Joaquim Alberto Chissano

Joaquim Alberto Chissano (born 1939), one of the leaders of the war of liberation against Portugal, became his nation's first foreign minister when Mozambique won its independence in 1975. Upon the accidental death of President Samora Machel in 1986 Chissano became president.

Joaquim Alberto Chissano was born on October 22, 1939, at Chibuto in the province of Gaza in the south of Mozambique. He went through an impoverished childhood, as did the great majority of Mozambicans of his generation. Nevertheless, he was able to go through primary and secondary high school at Tai-Xai and Liceu Salazar in Lourenco Marques (now Maputo), respectively. After lonely school years he emerged as one of the first Black children to graduate from the Liceu Salazar. He then left for Portugal in pursuit of further studies.

After failing anatomy at the end of his first year at a Portuguese university he moved to France, where he soon emerged as one of the founders of the exile organization Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frente de Libertacao de Moçambique), on June 25, 1962. This FRELIMO movement was the merger of three nationalist parties: The Uniáo Democrática Nacional de Moçambique (UDENAMO), the Mozambique African Nationalist Union (MANU), and the Uniáo Africana de Moçambique Independence (UNAMI). In August 1963 he was one of the FRELIMO guerrilla leaders sent to Algeria for training.


Student and Political Activist

Chissano's political career had been shaped during his early school days in Lourenco Marques. He was a member of the Nucleus of African Secondary Students of Mozambique and was the founder of the National Union of Mozambique Students. His involvement in student politics later proved valuable when he entered nationalist politics. The leadership qualities developed during the early period allowed Chissano to emerge as one of the three leading figures in FRELIMO.

In 1963 he became a member of the central and executive committee of the party. Between 1964 and 1974 he was FRELIMO's secretary and minister of defense, and until the death of the first FRELIMO leader, Eduardo Mondlane, who was killed by a parcel bomb on February 3, 1969, Chissano shared the responsibility for security and defense with Samora Moises Machel. Chissano was, however, absent at the time of Mondlane's death.

In the ensuing struggle for leadership following the death of Mondlane, Chissano played a crucial conciliatory role. He brought together Samora Machel, Marcelino dos Santos, and Uria Simango in a temporary uneasy alliance, the Presidential Council. Chissano himself continued to hold the position of secretary and minister of defense.

Chissano was also FRELIMO's representative to the Tanzanian government during the 1964-1974 period.

While in Dar es Salaam he was also the director of the Mozambique Institute (now the Mozambique-Tanzania Centre for Foreign Relations) up to 1973. That position made him the person in charge of conduct and coordination of the liberation war against the Portuguese Army.

As the liberation war intensified, and aided by the April 25, 1974, military coup in Portugal, it became clear that Portuguese colonialism was coming to an end. By September 1974 Portugal agreed to grant Mozambique independence under FRELIMO. Chissano, the moderate of the three leading figures in FRELIMO, was appointed prime minister of the transitional government, which lasted from September 1974 until independence on June 25, 1975. Machel and dos Santos preferred to remain outside the transitional government in order to cushion themselves against the possible short-comings, and even failures, of the new government.

As prime minister of the transitional government, Chissano came directly under Portuguese colonial officials. Directly above him was the governor general, who continued to represent Portugal under the new arrangement. Chissano found himself in a difficult situation, especially in dealing with the Portuguese residents. Other FRELIMO leaders, such as Amando Guebuza, wanted the Portuguese expelled from Mozambique, but Chissano was against unnecessary expulsions of Portuguese people.


Independence Comes to Mozambique

At independence on June 25, 1975, Chissano became Mozambique's minister of foreign affairs, a position he held until the death of Machel in October 1986. During this period he also had a less-publicized role as chief of security, which won him the support of the country's military commanders. In that post he kept a close watch over possible infighting in the party. Although Chissano was a committed Marxist, he was urbane and articulate. A pragmatist, he won wide respect internationally.

Chissano always remained committed to party discipline, even though at times he disagreed with his leader. For instance, because Chissano never trusted the South African government, he neither took active participation in the drawing up of the Nkomati Accord in 1984 nor was involved in the signing ceremony. But as minister of foreign affairs he tried to have good relations with the West, where he found both Great Britain and the United States more sympathetic to the Mozambique situation than to the Angolan government on the other side of the continent.


Chissano, the President

Following the death of President Samora Moises Machel in a plane crash on October 19, 1986, Chissano was elected by the 130-member Central Committee of FRELIMO on November 3 to succeed Machel as president of the party, head of state, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. He was sworn into office on November 6. Chissano was a close associate of Machel. They both trained in Algeria, and Chissano had risen during the liberation war to the rank of major general.

In his inaugural speech on November 6 Chissano pledged Mozambique's continued adherence to the Nkomati Accord, even though he had always doubted South Africa's commitment to the agreement. On the home front, Chissano announced that rehabilitation of the economy was the central objective in the economic sphere. Chissano also announced on December 17, 1987, that an amnesty for rebels and a reduction in jail sentences was to be introduced in order to rehabilitate the rebels of the Mozambique National Resistance (MNR) and make political progress.


Fifth Congress of FRELIMO

During the fifth congress of FRELIMO held in Maputo on July 24 to 30, 1989, Chissano was unanimously reelected as party president by the 700 delegates. At the congress Chissano indicated that he was ready to consider negotiating with the rebels in order to end the 14-year-long war. The congress adopted Chissano's proposals for a negotiated peaceful settlement with the rebels. The congress also adopted his other proposal that people previously excluded from FRELIMO on ideological grounds be admitted into the party. Property owners and local entrepreneurs were also to be admitted.

The fifth congress, the first since 1983, was marked by the conspicuous absence of Marxist-Leninist rhetoric in the FRELIMO works. The congress was more concerned with dealing with the real issues and finding solutions. Thus little time was wasted on Marxist-Leninist rhetoric. This change of direction in Mozambican international alignments was reflected in the March 29, 1989, meeting between British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and President Chissano in neighboring Zimbabwe at Nyanga where British instructors helped train Mozambican troops. At the meeting the two leaders discussed the possibility of increasing the training program to assist Mozambique in combating the MNR rebels and the increasing pressure coming from South Africa.

President Chissano continued to make amends with the West. He made his first official visit to the United States and met with President George Bush for two hours on March 13, 1990. Since Mozambique abandoned rigid Marxist-Leninist ideology in the course of 1989, the United States, on January 24, 1990, removed Mozambique from the list of Marxist-Leninist nations denied preferential loan and trade agreements. Later that year, on December 2, Mozambique adopted a constitution establishing a multi-party democracy. These moves were encouragements to Mozambique's goal of free-market economics.


The End of Civil War

His early years in office steered Mozambique onto a different political and economic course, and the eventual conclusion of a 16-year-old civil war. Presidential elections were held in 1994, which Chissano won.

In reviewing 1996, Chissano noted his country's improvements in national reconciliation, the justice system and increased efforts at crime control, while improving the economy and lowering the inflation rate. He lobbied Western governments for debt forgiveness to promote political and economic stability throughout Africa. Despite progresses, Mozambique remains one of the absolute poorest in the world. He vowed to develop a strong private sector composed of various races through its ongoing privatization process. Towards national reconciliation, he visited Maringue, a county where the headquarters of the former rebel movement was situated.

While president, Chissano welcomed Chinese Premier Li Peng to discuss bilateral relations. He accepted an award for opening the Mozambique economy to the global marketplace during the "Attracting Capital to Africa" summit in April 1997, sponsored by the Corporate council on Africa. He officially visited Uganda, and granted final approval for a private game reserve planned to be the largest in the world. He called for an international devotion to the issue of children's human rights, acknowledging that Mozambique children have an especially rough time after 16 years of civil war. He also held talks with Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa. He visited France for official meetings. He met with Archbishop Desmond Tutu about regional issues in southern Africa. He signed a controversial deal with Nelson Mandela in which South African farmers would move into Mozambique and farm underdeveloped areas of Mozambique.

In May 1997, the ruling FRELIMO Party reelected head of state Chissano as president of the party and many speculate that he will represent the party in 1999 presidential elections. Chissano was an experienced linguist who spoke fluent Portuguese, French, English, and Swahili. He was married to Marcelina Rafael Chissano, and they had four children.

Further Reading on Joaquim Alberto Chissano

Biographical material in English on Chissano is scarce. A detailed biographical essay appeared in New African in December 1986, and he is listed in Africa Year Book and Who's Who in Africa 1977, published by Africa Journal Limited, and in African Biographies. Nevertheless, students will find the following material, which generally explores Mozambique's experience since Chissano became president, useful: Keesing's Contemporary Archives, volumes 32-36; The Europa Year Book, 1989, vol. II (earlier volumes are also useful); African Contemporary Record: Annual Survey and Documents, edited by Colin Legum. Mozambique: A Country Study (1984), edited by Harold D. Nelson, is also useful.