New Internationalist


December 2006
Trygve Bolstad/PANOS
Trygve Bolstad/PANOS

As customers arrive at the capital’s bustling Costa Do Sol fish market, raggedly dressed boys descend, jostling with each other to be the first to sell plastic bags, or their services, which include carrying and scaling fish or guarding cars. Vendors call out ‘Mama, Papa, Irmão, Irma’ (Portuguese for mother, father, brother, sister) to potential buyers of their fresh seafood, including prawns, the country’s main export, and the bartering begins. Prices have rocketed, responding to the demands of the large expatriate community, the increasing numbers of tourists, mainly from South Africa, and the growing Mozambican élite.

Those with money adapt well to the new Mozambique, which over 16 years ago dropped a Marxist/Leninist regime in favour of a free-market economy. The customers’ four-wheeled drive cars are not only for touring one of the world’s most spectacular coastlines, but are needed to cope with the potholes and the chaotic driving in Maputo, the capital.

Maputo is not all chaos, though. It now boasts new luxury hotels, internet cafés, music bars, restaurants and even an ostentatious casino, which has been recently built in a prime spot along the sea front.

Although there are new supermarkets here, since South Africa abolished visas for Mozambicans, many richer Maputo residents drive over the border to shop in Nelspruit. Privileged Mozambicans can also benefit from high-quality healthcare in Nelspruit, including treatment for HIV/AIDS – over 16 per cent of the population aged 15 to 49 is now infected with the virus.

But most Mozambicans do not have such options and live in rural homesteads surviving off subsistence agriculture. Others live in makeshift homes around cities, surviving in the informal sector. Most households are ill-equipped to stand up to the recurrent natural disasters, notably floods and cyclical drought, and to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Despite these challenges, Mozambique has been dubbed the donors’ darling. Donors poured $1.2 billion in aid this year into Mozambique, which is about half the state budget. They appreciate the progress since the 16-year-civil war, which cost the lives of over 100,000 people and left almost half the population dependent on food aid for its survival.

Following the 1992 General Peace Accord between the Government and RENAMO, three multi-party general elections have been held with the ruling FRELIMO party winning each time. A progressive constitution is now in place guaranteeing press freedom and basic human rights.

Mozambique’s economy is growing at an annual average of eight per cent, and fewer people live in abject poverty than in the mid-1990s. The Government has made efforts to decentralize its political and economic structures and improve social services, most notably education. The introduction of free primary schooling has resulted in a dramatic increase in enrolment, though classrooms are mostly dingy and overcrowded – a typical class would contain about 70 children, some sitting on logs or on the ground, and almost half the teachers are unqualified.

Mozambicans have a reputation for tolerance; races and different religions live relatively harmoniously together. On the other hand corruption and organized crime are significant problems that the Government has promised to fight. People have little faith in the police, and their access to the judiciary is poor. Crime waves hit especially as festive seasons approach. People say it is relatively cheap to hire an AK-47 assault rifle or even an assassin in Mozambique.

A renowned Mozambican investigative journalist, Carlos Cardoso, was shot dead in 2000 while investigating a bank scandal. Six people received long prison sentences for his murder following a televised trial, but one of the accused has ‘escaped’ twice. An economist who had been appointed to launch a debt recovery programme at the bank was also killed. A forensic report is currently with the judiciary; what happens to it will be a key test for Mozambique.

Mozambique Fact File
Leader President Armando Guebuza
Economy GNI per capita: $250 (South Africa $3,630, Portugal $14,350).
Monetary unit Metical.
Main exports aluminium, prawns, cotton and sugar. Between 1997 and 2003, the country experienced an average economic growth rate of about 8%. But much of this was attributable to the 22.5% growth in the industrial sector, which was mainly driven by mega projects creating few jobs, benefiting from large tax exemptions and thus having little impact on poverty. Some 70% of the population is involved in agriculture, which is also recovering. Foreign investors are gaining confidence, led by South Africa. For the first time since the war, 2005 saw tourism being the lead sector for investment proposals.
People 19.5 million, of whom 45% are under 15 years old. People per square kilometre 24 (UK 245).
Health Infant mortality 104 per 1,000 live births (South Africa 54, Portugal 4). HIV prevalence rate: 16.1%, the eighth highest in the world. In rural areas, 74% of the population has no access to clean water and 71% no access to adequate sanitation. In urban areas, the situation is only slightly better: 60% and 64% respectively.
Environment Mozambique is attempting to address environmental issues seriously. Early-warning systems have been set up to mitigate effects of natural disasters. Drought and floods are a perennial problem, and this year a powerful earthquake hit Mozambique, measuring 7.5 on Richter scale. Floods in February 2000 were especially devastating with loss of land, infrastructure and hundreds of lives in the southern part of the country. Erosion along the coast is a problem and firewood is in short supply in the drought-prone south.
Culture A variety of African ethnic groups including Makua 47%, Tsonga 23%, Shona 11% and Swahili 9.8%.
Religion Traditional faiths predominate in rural areas, Christianity and Islam in towns. Islam is gaining strength.
Language Portuguese is the official language, but at least 16 different African languages are spoken in the countryside.
Sources World Guide, State of the World’s Children; Human Development Report; Centro de Promoçao de Investimentos.
Mozambique ratings in detail
Income distribution
Despite poverty levels dropping from 69% of the population in 1996/7 to 49% in 2003, the gap between the rich élite and the poor remains wide. A middle class is emerging but is still very small.
Previously reviewed
46%. This represents considerable progress considering that, at independence from Portugal in 1975, over 90% of the population could not read or write. Primary school attendance, now free, rose from 44% in 1999 to 76% in 2004.
Previously reviewed
Life expectancy
42 years, one of the lowest in the world (South Africa 47, Portugal 78). HIV/AIDS threatens to depress it still further.
Previously reviewed
Position of women
The Prime Minister is a woman, the constitution enshrines gender equality and legislation has been passed to support women’s rights. But culturally women’s power in the home is inferior.
Previously reviewed
Progressive constitution that supports freedom, people are allowed to protest and the press can be critical. The police can be brutal, however, and access to legal redress is poor.
Previously reviewed
Sexual minorities
Homosexuality is illegal and punishable by three years’ imprisonment with hard labour. This is still very much a taboo area in Mozambican society.
NI Assessment (Politics)
Traditionalists are now in control, and although the FRELIMO party was freely elected, the opposition is weak and, although becoming stronger, so too is civil society. The Government has a strong anti-corruption stance, but has yet to bring anyone to trial. Progress on public-sector reform is also slow. The ordinary citizen’s access to justice is poor. The Government is making more effort to fight poverty and support agriculture; last year it gave $3,000,000 to each of the 128 districts for investment in small economic activities.

This column was published in the December 2006 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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Country ratings (details)
Income distribution2
Previously reviewed2
Previously reviewed1
Life expectancy1
Previously reviewed1
Position of women3
Previously reviewed3
Previously reviewed3
Sexual minorities2
NI Assessment (Politics)3

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