The Mozambique Liberation Front has ruled the country since Mozambique gained independence from Portugal in 1975. The party has governed from its power center in the national capital, Maputo, in the extreme southern corner of the country. It has effectively neglected the central and northern regions of the country, but could afford to do so during much of Mozambique's post-colonial history because of the lack of economic resources in those regions. Apart from a few agricultural plantations, what resources were meaningfully developed in the country were found near Maputo.
In the last few years, however, Mozambique has begun developing two natural resource sectors in these regions that are attracting significant international interest. Thermal and coking coal deposits are being developed in the central Mozambican province of Tete, and extensive natural gas deposits are being drilled off the coast of northern Mozambique.
To securely develop these two natural resource sectors, the ruling party needs to exert reliable governance, such as infrastructure development, in areas it was previously content to ignore. It will need to accommodate the country's two main opposition parties — the Mozambique National Resistance Movement, based in Nampula, and the Democratic Movement of Mozambique, based in the central coastal city of Beira — to ensure that governance is uninterrupted. Both Afonso Dhlakama, the leader of the Mozambique National Resistance Movement, and Daviz Simango, a member of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique and mayor of Beira, are aspiring presidential candidates for the national election scheduled for 2014.The two opposition parties effectively act as gatekeepers at infrastructure nodes that are crucial for the development of the country's natural resources, especially coal. Beira is the primary port from which thermal and coking coal is exported. The Mozambican government is rehabilitating the Sena rail line that connects Tete province to Beira and is also expanding the capacity of the port at Beira to support coal exports. The Sena rail upgrade has faced delays due to slow construction progress and seasonal flooding disruptions that have washed away sections of the rail line. The Beira port requires constant dredging as well as construction support simply to maintain its current capacity.
A second rail line being developed to support coal exports will connect Tete province to Nampula province and Nacala port. This stretch of rail line, which will also traverse Malawi, will travel straight through the city of Nampula — the seat of the disgruntled Mozambique National Resistance Movement. Brazilian mining company Vale is proposing to spend $1 billion to rehabilitate existing sections and construct new sections of the rail from Tete through Nampula to Nacala, as well as to spend another several billion dollars to establish Nacala as a deepwater port and coal export terminal.
The protests at Nampula demonstrate the opposition party's power to prevent the ruling party's governance in northern Mozambique. If the opposition can ransack the ruling party's local offices, it is capable of blocking or destroying a local rail line section. The Mozambique National Resistance Movement does not want a repeat of the civil war Mozambique experienced in the 1970s and 1980s, but the party wants a significant stake in the government that has largely ignored it. If Maputo wants to develop the coal and natural gas resources found in areas where the opposition parties wield a large amount of influence, and thus transform Mozambique into an emerging economy that supplies natural resources to the global economy, the ruling party will have to accommodate its political rivals.