February 5, 2005


Maputo: an African 'success story' but 80 per cent still live in slums (Duncan Campbell, February 2, 2005, The Guardian)

To the international community, Mozambique is a desperately needed African success story. Thanks to three successfully run elections, the government's well-managed budgets and a drop in poverty levels (from 70% living on 50p a day to 55% in the past five years) it was an essential stopping-off point for Gordon Brown on his recent African trip. Britain has pumped in aid - it is now the fifth-biggest donor - and Mozambique has benefited from the international debt relief process set up in the late 90s: debt payments have dropped from £53m to £30m since 2002. It is now held up as a model of what aid, debt relief and good governance can achieve.

"Without a doubt, Mozambique is a success story," says Michael Baxter, the World Bank representative in Maputo. "A success both in terms of growth but also as a model for other countries as to how to get the best possible out of donor interest."

Some of the changes are obvious in Maputo, one of Africa's most vibrant and welcoming of cities. There are new buildings and internet cafes. Tourism is flourishing: Prince Harry is just one of many to have sampled the unspoiled beaches, the diving and the mighty tiger prawns. The streets, such as Vladimir Lenin Avenue, may still bear the names of communist leaders in a nod to the city's radical past, but flashy new cars zip along on their way to the air-conditioned Polana shopping centre or Mundo's sports bar, which has a sprinkler to keep its customers cool as they sip their Laurentina beers. When their owners park these cars, however, the contrast between the two Maputos becomes apparent as a crowd of anxious young men compete to "look after" the car or clean it in exchange for a few hundred meticals - just a few pence.

As well as being a novelist, Mia Couto is a biologist, ecology lecturer, newspaper commentator and occasional writer of lyrics for Ghorwane. He has watched the culture of Maputo change dramatically: "I am happy that we were able to create stability, democratic conditions, and that people can openly criticise the government and that there are a lot of different newspapers in Maputo, which is not so common everywhere in the world," he says.

"Building peace was not easy and we did it and that gave us reasons to be proud and I am proud. But I am not very proud of the other reasons that people are pointing at Mozambique and saying we are a good example of a market economy. I am really worried about these easy, quick-fix solutions for very complex problems. I don't think the future for the country is very visible at the moment. There is a conflict between two types of capitalist options: one is productive capitalism, the other speculative. Anything could happen."

It is not just the fact that there is still a huge amount of desperate poverty to tackle that prompts the unease quickly apparent in most conversations in Maputo; it is that there is a high price for playing the game by the rules set in the western capitals that adjudicate on debt and aid. For example, it was World Bank strictures on the deregulation of the cashew industry that led to 90% of the workforce in this major export industry losing their jobs in the early 90s. There are many complaints, too, about the vast subsidies paid to western farmers, many times more than that given in aid, which makes it hard for Mozambicans to compete. There are also some deeply corrosive side effects of Maputo's boom. The stark inequality evident on the capital's streets has pushed corruption and street crime to the top of the political agenda in the recent elections.

Mozambique, for all its energy and openness, is still desperately poor and embattled. Only the next few years will determine whether Maputo is indeed a beacon for Africa or a flickering candle. [...]

"What we need is a vision," says Erik Charas, the 30-something investments director of the Foundation for Community Development - an organisation set up by Graca Machel, the widow of Samora and now married to Nelson Mandela. "Fifty years ago, we had Julius Nyerere, Kwame Nkrumah and Nelson Mandela and they had a vision to free Africa from colonialism," he says. "People said then - 'They are youngsters. What do they know? Colonialism is a humungous beast you will never defeat.' It looks as though they had a clearer struggle than we have, but that is only because it seems clear looking back. Now we are taking over the torch.

"What we need now is a vision of Africa in the future."

The problem, of course, it that the only viable vision must be borrowed back from the West.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 5, 2005 6:46 AM

"The mighty tiger prawns"?

Next, they'll have Little League.

Colonialism may have been a 'humungous beast', but it would up subsumed into outright barbarism in probably 15 countries across Africa. Even South Africa is heading in the wrong direction today. The US would do well to kill Mugabe and a few hundred of his goons NOW. It would give the continent a nudge in the ribs.

Posted by: ratbert at February 5, 2005 10:02 AM

Colonial rule was one massive exploitative enterprise and the reintroduction of colonialism would only give the Mugabes of Africa a big, juicy scapegoat.

The only thing that can help Africa is the introduction of the rule of law and that must be done by the Africans themselves. Costa Rica, Chile and Singapore would be far more helpful here than the US or UK. Then, we could institute a large scale program of mini-lending so that small businesspeople can build stuff. When we lend to African governments we should just wire the money into Swiss banks to save time.

Posted by: Bart at February 5, 2005 11:17 AM

The wife and I visited Maputo - then known as Lourenco Marques (don't have a cedilla thingy) - back in 1971 when the Portuguese ran things. Beautiful city with wide streets bordered with jacaranda.

The Polana Hotel was one of the best I've ever stayed at.

If you haven't had a 2M beer - dos M - you haven't had beer. And, the prawns are great. It's good to know that all of Africa isn't a basket case.

Posted by: John J. Coupal at February 5, 2005 11:25 AM