party, from the Party to state: the permanence of local politicians

Bairro secretaries in Maputo show remarkably similar profiles: all have been residing in Maputo for many decades and hold partisan functions since the 1970s-1980s. Some have even been holding a post since independence, as was the case in Urbanização or Polana Caniço A (See Map 1). In the suburb of Aeroporto B, the “acting” secretary has been working for the Party since 1976. After spending 6 years with the Association for the Development of the People for the People (ADPP), an institution of the Party, he worked for a company until 1988 while still being involved in the affairs of the suburb as a member of the GD. He was then employed for ten years at the Defence Department as an official for the Mobilisation Division. In 1997, he resumed his administrative activities in the suburbs, first as bairro secretary in Xipamanine, then as first secretary of the Party (Interview June 2009). Holding successively posts of administrative secretary and posts of Party secretary is common practice and is another indicator of the blurring division between Party and state. In the suburb of Luis Cabral, the former secretary has been holding concurrently the posts of bairro secretary, first secretary of the Party and deputy at the National Assembly. He is still in charge of the Frelimo activities in his bairro (May 2009).

  • 16 The confusion and political control of the Party are sometimes very explicit: as such, in 2008, we (...)

23Furthermore, the secretaries’ offices, decorated with large posters praising the Frelimo, are established in the former GD offices, with the Party secretary of the bairro often working in the same place. The use of the same offices also testifies to the porosity of the distinction between state and Party.16

Picture 1

Picture 1

© Vivet, April 2008. Urbanização, Maputo. Office of the bairro secretary, in the peri-central neighbourhood of Urbanização, Maputo (Map 1).

The name of the former structure is still visible on the wall: ‘Grupo dinamizador do circulo do bairro comunal’ (Dynamising grup of the communal neighbourhood). This office is shared between the administrative secretary and Frelimo branch secretary. In 2010, the bairro secretary was part of the first Grupo dinamizador (GD), and used to be the Frelimo secretary.

24In everyday language, many residents of Maputo speak of the “circulo” to designate the office of the bairro secretary, a word that was used to designate the office of Party members during the socialist era. For some residents, there is still confusion between the two structures, their functions and spaces. Moreover, the organisation of the partisan structures (Frelimo cells and the Mozambican Women’s Organisation) is superimposed on the quarteirões and bairros throughout the urban territory. These structures work together with the administrative authorities, and reinforce the politico-administrative network which is becoming increasingly similar to a new form of territorial control.

  • 17 Resolutions n° 17/AM/2000 and 50/AM/2000 “Reestruturação, descentralização e responsabilização do g (...)
  • 18 The expression “community” refers to forms of social organisations of people in Mozambique, as defi (...)

25Under pressure from the donors, the principle of “community participation” in local affairs has been materialised with the decree 15/2000 that created local consultative councils at the bairro level17. This decree has institutionalised the participation of community authorities in the administration of the municipal territory. Officially, this reform aimed at developing forms of so-called “traditional” social organisations. Made up of “community leaders” such as police officers, primary school principals, health centre directors, chiefs of quarteirões and traditional chiefs among others, these councils were only consultative. The legitimacy of local authority decisions was supposedly increased with the establishment of these councils, since it appeared that the opinions of the “community”18 were relayed, and that the community was taking part in local development programmes. However, in most cases, all “community leaders” were Frelimo Party members, therefore making these committees unlikely places where residents could lodge claims or hold public debates potentially leading to the emergence of other political opinions. Indeed, these committees respected the established order and officialised the position of local “leaders”.

26Following the example of other African countries, decentralisation reforms provided for the participation of certain “traditional chiefs” in local affairs. In Mozambique, the participation of traditional chieftaincy has been studied by several authors, mainly in rural areas (eg. Forquilha 2008, 2010; Orre 2007).  Forquilha shows that Frelimo has changed its political discourse in relation to traditional chieftaincies by associating them to decentralisation process. The institutionalisation of what is referred to as « community authorities » shows that beneath the discourse about decentralisation and local participation lies a struggle for local political space and the use of chieftaincies as political resources. In urban areas, the decree on “community authorities” entrusted the management of the “social affairs” of the bairro to the traditional chiefs – or former regulos – This meant that traditional leaders had to work together with bairro secretaries. But in Maputo, the reintroduction of regulos no longer corresponded to the social reality and, generally, the population did not recognise their legitimacy, since regulos had been ousted from local politics 30 years before in favour of the socialist ideology of the “new man”. As a result, these new exogenous reforms led to the reinvention of local political identities. When descendants of royal families could not be found (which was fairly common) bairro secretaries organised elections and, usually, a Frelimo sympathiser was elected. The admission of community leaders which was supposed to reinforce the participation of residents has finally enabled the Frelimo to reinforce its control and is part of its political strategy.

27To date, the local political space in Maputo is still in the hands of the Frelimo, and the politico-administrative network is not only designed to administrate efficiently the population and to favour their participation to the local affairs but is also a means of politic control. In the end, all these new local political actors (bairro secretaries and chiefs of quarteirões) are becoming unavoidable and their presence at the local level creates new power games in urban governance.

(Non-)Controlled Governance?

28Recognizing local political actors in the local political landscape is usually seen as an important aspect of “good governance” practices. At the local level, the so-called representatives of the residents are excluded from the decision process on local issues. For lack of budget and clear prerogatives, the role of the local authorities is still only consultative; they continue to relay information to residents and represent locally a powerful tool of political and social control. As such, the basis for territorial control has been maintained. The permanence of the personnel and their functions can be interpreted as a means for the Frelimo to keep a local power in this new political era, such as a strategy to be an active actor in decisions process taken by many actors. This idea is reinforced by the systematic involvement of Frelimo representatives in every development project.

29By controlling the urban territory through a dense network of local representatives, the Frelimo reduces the political opening generated by municipalisation. At the neighbourhood level, party branches and leaders often act as intermediary between low-income residents and the state on the one hand, and international NGOs on the other. The same mechanisms were studied in other urban contexts, in South Africa and in Nigeria (Bénit et al. 2013). These authors show that decentralised policies encouraging public-private partnerships and resident participation in the construction and management of urban services (in low-income neighbourhoods) often mean increased opportunities for local party representatives to act as brokers and often gatekeepers for access to benefits, resources and opportunities.

  • 19 The following analysis is based on the fieldwork (January 2007 to March 2010) of one of the co-auth (...)

30In Maputo this is particularly visible when looking at basic public services.19 At the local level, the local authorities emerged as the privileged interlocutors of civil society decision-makers (NGOs, Mozambican and foreign associations, etc.). This position allows them to have a say in and even to affect decisions. For example, in the construction and drainage installation management sectors, the municipality has been carrying out development works only in newly urbanised suburbs (e.g. Albazine, Magoanine or Zimpeto). The neighbourhoods bordering the city centre (e.g. Mafalala, Urbanizaçao or Maxaquene) that became denser during the war without any urban planning are insalubrious and lack basic urban services. In these suburbs, only NGOs have been developing mini drainage networks and programmes for the distribution of individual latrines. While the personnel of these foreign NGOs have technical skills, often they do not have specific information on the territories concerned. As a result, the local authorities take advantage of their socio-spatial knowledge to emerge as unavoidable mediators for the implementation of micro-development projects. These NGOs are often subject to programme requirements and they leave bairro secretaries or chiefs of quarteirões to guide them in identifying zones and targeting groups of residents who should benefit from such projects.

  • 20 Associaçao Mozambicana para o Desenvolvimento Concertado, created by French NGO ESSOR at the begini (...)
  • 21 Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, a British NGO.

31When NGO representatives are not regularly present in the field, the local authorities take over these development initiatives. For example, in Maxaquene A, AMDEC20 and WSUP21 entrusted the construction of latrines to the local authorities which were supposed to distribute them in their bairro. The local authorities proceeded to register residents on a “list” per quarteirão. The selection of beneficiaries which was validated by NGOs, was based on a poverty index encompassing the majority of residents. the distribution of the latrines was carried out by the local authorities and the process proved opaque and based on patronage; it benefitted mostly those who were members of the Frelimo or who had a certain influence in urban society.

  • 22 As an example, ASCODECHA, an association working in Chamanculo C in the field of adult literacy and (...)

32While residents know of these practices, they have no means at their disposal to fight against this type of social injustice. On the other hand, since residents are strongly dependent on the local authorities for matters of property market, administrative processes etc., they often refrain from protesting and claiming. Strategies to locally imply party members and take over development programmes concern also local residents’ associations.22 As soon as it is created, a residents’ association is encouraged by the local authorities to recruit OMM members or Frelimo partisans. In this regard, any refusal is a source of conflicts and is can be considered as proof that the association is politically affiliated to the opposition.

  • 23 Aguas de Moçambique, the company in charge of operating and managing the drinking water network.
  • 24 AdeM, Plano director do sistema de abastecimento de Água na área de cessão das Águas de Moçambique, (...)
  • 25 In the bairro of Polana Caniço A, the chairwoman of the Water Committee is also a chief of quarteir (...)
  • 26 This committee was dissolved at the end of 2009 following a vast ADM water connection programme. St (...)
  • 27 According to interviews conducted with all the members of the Water Committee of Polana Caniço B in (...)

33Controlling the territory locally leads to the control of the political space (Fournet-Guérin and Vacchiani-Marcuzzo 2009). The local authorities take advantage of their privileged position to short-circuit any participation by local residents. To illustrate this, the new street fountain management model of Aguas de Moçambique (ADM)23 relies on Water Committees which require the participation of residents.24 The users of each street fountain create a group, and each group votes to elect its representatives. These representatives, in turn, elect every five years the Chairman of the Water Committee of the bairro. Yet, despite these democratic operational principles, chiefs of quarteirões have often managed to monopolise the management and, indirectly, lucrative functions of these Water Committees.25 In Polana Caniço B, the former Water Committee26 was made up of 7 members, including 2 chiefs of quarteirões, 3 of their deputies and two OMM members. Since their implementation in 2000, Water Committees have never benefited from elections as planned by ADM, and have always been nominated by the local authorities.27 Poor residents do not criticize these practices publicly. Under the imperceptible social pressure of the local authorities, they have internalised a fear inherited mainly from the authoritarian era, which still endures today due to their strong social precariousness (e.g. low economic resources, illiteracy etc.).

34Despite the promotion of the governance principle and the multiplication of initiatives associated with “civil society”, the strategies of the local authorities (even if it can appear derisory compared to the funds injected in the urban development of Maputo) actually lead the authorities to control the local urban territory

Multi-Levelled Frelimo Territorialities

35The local authorities do not have the same territorial control in the different neighbourhoods of Maputo. While we can observe continuity in the socio-spatial control of the low-income neighbourhoods, in the city centre the situation is totally different since the end of the 1980s. During this period, a well-off middle class stemming from the entrepreneurial world and concentrated essentially in the city centre emerged.

  • 28 According to 30 interviews conducted in March 2010 in the city center, the majority of residents ig (...)

36In the city centre, residents benefit from a relatively good service level and, moreover, have economic and social resources ensuring their independence vis-à-vis the local authorities as far as resolving daily issues is concerned. These residents do not depend on the lists of local authorities to access such and such a public or social service. Therefore they entertain more anonymous relations with bairro secretaries and chiefs of quarteirões, whose functions are limited to administrative issues28. As a result, the local authorities progressively disappeared from the daily life of city centre residents. In the neighbourhoods where the majority of political and economic elites live (e.g. Coop, Sommershield, Polana Cimento A and B, Central), the majority of chiefs of quarteirões even disappeared during the 1990s.

  • 29 According to interviews conducted in March 2010 with the secretaries of the bairros of Polana Cimen (...)
  • 30 This Secretary, like the other Secretaries interviewed, was not elected by the residents but chosen (...)
  • 31 In apartment buildings, residents elect a committee to represent them. This committee has the speci (...)

37Since the 2000s, a campaign to reintroduce chiefs of quarteirões has been organised by the Frelimo Party.29 In the bairro of Polana Cimento B which is made up of 45 quarteirões, the secretaryestablished 37 chiefs of quarteirões since he took up his post in 200230. Despite these attempts to maintain the quarteirão system and their management by members of the Frelimo Party, the authorities of District 1 (city centre) have difficulty in finding Party members willing to fulfil a function deemed ungrateful and devoid of interest for the political and economic elites. In this regard, quarteirão 6 in Polana Cimento B remained headless from 1993 to 2006. The new chief of quarteirão 6 explained that “during the meetings of the Party in the bairro, [he] was the only one from this quarteirão; and that’s how [he] was nominated” (Interview, March 2010). In the bairro of Coop, there is 24 quarteirões and only 2 have a chief. To face this loss of urban territory control, the bairro secretary has been inviting, several times a month, the chairmen of building committees who are the only representatives recognised by some of the residents31. Most of these committee chairmen decided to play along and attend these meetings. As to the well-off bairro of Sommershield, it no longer contains an appointed secretary. The secretary of the bairro of Central C is by default that of the bairro of Sommershield, which conducts the secretary of the Frelimo Party of Central C to carry out the functions of bairro secretary in his absence. The more popular bairros of the city centre such as Alto Mae or Malhangalene have not been affected as much by the disappearance of chiefs of quarteirões, but experience the same phenomenon: the quarteirão is obsolete; it is no longer possible to exercise any form of control and supervision over the daily life of residents.

  • 32 Interview conducted in Polana Caniço A in January 2008.

38The link between the permanence of territorial control and the socio-economic profile of residents is particularly visible in the pericentral bairros of Polana Caniço A and Costa do Sol. Since the 2000s, they have been characterised by a growing number of condominios fechados or gated communities (Folio 2007 and Vivet 2012). These gated communities (which were built only because former residents forced evictions conducted by local authorities and private property developers) were part of the quarteirões network. The local authorities must ask for permission from security and the person in charge of the condominio before they can enter the premises. For example, the condominio fechado of Sommershield II is situated in the quarteirão 4-a of Polana Caniço A. The chief of this quarteirão, who filled this post from 1991 to 2008, comments on the unequal weight of his function within the quarteirão: “When a resident comes here, I am the guide. But in the condominio fechado, I am the one who has to ask for a guide. I went there only once and I got lost. We still have power over that space, but the residents ignore us. I am poor and they have power. They are ministers, directors etc.32 The emergence of new urban forms – privatised in practice but legally always public – and which bring together the most well-off residents, shows the limits of the local authorities’ influence on the contemporary social space in Maputo.

39An analysis of intra-urban socio-spatial structures shows that Frelimo territorialities appear multiple. In the low-income neighbourhoods, territorial control is a form of social and political control adapted to residents affected by precariousness, and adapted to the presence of new actors on the local scene. On the other hand, in the city centre, the Party’s influence evolved already from the end of the 1980s as a result of liberalism and multiparty-system. Bairros and quarteirões, as territorial administration units, have been maintained under the control of the Frelimo, then, deserted to the benefit of new territorialities. In this regard, we can say that control in places leading to key Mozambican societal posts has been tightened: places of knowledge (from primary schools to the University Eduardo Mondlane), places of decision-making (administration and public institutions), and places of economic and financial benefits (large public and private companies). While one’s entry into these “places” is not officially subject to specific political conditions, evolving into these structures (e.g. registering for a doctorate, climbing the career ladder or getting promoted) often requires one to be a member of the Party or to be an active sympathiser, responding positively to meetings proposed by work colleagues. Be that as it may, the predominance of the Frelimo in all private and public spheres, where any opposition could emerge, is characteristic of the form of control exercised in the city centre.


40In Mozambique, as in many African countries, decentralization emerged in the 1990s and was considered by the international community to be the best way to achieve a pluralist democracy. For years, almost all observers considered Mozambique to be a positive and sustainable model of reconciliation and transition to democracy. The analysis of local political practices in Maputo’s neighbourhoods allows an understanding of how exogenous reforms and politics were adopted and adapted locally by the ruling party. This chapter is part of a growing literature on the limits of democratisation in Mozambique (e.g. Weimer 2012. Dijkstra and Lodewyckx 2007. Forquilha 2010; Brito, Castel-Branco, Chichava 2011). Analysing Frelimo territorialities in Maputo offers a different perspective on decentralisation and shows a different side of the “model pupil” portrait painted by the Mozambican government on the international scene. Frelimo’s local political practices reveal a close link between urban territory and political space, in which Frelimo has been reproducing practices implemented under the former authoritarian and socialist regime. This is a form of control that ensures that the political and public space only includes actors who serve Frelimo’s political horizons. This chapter underlines the importance of analysing in details the role of political parties in urban governance (Bénit-Gbaffou and Piper, 2012; Bénit-Gbaffou et al., 2012). More broadly, this chapter reaffirms the relevance of the urban scale in the analysis of a number of political developments in contemporary Mozambique.

41Finally and paradoxically, the decentralisation process (imposed from above) has been supporting local political dynamics and it made the re-legitimise of Frelimo’s hegemony possible (Sumich, Honwana 2007). In the end, setting up municipal authorities did not really help to delimit the Mozambican state from the Frelimo Party. Faced with the “policy of the dominant power” (De Tollenaere 2002), decentralisation paradoxically remains one of the facades of democratisation in Mozambican society, questioning the global methods used to legitimise power exercise.

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1 The official press of the government, particularly the review Tempo and the daily Noticias are very enlightening on the Frelimo’s vision of the city.

2 Resolução sobre a organização da direção estatal das cidades, Ia reunião nacional sobre cidades e Bairros communais, Maputo, 1979, p. 11.

3 Imprensa nacional de Moçambique, Maputo, 1979. 

4 This dimension has been explicitly confirmed during the 3rd Congress of the Central Committee.

5 Interview dated 27 February 2008.

6 According to the official census of the National Statistics Institute.

7 “Caniço” means “reed” in Portuguese and refers figuratively to all the spontaneous suburbs in Maputo that were built from reed in the past.

8 Acts 2/97 and 10/97. Out of the 33 municipalities created in 1997, 23 are cidades or towns, i.e. all the places with the status of town in Mozambique, and only 10 are vilas or rural towns (out of 68 vilas in total).

9 The five national presidential and legislative elections confirmed the domination of the Frelimo on the Mozambican political scene.

10 According to Resolutions n°17/AM/2000 and n°50/AM/2001.

11 Conselho Municipal, Regulamento do funcionamento das estruturas administrativas dos Bairros municipais, 2006, Maputo, p. 1.

12 Article 3 of Resolution n°51/AM/2006, Regulations on the Functioning of the Administrative Structures of Municipal Suburbs

13 Although the official results of these elections were not published, we found out during our interviews with bairro secretaries that participation rates were very low. For example, the secretary of a bairro of municipal district n° 3 counting around 40,000 residents, was elected in 2009 with only 200 votes.

14 Article 3 of Resolution n°51/AM/2006

15 This information is based on 18 interviews with bairro secretaries in Districts 3, 4 and 5, and with 18 chiefs of quarteirão, and on an observation of local political practices in several suburbs of the city.

16 The confusion and political control of the Party are sometimes very explicit: as such, in 2008, we wanted to meet the secretary of the bairro of Luis Cabral, but instead we were introduced to the Party secretary who works in the same office.

17 Resolutions n° 17/AM/2000 and 50/AM/2000 “Reestruturação, descentralização e responsabilização do governo municipal…”, op. cit. Decree 15/2000 and Decree 80/2004.

18 The expression “community” refers to forms of social organisations of people in Mozambique, as defined by donors and present in the speeches of the Frelimo since independence.

19 The following analysis is based on the fieldwork (January 2007 to March 2010) of one of the co-authors for her doctoral thesis on unequal access to basic services in Maputo (drinking water, rubbish removal and cleaning up), in the bairros of Polana Caniço A, Mafalala, Urbanizaçao, Maxaquene A and Magoanine A.

20 Associaçao Mozambicana para o Desenvolvimento Concertado, created by French NGO ESSOR at the begining of the 2000s.

21 Water and Sanitation for the Urban Poor, a British NGO.

22 As an example, ASCODECHA, an association working in Chamanculo C in the field of adult literacy and the rehabilitation of street fountains, as well as ADASBU, an association working in Urbanizaçao and specialised in the clean up and removal of rubbish, have been strongly pressured by the local authorities to recruit certain individuals who did not have any specific skills, according to interviews held in February 2007 with the founding members of these associations.

23 Aguas de Moçambique, the company in charge of operating and managing the drinking water network.

24 AdeM, Plano director do sistema de abastecimento de Água na área de cessão das Águas de Moçambique, Maputo, p. 229, 2007.

25 In the bairro of Polana Caniço A, the chairwoman of the Water Committee is also a chief of quarteirão and an OMM member, a function she has been occupying since 1975. The premises of the Water Committee are also those of the bairro secretary, the Party secretary and the director of the primary school (who is the Party Secretary).

26 This committee was dissolved at the end of 2009 following a vast ADM water connection programme. Street fountains have been closed since.

27 According to interviews conducted with all the members of the Water Committee of Polana Caniço B in June 2009.

28 According to 30 interviews conducted in March 2010 in the city center, the majority of residents ignore their quarteirão number and the existence of the chief of quarteirão. They only recognise the existence of the bairro secretary. Encounters between the bairro secretary and the residents of the city centre are limited to the signature of residence declarations, an official document required for all administrative procedures.

29 According to interviews conducted in March 2010 with the secretaries of the bairros of Polana Cimento B, Malhangalene, Coop, Sommershield and Alto-Mae.

30 This Secretary, like the other Secretaries interviewed, was not elected by the residents but chosen by a “group of people who are in the habit of holding meetings on the bairro” (according to the Secretary of Polana Cimento B, March 2010). The Party’s implication in the functioning of the local authorities is rarely mentioned in the speeches of the local representatives. When he took up his post, this Secretary noted that in most quarteirões, a chief of quarteirão had been appointed but was no longer carrying out his/her duties for many years. For this reason, the bairro secretary replaced them progressively, usually with young students who are deemed more available than workers.

31 In apartment buildings, residents elect a committee to represent them. This committee has the specific task of managing common expenses and dealing with handling charges (water, electricity, lift, etc.) for an undetermined term, according to Decree n° 53/99.

32 Interview conducted in Polana Caniço A in January 2008.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Table 1: Post-independence administrative organisation: highly centralized structures
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Crédits Source : Enquêtes personnelles, 2006-2009
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Titre Picture 1
Crédits © Vivet, April 2008. Urbanização, Maputo. Office of the bairro secretary, in the peri-central neighbourhood of Urbanização, Maputo (Map 1).
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Karine Ginisty et Jeanne Vivet, « Frelimo Territoriality in Town: the Example of Maputo »L’Espace Politique [En ligne], 18 | 2012-3, mis en ligne le 28 avril 2014, consulté le 23 février 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Karine Ginisty

Université Paris-Est Marne la Vallée

Jeanne Vivet

Maître de Conférences
Université Bordeaux 3

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