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MOZAMBIQUE: Anglican Church Moves To Oust Archbishop Over Rigged Election

MOZAMBIQUE Anglican Church Moves To Oust Archbishop Over Rigged Election

By Cyril Zenda
Religion UNplugged
December 5, 2023

The Anglican Church in Mozambique is in turmoil following a rebellion by the church's bishops against the leadership of Archbishop Dom Carlos Matsinhe. The bishops no longer want Matsinhe to remain at the helm of the church in the former Portuguese African colony following his role in local government elections that have since proven to have been rigged in favor of President Filipe Nyusi's party.

As a result, Matsinhe's subordinates in the Anglican Church of Mozambique and Angola have written a letter demanding his resignation, saying his endorsement of the disputed polls was a betrayal of the people of Mozambique, thereby making him unfit to remain head of the church. Matsinhe is also the chairman of Mozambique's electoral body, the National Elections Commission, whose integrity is also now being questioned.

The results of the Oct. 11 local elections -- marred by allegations of widespread rigging -- were successfully contested by the opposition at the Constitutional Council. The commission announced questionable results showing that the ruling FRELIMO, or Liberation Front of Mozambique, party had won a landslide 64 of the country's 65 cities. The Mozambican National Resistance, or RENAMO, the main opposition party that had controlled eight cities before the election, won nothing, while a lone city went to a minor opposition group.

The results triggered violent protests in major urban centers, which saw four people killed and more than 30 injured. Dozens were arrested. The new results, released by the Constitutional Council on Nov. 24, revealed that massive rigging had taken place as several opposition RENAMO victories had been transferred to the ruling party.

Matsinhe is accused of siding with the ruling FRELIMO party in a country with a delicate political foundation, where the opposition RENAMO party only reentered civilian politics after wagging a 15-year civil war. Another armed insurgency by Islamist jihadists is currently raging in the northeast of the country.

Borges Nhamirre, a consultant with the Institute for Security Studies, said there was evidence that election officials changed the results to benefit FRELIMO in towns where the opposition had won.

"The results showed a surprising victory for the ruling party in Maputo, Matola, Quelimane, Vilankulo, Nampula and Chiure -- towns where the interim count at the polling stations gave victory to RENAMO," Nhamirre wrote. "The third largest party in Mozambique, Movimento Democrático de Moçambique, was declared the winner in Beira, while RENAMO apparently got no votes. (However) Parallel tabulations by an independent electoral observation consortium showed that RENAMO in fact won five municipalities, including the capital Maputo and Mozambique's largest city, Matola."

Independent election observation groups, the main religious denominations and Mozambique's main partner countries, which include the U.S., Norway, the United Kingdom, European Union, Switzerland and Canada, have all expressed concerns over the results.

Appeal for law and truth

Matsinhe's partisan involvement in electoral decisions that endanger the country's nascent peace is something the Anglican bishops and other church leaders are furious about. The National Elections Commission is made up of 17 members, 10 drawn from political parties while the other seven are nominated by members of the civic society. The Mozambique Council of Churches nominated Matsinhe to the body.

On Oct. 22, the Anglican Council of Mozambique appealed to the commission and particularly to its chair, Archbishop Matsinhe, to "observe the Electoral Law and practice the truth." The letter, addressed to Matsinhe -- the Anglican bishop of the Diocese of Lebombo who is also the acting Primate of the Anglican Lusophone province of Mozambique and Angola -- lamented the "possible interference" by outside bodies in the electoral process.

They called on "Mozambicans, voters and political actors to guide their conduct towards peace."

"To the political parties, we call for the observance of the electoral law and use of the institutions of justice in cases they consider unjustified or illegal. We exhort you to do all you can to preserve peace and all you do, remembering that 'blessed are the peacemakers because they will be called children of God' (Matthew 5:9). We clarify that the CNE (National Elections Commission) is an organ of the state and not of any religion or church, including Anglican," the letter read.

The bishops' letter also voiced concern over reports of "irregularities in the electoral process" -- adding that "the situations described above constitute for society a sad and worrying scenario for the country and for the world that aims to be where God is Lord."

The IAMA bishops appealed to Matsinhe to take actions against fraudulent election returns, but the archbishop opted to abstain from voting after it was resolved that the CNE vote was going to be an open, not a secret, ballot. This infuriated many within and outside of the Anglican Church.

'Silence can be a lie'

Among those unhappy with Matsinhe's actions was the former bishop of Lebombo and his predecessor, the Rev. Dinis Sengulane, who on Nov. 5 criticized him.

"Silence can be a lie when you hide what is the truth, because to remain silent is to consent. Your lie can affect many, because you are a person of influence," he said.

Sengulane explained that tampering with the truth is a lie.

"Lying comes from the devil, even if it is dressed in beautiful clothes, opulent clothes and sometimes even sacred clothes, even clothes like mine, seeming to speak about things of God. But in the end, it only leads you to ruin," he warned.

He added that there were "religious leaders who have lost their place of doing the sacred things of God, and linking people to God. They cause many people to lose their faith, or at least to weaken it, because they do not tell the truth, either because they have embraced the lie, or because of their complicit silence.''

That followed a letter signed by 10 of the province's 12 bishops, in which they demanded Matsinhe's resignation as archbishop of the Anglican church for failing to perform his civic duties as the president of the CNE. A Nov. 14 meeting of the Standing Committee of the 23rd Session of the Diocesan Synod of the Anglican Church that had Matsinhe's fate as the only agenda item was postponed after the defendant insisted on having armed guard accompany him to the meeting.

'The Pilate of Mozambican democracy'

Asked by Religion Unplugged if the allegations against Matsinhe are serious enough to warrant his removal from office, Adriano Nuvunga, who serves as the executive director of the Center for Democracy and Human Rights, equated the bishop's actions to those of Pilate towards Jesus.

"Bishop Carlos Matsinhe is doing to Mozambican democracy what Pilate did to the innocent Jesus -- he authorized his death," Nuvunga said. "After a thorough and public interrogation, Pilate found the truth about the charges against Jesus. However, to the astonishment of Jesus' followers, the governor Pilate, using his power and driven by the defense of his office, denied the truth and handed Jesus over to crucifixion -- a truly barbaric and shameful death."

Nuvunga, who is also the president of the Mozambican Network of Human Rights Defenders and chairman of the Network of Human Rights Defenders of the Southern Region of Africa, wrote to the Anglican Church in the aftermath of the elections, pointing out Matsinhe's many morals failures.

"Dom Carlos Matsinhe's failure to sign the minutes approving the 2023 local elections was not just an omission, but a flagrant betrayal of the trust of the Mozambican people," he wrote. "As head of the National Electoral Commission, it was his responsibility to guarantee a transparent, fair and impartial process. By avoiding this responsibility, he gave legitimacy to a fraudulent and criminal victory for the FRELIMO party, feeding the suspicions and skepticism that erode the people's faith in democracy."

He said Matsinhe's omission has far-reaching consequences, including in terms of the cost in human life, as people have been died while others have been arrested, adding, "The dubious legitimacy surrounding these elections, reinforced by the inaction of Bishop Carlos Matsinhe, not only tarnishes the integrity of the electoral process, but also puts the security and well-being of the Mozambican people at risk. This is a grim reminder that the actions, or lack thereof, of influential figures have real and sometimes devastating consequences."

He also accused Matsinhe of choosing convenience over conscience.

"When someone who is supposed to be a guardian of truth and justice fails in his mission, not only is the fabric of integrity shaken, but the very fabric of our multi-party democracy is torn," he said.

Eric Morier-Genoud, a Mozambican-born political scientist at Queen's University in Belfast, sees trouble ahead for Matsinhe:

"The bishop followed the orders of Frelimo rather than the advice of his own church's council," he said.

Muslim cleric already fired

Matsinhe is not the only cleric to get into trouble over the contentious elections.

Daud Dauto Ussene Ibramogy, a Sunni Muslim cleric and leader of the mosque in Maputo's Aeroporto district, was fired by his congregation after he voted to approve the dubious election results. In his defense, he said: "I only exercised my right as a Mozambican citizen under the democratic rule of law."

In addition to being fired from his post, Ibramogy, who had been seconded to the CNE by the Islamic Council, faces a lawsuit for issuing death threats to an opposition representative in the electoral body.

In an effort to justify his unpopular decision, Ibramogy said he acted "as a citizen, and not as a sheikh or as an imam. ... As an imam, I have always tried not to mix my professional work with my religious work."

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