African eminent statesman: Chissano

On 22nd October this year, Joachim Chissano celebrated HIS 68TH birthday, at the same day; he got announced as the winner of the inaugural Mo Ibrahim prize for excellence in leadership.
ACHIEVER: Chissano holding the Mo Ibrahim award for his achievements in African Leadership.
ACHIEVER: Chissano holding the Mo Ibrahim award for his achievements in African Leadership.

On 22nd October this year, Joachim Chissano celebrated HIS 68TH birthday, at the same day; he got announced as the winner of the inaugural Mo Ibrahim prize for excellence in leadership.

Chissano had earlier on been listed as a front runner for the 5 million dollar prize alongside, other retired leaders Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, Domitiene Ndayizeye of Burundi, and Sam Nujoma of Namibia. Chissano is credited for bringing peace to Mozambique during his 19 year administration.

Rwanda in the same awards merged the most improved African nation.

Early life and beginnings

Joachim Alberto Chissano was born on 22nd October 1939 in a remote village of Malaheci, Chibuto district Gaza province in southern Mozambique which at the time was a Portuguese colony. At that time Mozambique was known as Portuguese East Africa.

He became the first black student admitted at Liceu Salazar, and while completing his secondary education became a member and subsequently leader of the African Secondary School students Organisation in Mozambique (NESAM).

After secondary school he went to Portugal where he studied Medicine at the Faculty of medicine of the University of Lisbon. But because of his political activism, he abruptly ended his studies and fled to Tanzania through France.

Struggle for independence

During the struggle for Mozambican independence, Chissano represented Frelimo, the anti Portuguese Mozambican liberation movement in France during the 1960s. He was then known as a soft spoken diplomat who worked to reconcile the different radical and moderate factions of Frelimo.

He went on to fight in the Mozambican war of independence and by the time Mozambique obtained independence in 1975 as a result of the struggle, he had risen to the rank of Major General. Mozambican independence leader Samora Machel appointed him foreign minister, a position he held for eleven years.


Chissano became president in 1986 following the death of Samora Machel in a plane crash in the mountainous terrain of South Africa. As president, he had to deal with the anti communist rebels of Renamo of Afonso Dlakama. He convinced the rebel group to put down their arms and after a series of negotiations RENAMO became a regular political party.

He won multi party elections in 1994 and in 1999 defeating RENAMO leader Afonso Dlakama by 53.3% to 47.7%. From July 2003 to July 2004 Chissano served as chairperson of the African union.

Chissano chose not to run for a third term despite the constitution allowing him and his party.  Frelimo selected Armando Guebuza as his successor. He left office in February 2005. His decision not to seek a third term in office was noted by former UN secretary General Kofi Annan while announcing his prize in the following words.
“His decision not to seek a third term in office reinforced Mozambique’s democratic maturity and demonstrated that institutions and the democratization processes were more important than personalities”.


After retirement Chissano was appointed by the UN secretary general Kofi Annan as the special envoy to Northern Uganda and southern Sudan in an effort to bring about a comprehensive solution to the ongoing conflict with the Lords Resistance Army of Joseph Kony. Chissano also heads the Joachim Chissano Foundation.

Chissano’s time line

1939: Born with the traditional name Dambuza in Chibuto district, Gaza province of Southern Mozambique to a wealthy family.

1959-60: Becomes President of the nucleus of African secondary school students of Mozambique.

1960: Attends medical school in Portugal. He later flees Portugal to co-found Frelimo then led by Dr.Eduardo Mondlane with bases in Tanzania.

1962: Co founds Frelimo becoming the secretary to the movement president Dr. Eduardo Mondlane.

1964: Joins Frelimos armed struggle against Portuguese colonialists.

1968-74: Served as Frelimo representative in Tanzania

1974: He played a crucial role in the Lusaka negotiations between the Frelimo and the Portuguese government which led to the independence of Mozambique.

1975: Mozambique gains independence from Portugal. Mondlanes Successor Samora Machel becomes president and appoints Chissano Foreign minister and Prime minister

Positions he held for eleven years.

1977: Becomes member of the people’s assembly of Mozambique.

1980: Attains the rank of Major General in the Mozambican armed forces.

1986: Becomes Mozambican president after the death of President Samora Machel in a plane crash over South Africa. He is elected President and commander in chief by the central committee of Frelimo.

1990: Oversaw Mozambique adopt a draft constitution that introduces multi party politic in the country.

1992: Leads his government into signing the united nations brokered peace agreement with RENAMO (Mozambique National Resistance Movement) that was at the time backed by apartheid South Africa.

1994: Wins his country’s first multi party elections defeating Afonso Dlakama

1999: Presidential and parliamentary elections are held simultaneously and he is returned to power with 53.7%. International observers noted some logistical problems with the polls but declared the elections free and fair. How ever Renamo disputes the results.

2000: RENAMO ends its boycott of parliament, drops its threat of forming a parallel government and recognizes Chissano as the legitimate President.

2001: In December 2001 Chissano announced that he would not seek a third term in office

2005: He left office in February 2005 after the election of Armando Guebuza as his successor.

2006: In October 2006 the Mo Ibrahim foundation of media tycoon Mo Ibrahim launched the African initiative to strengthen governance in Africa.
 He is also appointed by the former secretary general Kofi Annan as the special representative of the Secretary General to northern Uganda and southern Sudan.

2007: Wins the inaugural Mo Ibrahim cash prize of $5 million for achievement in African leadership awrded by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and given to a former African leader who has shown good governance. The prize is intended to be awarded annually by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation; the prize of five million dollars is spread over the course of ten years.