Murder marked the triumph of Maputo’s vultures and hyenas

Tuesday October 05 2021
Internally Displaced People in Mozambique.

Internally Displaced People board a military vehicle in Mozambique. PHOTO | COURTESY | RWANDA DEFENCE FORCES (RDF)

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

At the end of July, Rwandan forces landed in Mozambique’s northeast Cabo Delgado province. Within three weeks, they had retaken nearly 85 percent of the province from Islamist insurgents, who had occupied most of it for four years.

Last weekend, Rwanda President Paul Kagame visited Mozambique, and with President Filipe Nyusi, they dropped in on the troops in Cabo Delgado. It was the first time in four years that Nyusi, who sought a pan-African hand from Rwanda against the rebels earlier in the year, could set foot there.

Mozambique is ruled by Frelimo, a storied liberation movement. It has nearly three times the population of Rwanda. Cabo Delgado alone is four times the size of Rwanda. In an ideal world, Mozambique would be Rwanda’s protector, not vice versa.

Thinking of how it came to this, my mind kept going back to a murder in Mozambique’s capital Maputo 21 years ago.

There is a strange way in which murders and deaths can encapsulate the times: the assassination of Congolese independence leader and nationalist Patrice Lumumba in 1961; the shooting of the charismatic Kenyan politician and pan-Africanist Tom Mboya in 1969; the assassination of the first president of Zanzibar Abeid Karume in 1972; the murder of the Archbishop of the Church of Uganda Janani Luwum in 1977; or even the assassination of Beatles musician and peace activist John Lennon in New York in 1980. The list is endless.

Sometimes the deaths have social and political impacts. Most times, you just feel – or hope – that the gods will open the skies and sow wrath on evildoers, but nothing happens. Still, in it all, there’s always a sign.


On November 22, 2000, celebrated Mozambican journalist Carlos Cardoso was murdered in Maputo. His killing followed his newspaper's investigation into a $14 million fraud related to the privatisation of Mozambique's biggest bank, Banco Comercial de Moçambique.

Cardoso’s murder shocked the African and global media and intellectual community to the bone. It was almost impossible to comprehend.

In the 2002 trial of six suspects in Cardoso’s murder, some of them alleged that Nyimpine Chissano, the son of then Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano, paid Cardoso's murderer by cheque. Aníbal dos Santos, a Portuguese citizen who was alleged to have masterminded Cardoso's murder, was convicted in absentia in 2003 after escaping from prison. A retrial in 2006, following dos Santos' second escape, upheld his sentence of 30 years in prison.

In 2006 Mozambican media reported anonymous claims that an arrest warrant for Nyimpine Chissano had been quashed following the intervention of the former president and his wife.

One of Africa’s most syndicated cartoonist, Nairobi-based caricaturist Godfrey Mwampembwa, more popularly known as Gado, likes to draw a cast of malevolent human-animal figures, including a vulture, a hyena, sucking the life out of their countries.

The murder of Cardoso marked the triumph of Mozambique’s vultures and hyenas, who have eaten its fabled revolution.

Mozambique still stands, with its glorious beaches, rich multicultural coastal culture and cool society, but in reality, it is a political tin man. Inside it’s empty. Faced with motivated ragtag insurgents, it folded like a cheap deck chair. Mozambique's Cabo Delgado debacle didn’t start in 2017.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3