We use cookies for site personalization, analytics and advertising. You can opt out of third party cookies. More info in our privacy policy.   Got it

The New Missionaries


new internationalist
issue 192 - February 1989

Images of helplessness prevail, but some charities now identify the real cause of misery: South Africa.
The new missionaries

Mozambique's economic plight has opened it up to the mercies of
international aid agencies. Some of their programmes respond to what the
country really needs - but many others do not. Joseph Hanlon reports.

When starving Mozambique first appeared on TV screens in late 1983, it was just one more in the line-up of drought-stricken countries in Africa. No one noticed that Mozambique had successfully prevented starvation during a similar drought in 1980, and asked what was different now. No one asked why, when Mozambique had predicted the famine nine months earlier and asked for additional food aid, donations had actually fallen.

These are political questions: not the stuff of shock-horror TV programmes. The answers would have shown that starvation in Mozambique was being caused not by the stupidity or corruption of an African government but by white politicians. The image of white people rushing to help the poor starving blacks would thus have been sabotaged. Better not to ask the awkward political questions.

The real cause of Mozambique's suffering was South Africa, licensed by the United States. Renamo, a puppet force like the Contras in Nicaragua, attacked and destroyed schools, health centers, farms and factories. In 1983 when there was a drought in central Mozambique, South Africa ordered Renamo to burn crops and peasant food stores, to attack trucks carrying food, and to kill people who tried to flee to feeding centres. The drought clearly hurt, but during a similar drought in 1980 Mozambique had fed its people; it was only Renamo's continued social and economic disruption that brought the rural-based Mozambican economy to a halt. According to South African thinking, the starving people would turn their anger against the Mozambican Government.

In January 1983, when the rains failed, Mozambique appealed for extra food aid. But donations dropped. The donors, and even some United Nations agencies, knew that this famine was not a natural disaster but an act of war. Giving food to Mozambique was to choose sides in the war. Mozambique was being pushed against the wall. With starvation looming, Marxist Mozambique made its turn to the West'. The US gave the OK, and food aid flooded in. Items which Mozambique had asked for in January arrived in November. But it was too late. More than 100,000 people had died of hunger.

In the months that followed, Mozambique signed the Nkomati peace accord with South Africa, joined the IMF and the World Bank, and allowed in the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as well as Western non-governmental organizations (NGOs). It was even forced to accept right-wing religious organizations which were openly hostile to the socialist Government.

But South Africa ignored the Nkomati Accord and stepped up its destabilization. Major roads and railways were cut. In 1985 the World Bank estimated that the economic costs of destabilization already exceeded three billion dollars.

Meanwhile, the economy continued to disintegrate. Food production could not begin to cover the basic needs. Export earnings necessary to import essential food and consumer goods dropped from $280 million in 1981 to $80 million in 1986.

By late 1986, Mozambique was almost totally dependent on foreign aid. There were three and a half million Mozambicans facing mass starvation. The Mozambican President asked the United Nations to intervene. An appeal from the UN Secretary-General in February 1987 mobilized the international community which gave close to $340 million - principally as food, logistical support, and health and relief items - all characteristic of traditional emergency programmes.

Throughout 1987 some donors, particularly the US, were still playing both sides as part of their strategy to gain more control and influence over Mozambique. Reagan pushed in his meeting with Mozambique's President Chissano in September 1987 for negotiations with Renamo. Some US aid was going to the Red Cross which was flying it into Renamo-controlled areas.

In the UK throughout 1986 and into 1987, most public appeals stressed natural disaster and refugees: a few spoke of a civil war'. Fearful that they might lose their charitable status, and worried that they might lose charitable donations if they admitted that the starvation was due to conscious policy of a white government rather than the weakness of black people, almost none of the NGOs dared to blame South Africa.

But in late 1987 and early 1988, the mood changed. A second UN-sponsored donors' conference was held in Maputo in April 1988. Whereas the 1987 conference had treated Mozambique as the victim of a natural disaster, and some donors privately questioned the legitimacy of the Mozambique Government's description of the problem, the 1988 conference was much more political. Donor after donor spoke of Renamo and South Africa as being the cause of the problem. The United States Department of State commissioned a report on Mozambican refugees which was released shortly before the conference. Based on interviews with hundreds of Mozambican refugees, the 'Gersony' report exposed the nature of the war in Mozambique.

'.this report provides factual evidence of what so many of us knew in our hearts .that Renamo has been waging a systematic and brutal war of terror against innocent Mozambican civilians through forced labor, starvation, physical abuse and wanton killing... What emerged in Mozambique is one of the most brutal holocausts against ordinary human beings since World War II and the supporters of Renamo, wherever they may be, cannot wash the blood from their hands unless all support for this unconscionable violence is stopped.'

Roy Stacey, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, speaking at the Maputo donors' conference, April 1988.

This changing mood inevitably led to a more open discussion of military support. Until mid-1987, most donors had argued that security issues be kept separate from considerations of relief and development. Since Renamo's strategy is to attack economic installations and food convoys, donors argued that development projects should be delayed until the war was over. And it led some emergency donors to say that Mozambique did not need as much food aid as claimed, because it was unable to deliver it in insecure areas.

In mid-1987 Sweden circulated a paper pointing to the nonsense of this. Economic development was important to ending the war, and development projects should be protected against South African terrorism. Rather than giving less food, donors should provide armoured cars to protect food convoys from MNR attacks.

'.The case for non-lethal security assistance is a compelling one and I am convinced that those governments genuinely committed to assisting Mozambique can no longer escape facing up to it. While it is politically easier to continue to provide emergency relief to deal with the consequences of banditry and insecurity, it is not fundamentally logical to do so when the same or even lesser resources devoted to security assistance could have a much greater and more immediate impact in human as well as economic terms.'

From a report by Maurice Strong, former executive Director of the UN Office for Emergency Assistance to Africa, commissioned by the Swedish Government to review emergency needs in Mozambique, August 1987.

In December 1987, Jacinto Veluso, the Mozambican Minister of Cooperation officially called on the donor community to support the military protection of emergency distribution and development projects. In asking for non-lethal military assistance (armoured trucks, communications equipment, medical supplies, food rations and uniforms) at a year-end evaluation of the emergency programme with the Maputo diplomatic corps, Mozambique set the emergency programme within the politico-military realities of the region and pushed donors to commit themselves to protect their 'humanitarian' investments.

The European Community (EEC), Canada, France, Italy, and Sweden all offered support for the protection of relief and development programmes. The UK, Spain, and Portugal are training Mozambican troops and giving logistical support. At least five donors have responded to the request for protection-vehicles and other principal Western donors have unofficially given assistance. It is a small step - only the socialist bloc is providing significant military help to oppose South Africa. Nevertheless, it is useful in both practical and political terms.

Mozambique does recognize however that long-term dependency on emergency assistance can lead to serious social and economic distortion. To avoid this possibility, it calls for relief, rehabilitation and development to be linked. At least six million people - 40 per cent of the population - are dependent on food donated through the emergency programme. But there is a danger that this will depress the local economy. Mozambique's approach to this problem is to reduce free distribution as much as possible. Of the 710,000 tons of cereals in the 1988 appeal only 200,000 are targeted for free distribution to those families who are internal refugees and must receive support until they can plant and harvest in their new community. The rest will go through the market system. In urban areas it is sold through a food rationing system, and in the smaller towns and villages a network of local shopkeepers sell to those not eligible for free distribution.

The interaction of war, aid, and the adoption of an IMF restructuring programme is having bizarre effects. Donors, particularly the United States which is the largest food donor, require that Mozambique pay in local currency what the donors consider to be the full value of donated food - a price much higher than the one Mozambique would have to pay if it were buying on the world market (though it has the advantage that hard- currency is not needed). And it is not possible to sell this locally at reduced prices. Basic food items had previously been substantially subsidized by the Government in order to guarantee minimal nutritional standards, but IMF constraints now mean Mozambique cannot do this. So the urban poor pay inflated prices for donated food. The IMF wants more devaluations, and with each devaluation, the price of donated food rises.

This has two effects. Hunger and malnutrition are rising rapidly in the cities; one-third of children in Maputo now show signs of under nourishment, even though food is available in local shops. And people are spending such a large part of their income on food that they have no money for clothing or consumer goods. This reduction in buying power means that far from stimulating the economy, economic restructuring is causing a recession.

Moreover, food aid is basically donors giving their surplus - not responding to needs. So the foods may not be those which Mozambique require most. For example, Mozambique has received very little sugar, an essential source of energy for poor people. To offer sugar as aid donor nations must purchase it, or give Mozambique the money to buy it.

Mozambique is a vast country, the size of Britain and France combined, yet has only 15 million people. Moving one million tonnes of aid involves a complex network of boats, trains, and trucks. This food chain is long, expensive, and difficult to manage. Donors are providing some help, but it is not enough.

Provincial emergency authorities often have food in their warehouses that they cannot get to those in most severe need. There are two reasons for this. First, donors have proved so reluctant to make contributions for trucks, port rehabilitation, coastal transport, and road and bridge repair that infrastructural weaknesses now threaten the delivery of donated food. In some areas food must be airlifted because bridges have been destroyed by Renamo. Donors are willing to pay the much higher cost of an airlift, because that is considered as an emergency operation, but will not pay for the cheaper bridge repair because that is considered to be 'development' - development money comes from a different budget and will take several years to approve.

Second, donors do not pay local transport costs. The Mozambican emergency agency has insufficient trucks of its own, and does not have the money to hire a barge, pay rail fees, or use a private hauler.

Arturo Hein, then United Nations Special Coordinator of Emergency Relief Operations in Mozambique, told reporters in Maputo in August 1988 that 'our concept of emergency aid is not just giving food to people, but giving them the possibility to participate fully in the social and economic life of the country'. Though the bilateral donors have endorsed the approach of linking rehabilitation projects to the emergency programme, the response is lagging in some areas. For example, the programme to provide seeds and tools for the displaced families to move towards self-sufficiency and be less dependent on food aid was finally fully supported only one month before the start of the planting season after repeated pleas by the Mozambique Government Emergency Co-ordinator, Dr Prakash Ratilal, and the UN Special Coordinator.

'... We cannot become accustomed to living off handouts ... Mozambique cannot be transformed into a country of displaced people living in relief centers and eating food from abroad...'

 President Joachim Alberto Chissano, speech to the People's Assembly, 17 December 1987

There is an added danger that such donations might compete with local production, and thus work against the intended effect of the economic restructuring programme. Local businesspeople are increasingly critical of large-scale importation by donors of goods which are produced locally, such as ploughs, hoes, buckets, cloth, and blankets.

In 1988 there were 21 countries, two regional organizations (the EEC and the Organization of African Unity), seven UN agencies and 35 NGOs directly supporting the emergency appeal. Another 50 NGOs are involved in some sort of development projects. Most have had a major presence only since destabilization reduced Mozambique to begging for help.

South African state terrorism has destroyed the rural health and education network and prevented peasants from growing their own food. The donors arrive saying that since Mozambique is unable to feed and take care of its people, they must do it. Some openly say that the Mozambique Government does not want to help its own people, conveniently forgetting what the Government had done before destabilization became so serious. Others say it is all the fault of socialism and they try to promote capitalism and the free market. Most stress Mozambique's inability to cope, and then dispense their aid in ways that make it difficult for Mozambique ever to regain the ability to cope.

It is curious how destabilization benefits both South Africa and the donors - how both are pleased to see the classic pictures of a white nurse helping a starving black baby. South Africa is pleased to see all this help coming to Mozambique, because it seems to demonstrate to the world that apartheid is necessary, and that a nonracial government can only survive on the charity of white governments. For many donors, destabilization was the entry ticket - Mozambique did not want or need them before. Now they can recolonize Mozambique and force it to accept new and inappropriate policies. The new missionaries can come in and dispense charity, preaching the gospels for God and capitalism as they did nearly a hundred years ago. And everyone is happy to blame the victims.

Joseph Hanlon was a journalist for five years in Mozambique, and is the author of the forthcoming book on aid: Mozambique: Who Calls the Shots (to be published by James Currey, London).

Worth reading on... MOZAMBIQUE

Joseph Hanlon is probably the most prolific writer on Mozambique. Apartheid's Second Front - South Africa's War Against Its Neighbours (Penguin, London, 1986) is a good, easy place to start. This is actually a shortened version of his Beggar My Neighbours: Apartheid Power in Southern Africa, (CIIR/Indiana. 1988) which explains in detail what destabilization is about. Mozambique: Revolution Under Fire (Zed Books. London, 1984) provides a deeper view of the country, while Hanlon's forthcoming book Mozambique: Who calls the shots (James Currey. 1989) tackles the issue of foreign aid.

For a simpler read try Derrick Knight's Caught in the Trap (Christian Aid 1988) which is short vivid and concise. It admirably fulfills its development education aims. Cry for Peace (Oxfam, 1987) by Julian Quan serves a similar function.

Mozambican writer Lina Magaia's Dumba Nengue: Run for Your Life. Peasant Tales of Tragedy in Mozambique (Africa World Press, New Jersey. 1988) illustrates, through a series of somewhat sketchy tales, what it is like on the front line of Mozambique's war.


Africa Information Centre,
c/o CORSO, P0 Box 9716, Wellington.

Australia Mozambique Association
P0 Box 93, Fitzroy 3085, Victoria.

Toronto Committee for the Liberation of Southern Africa,
427 Boor Street West. Toronto, Ontario M5S 1X7.
Publishes a good magazine on the region: Southern Africa Reports.

Mozambique Angola Committee,

P0 Box 839, London NW1 TEP.
Produces newsletter, organizes conferences.

Anti-Apartheid Movement,
13 Mandela Street, London NW1 00W.

Mozambique Support Network
343 South Dearborn, Rm 601,
Chicago, Illinois 60604.



Community Aid Abroad (CAA).
156 George Street, Fitzroy, Victoria 3065.
Food and agriculture programmes.

Cooperation Canada-Mozambique (COCAMO),

1 Nicholas St. Suite 300, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 7B7,
Integrated programme, involving 19 NGOs. Distributes excellent education kit.

274 Banbury Road. Oxford 0X2 7DZ.
Emergency and long-term programme in Mozambique, Good educational materials.

Save the Children Fund,
Mary Datchelor House, 17 Grove Lane, London SE5 8RD.
Well established programme in Mozambique. Focus on children, transport.

Christian Aid,
P0 Box 100, London SE1 7RT.
Education, campaign materials and project partnership in Mozambique.

War on Want,
37-39 Greet Guildford Street, London SE1 0ES.
Strong focus on campaign/education work in the UK.

Oxfam America,

115 Broadway, Boston, Mass 02116
Seeds and tools programme.



Development Education Trust,

P0 Box 1905.
Christchurch. Books - and videos.

Mozambique Information Centre (CIDMA)
1265 Rue Berri Suite 290. Montreal PQ H2L 4C6.

Mozambique Information Agency
P0 Box 898, Maputo,
Produces monthly bulletin in English.

BIP - Public Information,
Ministry of Information, Maputo.
Booklets in English and Portuguese.

Mozambique Information Office,

7a Caledonian Road, London NI 9DX.
Regular news reviews.

Africa Centre,
38 King Street, London WO2E 8JT.
Talks films, exhibitions, books.

Catholic Institute for International Relations, (CIIR).
22 Coleman Fields. London NI 7AF
Produces booklets.

previous page choose a different magazine go to the contents page go to the NI home page next page


Help us produce more like this

Editor Portrait Patreon is a platform that enables us to offer more to our readership. With a new podcast, eBooks, tote bags and magazine subscriptions on offer, as well as early access to video and articles, we’re very excited about our Patreon! If you’re not on board yet then check it out here.

Support us »

Subscribe   Ethical Shop