Chissano's political transition from foreign minister to president of the country was smooth. Because he was a trusted friend and 'comrade' of the very popular Samora Machel and came out of the Frelimo tradition of mass participatory politics, few challenged him. Chissano, however, presents a very different public personality from Samora Machel. Chissano is witty, soft-spoken, and unassuming while Machel was fiery and flamboyant.
Chissano has presided over a difficult transition involving divisiveness in the People's Assembly that began around the time of the 1994 elections. Some members of the People's Assembly believed that the country should maintain its socialist objectives, while others were pushing for a more capitalistic model. Chissano's phlegmatic style has been well-suited to pragmatic compromises while moving the country towards a new economic agenda and Constitution.
A major challenge to Chissano has been the Mozambican National Resistance Movement (Renamo), which waged a 16-year war (1976–92) against Mozambique's army and its civilian population. Between 1989 and 1992, Chissano negotiated with Renamo and, with major constitutional reforms, convinced Renamo to compete for power via multi-party politics. Implementation of the agreement was sluggish as both sides jockeyed for power.
It was perhaps his success in negotiating with Renamo and the minority white government in South Africa backing Renamo that catapulted Chissano into his leadership role with the Southern African Development Conference (SADC). Chissano chairs the organ on defense and security, which has placed him in a challenging role as mediator in regional conflicts including the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DROC), the recent civil war in Angola, and the contentious Zimbabwe elections of March 2002. Chissano has become known as an outspoken critic of Western leadership's treatment of Africa, and blames the west for "exploiting Africa through unfair trade terms." He has become known by members of his cabinet as the father of Mozambican diplomacy and a man who seeks peace in a dignified manner.