In the “shadow” of Mozambique’s presidents
As Mozambique’s president, Filipe Nyusi, appears set to secure his second and final term with a large majority of the votes, the fortunes of Celso Correia, a key aide and loyalist, are on the rise. A “young gun” in the ruling Frelimo party, Correia is also a savvy businessman and dealmaker. While in the business sector, he was a close collaborator of Nyusi’s predecessor, Armando Emílio Guebuza.
Current minister of Land, Environment and Rural Development, Correia’s relationship with Nyusi extends to the private sphere, according to our sources. Both are often seen together in social gatherings in Maputo. He has been gaining increasing prominence in the government and Frelimo.
Such is the confidence placed in Correia by Nyusi, that he was given the role of campaign manager in the 15 October general elections, which Frelimo won by a landslide. Provisional results give Frelimo a victory in all provinces and a majority of parliamentary seats. Nyusi leaves the election reinforced, and he has Correia to thank for it.
During the electoral period, Correia served as the main pivot between Frelimo and China, from which most of the party’s campaign material came. His knowledge of party finances and key figures of power is one of his main political strengths.
Even before the elections, Nyusi appointed Correia to manage the relief effort following the two cyclones, Idai and Kenneth, that hit the north of the country earlier this year. In the presidency, Correia is seen as effective, a man who “gets jobs done right.”
Following Frelimo’s resounding victory, Nyusi is now expected to operate a partial renewal of the government – and Correia is expected to have an even more prominent role. He is expected to eventually lead an over-arching ministry, expanding his current portfolio to include Agriculture and Food Security and, possibly, Fisheries as well.
According to our sources, another possible scenario – but less likely given Correia’s relative youth – is his inclusion in the short-list for the future prime minister.
Tchetcho, as he is known, is married and has two daughters. Socially, he is considered extroverted and conversational, as well as especially flamboyant, elusive and unpredictable. With an outgoing personality and confident nature, Correia also has a habit of boasting – his tendency to talk too much about reserved subjects, as a way to impress interlocutors, led this year to the embarrassing disclosure of recordings where he bragged about the control he had over government functions during the administration of then-president Armando Guebuza.
In March, the Attorney General’s Office (PGR) issued indictments for 20 individuals in the hidden debts case, among them Ndambi Guebuza, 42, the second son of the former president. The proceedings of the PGR were triggered following the arrest in South Africa of former Minister Manuel Chang, due to an extradition request from US Justice.
According to the US indictment, Ndambi was one of the “co-conspirators” of the hidden debts, and allegedly received US$33 million in bribes, a commission for having made the connection between Privinvest and his father, who while president, approved the deal and US$2 billion in debt to fund a coastline project that never worked.
In the past, Correia was a close collaborator of Guebuza. Correia, as PCA of Insitec Group, and Salimo Abdula, at Intelec Holdings, acted as trusted men of the then-president, managing companies on behalf of the Guebuza family. He initially approached Guebuza through his mother, who was friends with the man. But, ever since the hidden debts scandal broke out, implicating the former president’s son, he began to dissociate himself from the Guebuzas.
In business, Correia chaired BCI Fomento (controlled by Portuguese banks CGD and BPI) in which Insitec purchased an 18.12% stake in 2007. Insitec was also a shareholder of Cimentos de Moçambique (Cimpor Group), the civil construction company CETA, Casino Polana and the Mphanda Nkuwa hydroelectric project.
In 2010, Insitec started to sink financially due to insufficient financial capacity to meet obligations arising from its latter high-risk investments, supported by bank financing. Some of the group’s holdings were sold or are on sale, as it has virtually no dividends today. BCI did not generate dividends for the shareholder, due to the policy of reinvesting the bank’s profit in the expansion of the commercial retail network and in actions to reinforce equity.
The BCI stake, sold in 2017, was financed by EUR60 million (US$66.65 million) in loans, of which EUR40 million (US$44.43 million) by Portuguese state bank CGD. Holdings in Cimentos de Moçambique and CETA were sold in 2014, before Correia was appointed minister, and the one held in Casino Polana was mortgaged to banks as collateral for the loans. The 40 per cent stake in the Mphanda Nkuwa dam is still held, with the project, approved in 2007, finally kicking off earlier this month. Correia himself chose the Brazilian construction company Camargo Corrêa, also with a 40 per cent stake, on an official state visit by then-President Guebuza to Brazil in 2009.
Because he owes his rise to the Guebuzas, Correia is now seen among the troubled family as a traitor. He was called to politics by Armando Guebuza, elected to the party’s Central Committee at the 10th Congress in October 2012.
At the 2017 Congress, he was among the hard core of Nyusi, along with Raimundo Diomba and Atanásio Mtumuke, who presented themselves as unconditional supporters of the current president. Soon afterwards, Correia was managing Nyusi’s first election campaign. By then, he had approached other Frelimo figures, namely Alberto Chipande, an influential ethnic Maconde general, who tutored the current president for many years.
As Nyusi prepares his next cabinet, Correia is now expected to rise to the highest level of government. In Frelimo, his ambition is put by some as big enough for the presidency, at the end of Nyusi’s next and final term.