Country Profile

Country profile: Mozambique

Where is Mozambique? Across the bay from Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, is a stretch of coastline known as Catembe. It was here that the colonial Portuguese had their beach houses and spent their weekends in the sun. During the civil war the fighting reached Catembe and the residents of Maputo would sit in their apartments watching Frelimo and Renamo, government and rebels respectively, battle it out.

Although Catembe is less than ten minutes away from Maputo by ferry, it is a different world. The locals live largely off the land and sea and the occasional tourist nostalgic for prawns. Doors are never locked and the security industry, which is thriving in Maputo, is non-existent.

‘Here it is good,’ said one local, looking across the water to Maputo. ‘There it is bad – the people must go home now.’

This illustrates one of the biggest problems in Mozambique. During the war huge tracts of land were laid with mines. This and a devastating drought resulted in refugees pouring into the cities. Maputo has an estimated population of two million, the vast majority clustered around the city in mud and grass huts. Everyone agrees that the city cannot support these numbers but people have adopted an attitude of ‘better the devil you know’ and stayed on. As a result while Mozambique’s economy depends on agriculture, today millions of hectares of extremely fertile land are lying fallow. To add to this major economic problem, what little industry was left after the Portuguese departed was killed off by the Frelimo Government’s hopelessly mismanaged Marxist policies.

But times have changed. The 1992 peace accord and the 1994 election went off as smoothly as anyone could have hoped. Frelimo is still in power but these days it has different priorities. And through careful planning and marketing, the economy is slowly picking up.

The three major cities of Maputo, Beira and Nampula are all humming with construction work, and foreigners are filling the luxury hotels, eyeing up potential business. The Frelimo Government has cut out almost all the excruciatingly slow red tape involved in investing in the country and is welcoming anyone with a lucrative proposal. Some observers are worried the Government is being over-zealous and inviting people who are more interested in milking the country than in feeding it.

South Africa played a major part in destabilizing the country in the 1980s by supplying arms to the rebel Renamo movement. Now, in its post-apartheid form, it is seen as Mozambique’s hope for economic rebirth. Most of the foreign companies, including a plethora of tourism operators, are owned by South Africans and many management positions are filled by them too. Given time and economic uplift, the more astute will begin to question the intelligence of South African ‘economic colonization’. And plenty of problems require urgent attention if the country is to rebuild – among them extreme poverty, lack of education, the minute middle class and a high level of corruption in the bureaucracy.

But for the moment people are revelling in the peace and relative economic expansion. Mozambique is still very near the bottom of the international pile in terms of wealth, but there is an unmistakable optimism on the streets. Its citizens are prepared to forgive the past and prepare for the future.

Nico Zaverdinos


LEADER: Joaquim Chissano of Frelimo (Frente de Libertacao de Moçambique)

ECONOMY: GNP per capita just $90 – the lowest in the world (South Africa $2,980).
Monetary unit: Metical
Main exports: Prawns (46%), cashew nuts (15%), petroleum products (13%).
Main imports: Machinery and equipment (38%), food and consumer goods (37%), raw materials (17%)
External debt: $5.26 billion (1993)
Natural gas has been discovered and oil prospectors believe there is a major field in the country. Mineral resources waiting to be exploited include iron, graphite, fluorites and bauxite. Tourism, which was a major income source under the Portuguese, is a small but thriving industry. Many state-owned businesses have been privatized.

PEOPLE: 15.5 million. Population growth rate 1.8% per year, one of the lowest in the developing world.

HEALTH: Infant mortality 161 per 1,000 live births (Canada 6 per 1,000).

CULTURE: The variety of ethnic groups are mainly of Bantu origin. Tsongu and Changone dominate in the south; Sera and Macondo in the north-east. There are also European and Asian minorities.
Religion: Rural people practise traditional animism but Christianity and Islam dominate in the towns. Islam is strongest in the north.
Languages: Portuguese is the official language but most people speak Bantu languages such as Swahili and Macoa-Lomne.

Sources The World: A Third World Guide 1995/96; State of the World’s Children 1996, UNICEF; The World of Information Africa Review 1996.

Previously profiled May 1981.


[image, unknown] INCOME DISTRIBUTION [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Widespread poverty with an élite high-income group. Small middle class.
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[image, unknown] LITERACY [image, unknown]
Estimated at 17%. Practical education (including basic literacy) and health are listed as top priorities by the Government.
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[image, unknown] SELF-RELIANCE [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Very dependent on foreign aid but trying to create a homespun economy. Looking to South Africa and Northern countries for investment.
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[image, unknown] FREEDOM [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Constitutionally enshrined but in reality there is still police brutality and protests are not exactly welcomed. Free and spirited media.
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[image, unknown] POSITION OF WOMEN [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
The constitution enshrines women’s rights and women are well represented in government. But they are still treated as inferior.
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[image, unknown] LIFE EXPECTANCY [image, unknown]
At 46 years, the sixth- lowest in the world.
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[image, unknown] NI ASSESSMENT [image, unknown] [image, unknown] [image, unknown]
Despite corruption, poverty and a militant opposition, the Frelimo Government is pulling Mozambique out of its tailspin. Frelimo has to walk the tightrope between foreign investment and economic imperialism, but the economy is likely to grow fast. Freedom and democracy are heavily defended by the urban population.

NI star rating

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©Copyright: New Internationalist 1996