In 2002, Mozambique has a population of 19.4 million people, with a growth rate of 1.3% per annum, and with about 61% of the population living rurally The capital is Maputo. There are 16 main ethnic groups, with the most numerous being the Makua, about 25% of the population. About 30% of the population are Christian, with 15% Muslim and 55% indigenous beliefs.

The country is just under twice the size of California in area, with a beautiful 2500 km long coastline. The culture is a dynamic mixture of African, Arabic and Portuguese, and is gradually becoming more vibrant, allowing the Country to become a good tourist destination. Central Mozambique is dominated by the Zambezi River Valley and the delta plains, although many mountains ranges exist – Mt. Binga is the Country’s highest, at 2436m.

Mozambique became independent of Portugal in 1975, after years of fighting, with rule handed over to Frelimo, a socialist organization. Unfortunately the program, which included barefoot style Maoist doctors (according to the Lonely Planet Guide) was unsuccessful, and by 1983 the country was essentially bankrupt. At this point Renamo appeared, with backing from Zimbabwe and South Africa. This led to 17 years of bloody war, with land mines still around – although in many ways the battle was between internal Frelimo forces and externally driven Renamo forces, rather than a “straight forward” civil war. In 1990 a ceasefire was arranged, and in 1992 the UN brokered a successful disarmament campaign. 1994 saw the first multiparty elections, with Renamo taking a solid 38% versus Frelimo’s 44%. Further elections in 1999 put the parties about equal – but unfairness appeared in this election, unlike the first one which was praised by outside observers.

In the previous ten years, the Country has pursed market-driven reforms, and has been one of Sub-Saharan Africa’s fastest growing economies. Inflation fell from 50% in the early 90’s to about 1 % in 1999. Unfortunately terrible flooding affecting things adversely in 2000, driving inflation to 11.4% – although this should have recovered quite well today . Despite the progress, though, GNP per capita is only US$220, and GDP is US$1000 on a parity purchasing power basis. Exports are at US$400 mm, whilst imports are US$1.4 billion. Mozambique receives over US$1 billion foreign aid annually. Agriculture accounts for 25% of Mozambique’s GDP, with fishing accounting for 40% of the Country’s merchandise exports, especially prawns. Hydroelectricity is a major export earner.

Infant mortality was 127 per 1000 live births (one of the worst in the world), with an average of just under 5 children born to each woman. Immunization rates are generally over 80% for 1 year old children. Maternal mortality is an astonishing 1100 per 100,000 live births – again one of the worst levels in the world. Outside of Africa, only Afghanistan is worse, at 1700 per 100,000. Access to safe drinking water is 60% across the country. Male literacy is 55%, and 23% for women. (UNICEF data)

The total death rate from all causes (24.2 per 1000 people per year) put Mozambique at 3rd place on the world’s worst league table. Life expectancy for men is 37 years old and women is 36, which places Mozambique at the bottom of Microsoft Encarta’s 190 countries.

In 1999, AIDS related deaths in Mozambique were estimated at 98,000. In 1998, 11% of pregnant women in urban areas tested positive for HIV. Today, the estimate is that about 1,200,000 people are living with HIV / AIDS, over 13% of the population. There are about 248,000 children under 15 still alive who have been orphaned by AIDS.

Arrival in Maputo

As we were flying in from South Africa, the vast span of the Indian Ocean beckoned. On final approach we could see a marked contrast in the scenery and urban landscape. Maputo looked like a seaside resort town, with many white buildings, apartment blocks and neat streets.

We managed to arrive at the airport at the same time as another large plane – which meant a few silly moments in the passport lines. Still, out we went. The drive into town was already instructive – busy markets, broad avenues with shady trees, lots of quite smart looking cars on the road, and signs of economic progress almost everywhere. It reminded some of us of Hanoi. Yet there were bars on almost every window, and secure walls around the better houses. We could also see little in the way of “street education” on HIV / Aids, as we had seen in Malawi. By contrast we did see more than one radar speeding trap!

We’d heard that the Government was not in denial, but that they were also not fully on the program to fight the disease. As it turned out, first impressions proved to be correct.

Driving in town

Having quickly established ourselves at the Cardoso Hotel – a stylish, Portuguese influenced “grand hotel” overlooking Maputo’s waterfront – we met the Save the Children people for lunch. John Mitchell is the newly appointed Field Office Director, very ably helped by Peter Nkhonjera, Deputy Director, who hailed originally from Malawi and who has many years of field experience. Lunch was planned at a waterfront seafood restaurant. I mention this as Maputo is becoming a tourist / “escape” destination – especially for South Africans and for the Portuguese. Also, of course given his marriage to Ms. Graca Machel, who is Mozambican, Nelson Mandela has a house here. The restaurant was bustling, with black and white mixed in a stylish swirl of colour.

Maputo is a city of contrast

As we drove through town, we were told many of the apartment blocks had no running water on the top floor, and we saw more than a few street children in the stylish avenues and around the garbage dumps. After the Civil War, the Government had nationalized everything – and then later sold off apartments relatively cheaply. Services were not always included. There is also a very famous monument to Colonialist anger. This was the large, unfinished building by the water, which had the elevator and service shafts all filled with concrete by the retreating Portuguese, to render the facility unusable after independence.

Sisters of Charity

And we came across another set of contrasts when we visited the Sisters of Charity. This is the Catholic order founded by Mother Theresa. They have been active in Mozambique for a long time. In Maputo they have built a beautiful new orphanage and clinic, in the poorest part of town. Save the Children has no connection with the project (a point driven home by the Sister in charge), but we still wanted to visit to get a fuller overview of what was going on to help children.

The Sister was originally from Spain, and spoke excellent English. She showed us around the facility, which had been completed only in the last few years. Major donors included the EU and Spanish groups. The brilliant white orphanage was stylish outside, and spotless inside, and the children all well cared for. When we were visiting it was the children’s singing break. It was hard to resist their desire to play “peek a boo” and to be held and hugged. Still, it was a bit unclear what happened to the children after age 6, which when they were returned to their communities (unless they were HIV positive, in which case the Sisters took care of them). The clinic was not very full as yet, but again was immaculate.

Stand-alone orphanages clearly have a role to play in this African tragedy. That said, whilst we could only admire the Sister’s work, as in Malawi we also felt that community based care is preferable if at all achievable. Somehow the paradox was highlighted by the high walls and closed doors around the complex. This security was simultaneously sheltering the facility from the surrounding shanty town, whilst serving to highlight it as a symbol of strength.

Back the the Hotel, we met with many of the other NGO’s in town, and several Government representatives. It is always interesting and inspiring to meet people who dedicate their lives to looking out for others. That evening we were treated to a dramatic sunset over the bay, a perfect end to a challenging day.

Day 1 – Mozambique

Day 2 – Xai Xai

Day 3 & 4 – Maputo

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *