Two months after the general elections in Mozambique gave an overwhelming victory to the ruling party, the Mozambique Liberation Front (Frelimo), citizens continue to debate whether foreign actors could have interfered in the electoral process.
On October 15, 2019, Mozambicans voted for president, Parliament and, for the first time, provincial governors. The current president Filipe Nyusi was re-elected and his Frelimo party won two thirds of the unicameral legislative seats; and won all the seats of the governorate. The Constitutional Council, the highest court in Mozambique, has not yet ratified the results, which the opposition has challenged.
Two weeks after the elections, on October 30, Facebook announced the suspension of accounts originated in Russia that were aimed at several African countries, including Mozambique. The company said the accounts had “inauthentic behavior” and that they were connected with Russian financier Yevgeniy Prigozhin.
Prigozhin, who has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was accused by United States Special Counsel Robert Mueller of running a “trolley mill” that interfered in the 2016 presidential elections in that country.
In its announcement, the company said:
Today, we removed 35 Facebook accounts, 53 Pages, seven Groups and five Instagram accounts that originated in Russia and focused on Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d'Ivoire and Cameroon.
The individuals behind this activity used a combination of fake accounts and authentic accounts of local nationals in Madagascar and Mozambique to manage Pages and Groups, and post their content. They typically posted about global and local political news including topics like Russian policies in Africa, elections in Madagascar and Mozambique, election monitoring by a local non-governmental organization and criticism of French and US policies.
Today we have deleted 35 Facebook accounts, 53 pages, seven groups and five Instagram accounts that originated in Russia and focused on Madagascar, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast and Cameroon.
Those responsible for this activity used a combination of fake accounts and authentic accounts of local citizens of Madagascar and Mozambique to manage pages and groups, and publish their content. They usually published global and local political news, topics such as Russian policies in Africa, elections in Madagascar and Mozambique, supervision of the elections by a local non-governmental organization and criticism of French and American policies.
Facebook added that these accounts and pages spent around $ 77,000 on ads between April 2018 to October 2019.
One of the Facebook pages listed as “inauthentic” was the page of the Association for Free Research and Cooperation (AFRIC). This organization sent an election observation mission of 60 people to Mozambique, according to its official website.
The NGO defines itself as a “community of independent researchers, experts and activists” and states that in the last 14 months it has observed elections in Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zimbabwe and the Republic of South Africa, as well as in Mozambique.
According to a November 2019 report of the Portuguese version of Radio France International (RFI), the AFRIC observation mission in Mozambique worked “without anyone knowing very well the work of field observers.” RFI did not cite any source for those claims.
The AFRIC report on the Mozambican elections praised the process as “well organized,” but listed a number of irregularities during the vote and the counting of votes.
The report repeat the conclusions of other observation missions. The European Union mission identified more serious irregularities.
A ‘false’ and illegal survey
Suspicions about Russian interference began before the elections, when on October 4 a survey was published by an organization called the International Anti-Crisis Center (AIC), which gave a clear victory to Frelimo.
According to a May 2019 article about the South African elections, the International Antichrisis Center is believed to be linked to Prigozhin. Both the AIC and the AFRIC tried to influence the vote in favor of the ruling party, the African National Congress (ANC), The Guardian reported.
Mozambican law prohibits polls during the election period. The opposition party Resistencia Nacional Mozambiqueña (Renamo) reported the case to the Prosecutor's Office.
However, the survey was widely disseminated on social media, including through the Facebook pages that have now been deleted. Until today, the survey is available on the AIC website.
After its publication, the Center for Public Integrity (CIP), an organization of Mozambican civil society, said the survey could be an attempt to influence public opinion:
O mais provável é that a probegem published seja mais uma fake news. I have given you quite a lot of suspensions, once President Philippe Nyusi has a high classification of controlled popularities in Nampula, controlled by the opposition in Gaza, which is carried out by Frelimo.
Most likely, the published survey is false news. The data is quite suspicious, as President Filipe Nyusi had a higher ranking in terms of popularity in Nampula, controlled by the opposition, than in Gaza, bastion of Frelimo.
Frelimo members also published the survey on different social media platforms. One of the members who spread the survey withdrew it after social activist Tomás Queface drew attention on Twitter:
Ehehe is ready to accompany or unwind conversations. Or illustrious @basiliomuhate publicou uma probegem that gives vitória de Nyusi and Frelimo em quase all the provisions. More like apercebeu-se that I was going to commit an illicit foi obliged to remove or link ?
– Tomás Queface (@tomqueface) October 9, 2019
What are you talking about? I see a tweet off here. Did it have to do with the “denial” of Frelimo about the false news of Rafael Macha Lela?
heh, heh, I'm watching the conversation. My friend Basilio Muhate published a survey that gives Nyusi and Frelimo a victory in almost every province. But when he realized he was making a legal mistake, he was forced to remove the link. ?
African history researcher Eric Morier-Genoud commented:
Illegal interference in the #Mozambique elections. No poll is allowed to be published during the electoral campaign. From Russia with Love… https://t.co/Ayu2aMu4Tl
– Eric Morier-Genoud (@emorier) October 10, 2019
Russian expert group with links to electoral manipulation and the Wagner Group has generated an opinion poll in the Mozambican elections that gives President Nyusi and Frelimo a decisive advantage.
Illegal interference in the Mozambican elections. Polls are not allowed to be published during the election campaign. From Russia with love.
Two days before the announcement of the official election results on October 30, AIC published a tweet of felicitation to Filipe Nyusi and Frelimo.
Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi is re-elected with 73% of the vote. His Frelimo party will get 184 seats in Parliament. Opposition party Renamo failed to win a single province pic.twitter.com/89Un408fCn
– International Anticrisis Center (@iaccenters_en) October 28, 2019
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi is re-elected with 73% of the vote. His Frelimo party will get 184 seats in Parliament. The opponent Renamo failed to win in any province.
Relations between Russia and Mozambique have warmed in recent years.
Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi visited Moscow in August, and on that occasion, Russia announced that he would forgive 95% of the Mozambican debt, although the exact amount of this debt remains unclear. Nyusi also attended the first Russia-Africa summit in Sotchi in October.
Morier-Genoud said Nyusi's trip to Russia served as thanks for Russian support:
@FNyusi off to #Russia to thank the government for its military help, its meddling in elections, and possibly for some loan to help struggling ENH national oil company – “из России с любовью” #Mozambiquehttps://t.co/lF1jS9bUYa
– Eric Morier-Genoud (@emorier) October 22, 2019
Filipe Nyusi went to Russia to thank the Government for its military help, its intervention in elections and possibly some loan to help the national oil company ENH.
On October 21, the Russian Foreign Ministry congratulated Mozambique for restarting elections:
❗ Presidential, parliamentary and gubernatorial #elections were held in #Mozambique on October 15. #Moscow welcomes the success of such an important event in Mozambique’s domestic political life. ? https://t.co/LfamnZp1u0 #Russia #Diplomacy #Africa #RussiaAfrica pic.twitter.com/lcPWoQ20a2
– MFA Russia ?? (@mfa_russia) October 21, 2019
❗ On October 15, presidential, parliamentary and governor elections were held in Mozambique. Moscow welcomes the success of such an important event in the national political life of Mozambique.
This article is part of a series of publications that examine interference on digital rights through methods such as disruption of broadcaster networks and misinformation during key political events in seven African countries: Algeria, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Nigeria, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe. The project is funded by the African Fund for Digital Collaborative Rights in International Information and Communications Technology Policy for Eastern and Southern Africa (CIPESA).