Mozambique: Drop All Charges Against Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco and Fernando Mbanze

By Gary Littlejohn 

A well-known public intellectual Dr. Castel-Branco and a national newspaper editor Mr. Mbanze are due to go on trial in Mozambique at the end of August, charged with insulting the then President of Mozambique, Armando Guebuza in 2014.  It is illegal to insult the President. A new President was elected last year, but the remarks by Castel-Branco on Facebook prior to the last election, remarks which were reproduced in a national newspaper and elsewhere, are not in dispute.  That immediately raises the question as to why other media that reproduced these remarks are not also on trial. Given that freedom of speech is guaranteed by the Mozambican Constitution, this raises an important question concerning what the limits of such freedom are in relation to the law against insulting the President. To understand the situation in which these charges were made, some background information should help.

Loss of legitimacy amid increasing problems in Mozambique

Following the end of Apartheid in South Africa and Mozambican multiparty elections in 1994, Mozambique had a period of fairly rapid economic growth from a very low base during the rest of the 1990s.  In my view, this had as much to do with regular rainfall as with the economic policies supported by the World Bank, the IMF and European Union. Towards the end of the 1990s, a large project (USD 2 billion) was implemented.  It had been arranged with the backing of South African government guarantees and is known as the Maputo Corridor. It included a new aluminium production facility near Maputo, the capital city, as well as a new road from South Africa to Maputo and bauxite supplied from a mine just inside the nearby South African border.  Electricity is provided by hydroelectric power from Tete Province to the north of Mozambique.

President Obama greeting President Guebuza at the Africa Summit in Washington, 2014 (Photo: State Department)
President Obama greeting President Guebuza at the Africa Summit in Washington, 2014 (Photo: State Department)

By 2003, when this investment had been completed, this capital intensive, low employment approach to growth was a success in terms of GDP growth and the balance of payments, but did nothing to reduce poverty in Mozambique, as a poverty survey in 2002 showed. It was an export oriented, extractive industry model that subsequently relied on encouraging foreign direct  investment by tax concessions and few restrictions on repatriation of profits, presumably in the hope that that the resulting infrastructural investment would facilitate other forms of economic activity. In 2010, a second wave of such investment began, this time coming from Brazil, with the main export market expected to be for coal to China.  A similar ‘corridor’ approach was again used, with rehabilitated and newly constructed rail links to the coast. Meanwhile a second poverty survey in 2009 showed that poverty had actually increased from around 52% to 54% of the population.

Apart from the problem of ‘jobless growth’ the government had started to lose legitimacy for other reasons largely related to poor management in various ministries that tended to adversely affect  those on low incomes. For example, in March 2007 a huge munitions depot in a suburb of Maputo exploded, killing about 500 people and injuring many more.  The government was slow to respond to this disaster, which led to very great criticism in the media and the eventual replacement of the then Minister of Defence, who was the brother-in-law of President Guebuza.  What made it worse was that a previous President, Samora Machel, had publicly called for this depot to be dealt with in 1986, not long before his death, so this problem was well known to have been neglected for over 20 years.  A year or so later the Minister of the Interior was tried and found guilty of corruption.

One index of this declining legitimacy was the decline in the turnout for Presidential and parliamentary elections. In addition, the Frelimo share of the vote went down in both presidential and parliamentary elections from about 75% to about 57% between 2009 and 2014.   Another indicator was media criticism of alleged police involvement with organised crime.

The onset of Brazilian investment also led to fairly large scale popular resistance to the effects of such projects, including over claims of forced resettlement, compensation promised but not fully paid, poor quality of land on to which people had been relocated, and so on. Such protests included protests over ‘land grabs’ that were associated with a large multinational project for agribusiness (known as ProSavana) associated with the most northern corridor in Mozambique, the Nacala Corridor. The protests were frequently suppressed by what many considered to be violent police action.

Meanwhile, Mozambican social scientists whose leading figures often had PhDs from European universities were developing high quality published analyses of social and economic problems in Mozambique. The most internationally prominent group was organised in the IESE (Institute of Social and Economic Studies) which had grown originally by consultancy work funded mostly from abroad, but which then also began to hold highly publicised, well organised annual conferences that had prominent national media coverage, including from several TV stations and newspapers. These large conferences included academics from North America, Southern Africa and Europe, and were invariably accompanied by one or two book launches by the IESE itself, as well as other book launches, including in 2012 one by a Japanese academic.  Such well publicised critiques and analyses doubtless contributed to a feeling of insecurity in some ruling FRELIMO circles.

Limited resurgence of armed conflict

In April 2013, armed conflict broke out in Sofala Province near the headquarters of the leader of the main opposition party, RENAMO. Its leader Afonso Dhlakama had left Maputo in December 2012, citing a wish to be nearer to the people. This move may have been a response to the declining parliamentary fortunes of RENAMO, and to the fact that he had consistently failed to win the Presidential elections since 1994.  Members of the Rapid Intervention Force (FIR), a sort of paramilitary police, had sought to arrest Dhlakama on the charge of holding illegal arms. This attempt had failed but some RENAMO personnel had been arrested and were held in a nearby police station, from which they were ‘rescued’ by other RENAMO members in a fight that included fatalities.

That incident sparked months of low level conflict, including armed raids on traffic on the main north-south highway in Mozambique, and sabotage of rail lines thereby  threatening mineral exports. The situation was only partially resolved in time for Dhlakama to register once again for the elections of October 2014, and in some respects it has still not been resolved, with some violence in Tete Province in July 2015.  RENAMO disputes the results of the 2014 elections, and is refusing to cooperate with the government in various ways.

The way in which this armed conflict and its related political dispute were handled by President Guebuza drew some further criticism in the media and elsewhere.  The general in charge of the Armed Forces for the Defence of Mozambique (FADM) made a public statement near the start of this conflict (April 2013) in which he made it clear that the FADM would not be involved, since it was an internal political matter.  Soon afterwards, his contract was not renewed.

Internal FRELIMO Manoeuvres

These various problems have doubtless led to a growing sense of unease within at least some sections of FRELIMO. The situation was exacerbated by an attempt by President Guebuza to have the Constitution changed so that he could try to be elected for a third term. This failed and he then allegedly tried to arrange for a candidate that he preferred to be nominated by FRELIMO, but this too failed. The latter political setback took place at the time of the intractable dispute with RENAMO. It seems fair to comment that President Guebuza’s support for what might be termed neoliberal authoritarian rule was in increasing difficulty by mid-2014, and that some in FRELIMO ruling circles apparently wished to distance themselves from it.

Facebook Remarks

Following a demonstration in 2014, Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco, at that time the Director of the IESE, made some remarks about the demonstration in which he had participated. These remarks on Facebook were soon reproduced in various formats. Castel-Branco was eventually taken in for questioning, but only some time later and after a lot of support had been publicly expressed for him. This initial questioning was reportedly conducted in an orderly quiet manner, almost as if it was a formality, and he was then released.

Click here to read Castel-Branco’s essay, ‘Growth, capital accumulation and economic porosity in Mozambique: social losses, private gains‘ in the ROAPE, 40th Anniversary Special Issue (vol. 41 no. 143 Supplemental, December 2014) This article was also winner of the Ruth First prize for the best article published by an African-based author published by ROAPE in 2014. See also the ROAPE Briefing on Cistac’s murder by Ana Ganho.

Then in 2015 a lawyer Giles Cistac was assassinated apparently for stating his opinion that a proposal from RENAMO for some kind of political decentralisation was consistent with the Constitution.  Cistac had not supported the RENAMO proposal: he had merely given his legal opinion that it was not inherently unconstitutional. It was widely believed that the assassins were supporters of ex-President Guebuza.  There was a large public demonstration in protest at this assassination. It was heavily policed and some participants later declared that they had felt intimidated, but there was no violence on either side.

I am told that Castel-Branco was subsequently in touch through Facebook with the group said to include the assassins, debating with them about their worldview. It is in this context that the charges against him were resurrected. Originally the trial was due to take place on August 1st, but since Castel-Branco was in the UK, it has been postponed.  Castel-Branco returned voluntarily to Mozambique, since he feels that the trial is necessary to establish what the limits on free speech are.

Gary Littlejohn was Briefings and Debates editor of the Review of African Political Economy from 2010 to 2015. He is the author of Secret Stockpiles: A review of disarmament efforts in Mozambique, Working Paper 21, Small Arms Survey, Geneva, October 2015.

A Letter from Carlos Nuno, July 2015

Dear friends,
As you may all know, the general attorney’s office (PGR) case against me is going to trial. I have been charged with crimes against state security for defamation of the then president of the Republic, and the editor of two newspapers that public my Facebook post, Fernando Mbanze and Veloso, have been accused of abused of freedom of press.

Related to this process, I received messages of solidarity from many people and would like to thank you all. It is impossible to describe how important each word and gesture of solidarity from you and many other people are for me, the journalists Fernando Mbanze and Veloso, our families and legal teams. Thank you all.

I would like to take this opportunity to answer some of the questions that some of you have asked.

I am going to Mozambique for the trial because the issues at stake are much bigger than me, because I refuse to be seen as a political exile from my country, because I have not committed any crime, and because if they want to go on trial I will use it, to the best of my ability, as a platform to fight for freedom of expression, for freedom of political debate and thinking, and for an open debate on the social and economic issues that were raised in my Facebook post that is on trial now. Of course, it would be safer and more comfortable if no trial takes place and the case is closed. However, as it is going ahead I should take advantage of it. Whatever the outcome of this trial is, whether I am found guilty or not, if the debate is in the open we win. So, in brief, I am going to Mozambique for the trial.

Some of you asked how they can help. There are many different ways, equally important. Amnesty International is preparing a campaign – you may all receive a petition to sign. The petition is then going to be sent to the Mozambican government, embassies of Mozambique around the world, embassies of foreign countries in Maputo and the media. Signing and circulating such a petition is one for of support. You can also help by circulating your own letters and sending them to the list of institutions I mentioned above. Publication in the Mozambican and foreign media may be useful. You may write to your local representatives. You may refer to my association with SOAS and IDPM/Manchester (where I am an associate researcher), and with ROAPE and JSAS (two of the leading referred journals on Sub-Saharan Africa development) to raise and discuss this case. You may take advantage of any other of your networks to create the support base.

Let me be clear about one point. Of course, I also want to win the trial on personal reasons – as you may all imagine, I don’t want to go to jail, particularly when I have committed no crime. My daughters and son, my close friends and my family don’t want to see me in jail. The same applies to the editors of media fax and canal de Moçambique, Mbanze and Veloso. However, the support, in my opinion, should not focus primarily on my acquittal – that should be one of the outcomes, a very desirable one on personal terms, of a more fundamental struggle – the issues at stake. Hence, the focus should be on the issues – freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of political debate and of the right to exert citizenship, as well as the obligation and exposure of holders of high public office to be accountable and be criticised if they are not. The journalists and I should be acquitted by winning the fundamental issues. Also, any type of campaign should not forget to mention the intense political pressure that has been put on the judicial system from the beginning of this case. If we win the fundamental issues, we win the trial, whatever it’s legal outcome might be.

Also, we need to bear in mind that if the case against me collapses, the case against Mbanze and Veloso must collapse as well.

Some of you asked if they could make financial contributions. I have not defined any budget yet and my lawyer has been working out of solidarity so far. But things might change and I may come to need financial support. I will come back to this later, because I have no clear questions and answers regarding this issue. My oldest daughter, Ruth, had thought about creating a fund that would support my case and similar cases in the future, but that needs a lot more clear thought. Those of you interested in working along these line and that have experience and ideas about how to manage such a thing properly and rigorously, may let me know and I may put you in contact with Ruth.

Someone asked why did I write such a post and whether I was not aware of the consequences. At the end of October 2013, in the midst of an extremely explosive political and economic context, President Guebuza gave an interview to the media in which he said four things that crystallised the focus and tensions of his years of governance: 1) that he trusted completely the security forces and their command and saw no need for re-organization, despite the sharp rise in organized crime, kidnappings and assassination a without anybody being brought to justice, and the role of police and the security forces in political repression. 2) that the media were responsible for the climate of instability and return to war that existed, while the government was open to initiatives; 3) that the criticism of his closed links with private business and his crony capitalism was undeserved because he had transferred all his personal business to his daughter and sons and his friends and family when he became president. And 4) poverty was not falling as fast as expected (it was not falling at all, despite significant acceleration of economic growth) because of people’s mentality and culture of being poor. Things like that were said every day. People talked and complained about these everywhere but no none was coming forward to challenge. So, I did. It was my right and duty as a citizen. As for the consequences I expected: 1) I did not expect that a Facebook post on my timeline would take me to court charged with crimes against state security; 2) I expected that the real crimes against state security would be investigated (crony capitalism, meteoric increase in public debt, political, social and economic exclusion, raise in the number of poor despite acceleration of economic growth, return to war, organized crime, etc.), and they were not. 3) I expect the tone and intensity of criticism and debate to increase, and that has happened and is happening (I am not saying that there is causal relationship with my FB post, but only that my FB post is part of a trend, even if it has also contributed to start such a trend).

Please, feel free to ask me any questions you wish and make any suggestions you may have.
I would like to thank you, once again, for your showing of solidarity and support.

Please, do not forget that we are part of the same fundamental struggle against economic neoliberalism and its financial dominance, against political repression and removal of the rights to protest, strike, contest and chose real alternatives, and a struggle for defining what are the real alternatives. The Tories attack on workers rights, the troika attack on Greece and Portugal, the state and mining capital attack and assassination of miners, the financial capitalism and fascist state attack on alternatives and freedom in Mozambique, are all part of a whole. Let’s fight and win these struggles together. We can only win together.

Carlos Nuno

Please write immediately in English, Portuguese or your own language to your Mozambique embassy or High Commission:

  • Urging Mozambican authorities to immediately drop all charges against Carlos Nuno Castel-Branco and Fernando Mbanze, as they have been charged solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression;
  • Calling on the authorities to end the practice of harassment and intimidation of people peacefully expressing their views, and to uphold the right to freedom of expression;
  • Calling on them to repeal all legislation which unduly limits freedom of expression.

See for more information.




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