When the first president of Mozambique, Samora Machel, met his unfortunate death, Joaquim Chissano took over the presidency and became known as one of Africa’s exceptional presidents.
Born on this day in 1939, Chissano was the only black student at the only high school in the colony. Afterwards he travelled to Portugal to study medicine. His political affiliations forced him to move from Portugal to France.
In 1962, he travelled to Tanzania, where he took part in political movement that helped establish the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO). He would drop out of school a year later to fight for Mozambique’s independence.
When Machel became the president of the country, he appointed Chissano as the minister of foreign affairs. Chissano would become president of the country after Machel’s fatal airplane crash in 1986.
As president, he would make moves that would see Mozambique become a better country. For starters, he would sign a historic peace agreement with Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) in 1992, ending the Mozambican Civil War that had ravaged the country since 1977.
He would also introduced the Transcendental Meditation technique in the government and later the military. The technique has been said to have contributed to reduced crimes.
“First I started the practice of Transcendental Meditation myself, then introduced the practice to my close family, then to my cabinet of ministers, then to my government officers, and then to the military. The result has been political peace and balance in Nature in my country … ” he was quoted saying.
He also made history for being the first president in multi-party Mozambique.
He was re-elected again in 1999, and made his mission to eradicate poverty in Mozambique. However, the floods of 2000 made thing tough for him. He made up for this by asking international lenders to write off a $28 debt in 2005 just before leaving office.
He would get into the annals of history as one of Africa’s president to give up the presidency voluntarily. In 2001, he announced that he would not contest for the 2005 elections even though the constitution allowed him to.
It is reported that during his presidency, about 15 per cent of the population was saved from extreme poverty and that the economy saw an eight per cent growth rate.
His efforts as president saw him win the inaugural Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership in 2007. According to the Prize’s announcement:
“President Chissano received the inaugural Ibrahim Prize for his achievements in bringing peace, reconciliation, stable democracy and economic progress to Mozambique following the civil war.”
It is in his role in leading Mozambique from conflict to peace and democracy that President Chissano has made his most outstanding contribution.”
During his presidency, he contributed to the development of Africa. He was a powerful voice for Africa on the international stage and played an important role in pushing debt relief up the agenda.”
He was also honoured for standing down when he promised, a deviation from many African presidents who go against their word and extend term limits.
After he retired from office, he undertook the role of elder statesman and campaigned for peace under the United Nations. He was part of the team that negotiated peace in Uganda and South Sudan with the Lord Resistance army as the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General.
He is currently the chairperson of the Joaquim Chissano Foundation and the Forum of Former African Heads of State and Government.