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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.

Fact file

Monetary unit
Main exports
Human Development Index
Last profiled June 1996

At a glance

Country profile: Star rating: 

  • Income distribution
  • Life expectancy
  • Position of women
  • Freedom
  • Literacy
  • Sexual minorities
  • NI Assessment (Politics)