Dedicated to practices of good governance and peaceful conflict resolution, Joaquim Chissano put his words into action while serving as the second president of Mozambique from 1986 to 2005. He is credited with leading the country’s transformation from a war-torn nation into one of Africa’s most successful, mature democracies and was awarded the first ever Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership in 2007. In an exclusive interview with Upper Reach, Mr. Chissano discusses key factors in Mozambique’s hard-fought reconciliation, the strength of unity now evident in the country and the resounding determination for its continued stability and development.
We usually start the interviews asking about the future, but in this case, I would like to start talking about the past, to get a different perspective that only a person like you can bring to the table. When we talk about Mozambique and the time when you came into power, it is very comparable to the China of Deng Xiaoping. I put it on a parallel with the passing away of Mao Zedong and then Deng Xiaoping coming into power and taking a very pragmatic view of the economy and politics, in a way comparable to you succeeding Samora Machel. In both cases, stepping into the shoes of historical leaders, I am sure, was not an easy task. Nevertheless, you managed to create not only a figure to replace such a strong statesman, but you also created your own style of doing politics and bringing peace. In this context, what were those priorities that you needed to set at the beginning of your presidency? What were the things that made you really choose where the country should be heading at that decisive moment in history?
Well, it was difficult to succeed President Samora Machel. He was a visionary. Samora Machel was a man of strong convictions. He would do his experiments right to the end, but he was, at the same time, as pragmatic as anybody else whom we may call “pragmatic”. He could adapt to the circumstances, to the changes. We can just cite a few examples here that show that Samora Machel believed in the quick development of Mozambique. He was basing our development process on what appeared to be a balance of powers in the world and where we could, then, source our strength from our allies – those who helped us to become independent.
Many times, we speak about socialist countries in terms of the Warsaw pact and so on, and sometimes we forget the Nordic countries, the Scandinavians, Dutch and Finns who helped us to achieve independence. We were counting on them and the new forces that we have so far succeeded to mobilise with the strong power of support we got from civil societies in countries whose states were actually against us: Britain, France, Italy, Spain. But, there, we were gaining new forces inside. So, taking all of this in this context, it gave us the assurance that we were able to overcome some hurdles. We would have a quicker construction of the country, and then we would pass to the development process immediately after that. This was the thinking that he (Samora Machel) had in 1975, when we became independent. We started to work in that direction.
In 1979, four years later, we were seeing that our economy was changing drastically – going up. Of course, its social sector, first of all, the education system and the health system, were being cited as an example of the development in social areas. So, education and especially health, were looking as something of a success. Agriculture was also coming up very well.
So, we reached the year of 1980, and that is when the weaknesses appeared very clearly. President Samora Machel saw that we could not rely only on those strengths of the past. First, he changed the perception in the country that the government could take care of everything – industry, trade, agriculture, and so on. So, he changed, and he started calling for liberalisation himself.
You know that this country was abandoned by the settlers. They were not chased away, but they ran away, in such a way that we had to manage even the small businesses. Shops in rural areas had no owners. Their owners were outside. The President decided to give some time for the people to come back and run their businesses, or else they would be run by the state. But in 1980 he said that the state cannot take care of small shops. So that is the change of someone who is pragmatic. He said, “Well, yes, we are socialist, but we are not going to nationalise just for the sake of nationalising.” That is why you could have companies like: Caminos de Ferro, Postas, who had big expanses of land for agricultural products and so on. We could have a Bureau Commercial with all these coconuts in the Zambezia province, and Ente Comercial with the cashew nut factories and cotton plantations, and expanding. Why not be nationalised? Some long-distance transporters for passengers were not nationalised. So, this was a man who had a vision, who was pragmatic, who had his feet on the ground. But, at the beginning, without nationalising this, he wanted to invite our allies to come and invest and help us.
Our allies, from the socialist countries, did not have the practice of investing in the private sector or having public-private partnerships because their companies were all public. So they did not understand when from 1979, and mainly in 1980, we called them to come and invest. At the same time, we were calling for Western companies to come and invest. Actually, some of them answered very clearly: “We are not capitalists, so we can not come and invest. What we want is to help you to develop, and then we will cooperate state to state.” So, this is how they perceived things. It also became clear to President Samora Machel in 1981 that these countries were not as powerful as we thought they were, economically speaking. Or, at least, they were starting a decline and they would not have the strength to help the country.
He stepped up the contacts, actually; he sent me to start to do that – the contacts with the Western countries, preparing for his visit to these countries. That is how he, in 1982, had a big tour through those countries, calling for investments in Mozambique. In 1983 he had this historic meeting with Ronald Reagan. He called him by his name, to show that he was open. He simply said, “Hello Ronald.” So, Ronald Reagan became friendly from the first minute. From that time, we started having a different kind of cooperation with the United States of America. We started having aid for development, which we did not have before. That was in '83.
So, my first challenge was how to pursue that line of thought. Of course it is not enough to pursue that line because you have to improve it, because the situation also changes. Well, in fact, the socialist camp was getting even worse. So I had to adapt more to global circumstances.
The second challenge was that we were fighting against the – maybe this not the word “to fight against” – but, we were defending ourselves against the aggression from South Africa. It started with Rhodesia and was continued by South Africa. We referred to this as a civil war because these regimes have used the Mozambicans to fight against each other. That is why it appears as a civil war, but I call something a civil war if it comes from within, not a war that is based on external interests, even if they use the people from our country. So, I prefer to call it “The War of Destabilisation” because that was the purpose. It was to destabilise the economy of the country in order to destabilise the country politically. The challenge was how to preserve the independence and sovereignty of this country and ensure that we continued to do something, to continue the construction of the country.
From what Samora Machel had achieved up to 1982, when he declared that the next decade should be a decade of victory over underdevelopment, all the gains were destroyed by the war. The challenge was how to stop that war so that we could restart the construction of the country. I did not have to think much; again, I had the benefit of experience and the thoughts of President Machel and his pragmatism. For the same purpose, he had contacted the South African racist regime, and he signed a good nobleness agreement. The aim of this was to open doors for a dialogue for the Mozambicans who were fighting on the side of the South African regime. Before they were fighting with the Rhodesian regime, but after the independence of Zimbabwe, it was this regime.
The South Africans were pretending that they were no longer supporting these so-called rebels. The rebels now had wings to fly by themselves, so they were thrown into Mozambique. The regime stayed back for a while; they continued to support them but from a distance. So, that is when the war was perceived in the world.
Up to 1985, people were speaking about war in Mozambique, but when apartheid pretended to be far from it, the whole world started speaking about the civil war in Mozambique and ignored the precedents – how it started and so on. The attacks by Rhodesia to the centre of the country were forgotten. The air bridge transporting the RENAMO people from Zimbabwe into South Africa was forgotten. There was a general who accompanied the RENAMO people to establish a new base – nobody speaks about it. That they had a payroll in the base by the South Africans, who every month would pay these people – nobody speaks about that. Lastly, nobody speaks about the day President Machel went to talk with the apartheid regime to say: “Let's deal with our main enemy first – and we the Mozambicans will be able to talk.”
He did it. The talks took place in Pretoria, and, to give confidence to the so-called rebels, he asked the very regime to serve as a mediator. That is why the meeting took place. So, the talks started between Samora Machel with RENAMO. He did not sit there, but he sent a delegation. An accord was signed.
Now, when I came in '86, I had all of these challenges. How to proceed? Well, I did not do many things; I just proceeded.
That requires a lot of courage.
Yes, but, to proceed with a higher quality, I thought that it was necessary to create confidence in all Mozambicans. More than looking at RENAMO, who were not a political force per se, I thought about the dynamics of the world. In Mozambique, we could have people with other thoughts who could create their own forces, not necessarily military forces. Or, our fools, those who were somehow against our policy, they could try to destroy us politically, even using our economy or even the investments, in order to destroy us. I started thinking that maybe some of the Eastern countries were destroyed – not because anyone went to invade them – but because of political practice or economic practice, sometimes scientific challenges or competitions. They were weakened. So, I may think that these countries were weakened, and they were not just weak by themselves. Someone worked for them to get weak in this big competition that existed between the West and the East.
I thought that maybe we, ourselves, should put changes in order to keep our unity and to respect our diversity in ideas when the time comes. This, I thought, could only be done by a discussion on our constitution. It would be a constitution that would be based on today's realities, not on the realities of 1974 or '75. It would need to be based on the realities of the 1980s – 1990s. That is why I was thinking like this. It was already 1989. So, a big discussion was held in the country. I used to say that our constitution was discussed by a parliament of more than 1 million people. Everybody was involved in the discussion from the district and sometimes the villages. We discussed the constitution, tried to explain it as much as we could. Of course, there are many, many people who remained without understanding really what we are trying to change because of the level of education that still prevailed in those days. As you know, the country started speaking politics only when our liberation movement was created. We did not penetrate all the provinces in the same way. Now, to start and speak about a change of the constitution, it was a big task; to explain word by word the meanings of the things – some of them which we ourselves could not even understand much.
So, it was a challenge to change the constitution because we had to explain everything. And, as you say, in a different way, we had to discuss with everybody, not only with the people who were on our side or who were members of the party. Even those who were abroad, in Portugal or America, we sent them these questions so that they could represent their views if they wished. We called them to come home, many of those who were afraid to come back. This was a real challenge.
Now, after creating these conditions, you have a new constitution which says that every Mozambican can participate, and if they so wish, they can create political parties. On the basis of this, you come again and say: “You remember, brothers, that we started the discussion in Pretoria? Let us now advance the discussion in Pretoria. Your worries and questions will be taken care of by this constitution. So, come back. You will be part of the process of government in the country on the basis of what the constitution says. If you want to improve the constitution, this is the time – come! Be part of a parliament and be part of a parliament-created party. People will choose how many of you will be in the parliament.”
So, the constitution was saying all of this. It said: “You are not just coming there for the constitution, but you are even coming with a possibility of influencing the improvement of this constitution.” You are talking with them – that was not enough because these people have got arms and have destroyed a lot of the country, have killed so many people. Yet, we were calling them to come. That was a big challenge, also.
But in this context, wasn’t it natural for people to ask for revenge against RENAMO? You have to include your enemy in order to win the battle, but at the same, you have to calm your people because they are also asking you to ravage their damage...
I had to go around the country, district by district, to tell the people that we are going to meet those who are making the war on us. “We are going to tell them to stop fighting; we will sit down at the table and convince them to come back home.” Then, the challenge is: will you receive them when they come back home? I assure you it was not easy because the people were so angry because of the horrors that they had seen. They had seen their children being pounded in a pylon. They had seen buses being put on fire with the petrol inside. They put gasoline inside and then lit a bus full of people on fire. They would not ask whether those people were for or against the government. Maybe some of the people who believed in what they were doing were even in the bus. They would not ask; just bomb the bus. So, people had witnessed all of this there.
In one place, they told me, “President, you are going to talk with these people?” “Yes.” “And you want them to come here? Look at the way we are dressed. We are virtually not dressed. We have covered some parts of our bodies with bark from the trees. Look, our children do not even have bark. Imagine when it is cold, and look at that river there. We used to drink water from there, but you know, today, we do not drink water from there because many of our people were chopped and dumped in it. Their blood was running there in that river. So, how can you want to ask to call those people to come back and sit down with us?”
I said, “Yes, but I am going to call them because some of them are your sons. Some of them are your fathers. If what you want is that they come back to forget that and to live – because if they stay there, they are going to continue killing and killing. If they come back, no one else will be killed.”
They would say, “No, no, no,” until I speak seven times. And then, they would say, “Ok, go and try it.” “Well, if they drop their guns, then come and ask us that question about them coming back.” But first, they ceased. Ok.
That is the spirit of reconciliation that some leaders need to have in these precise kinds of moments. We saw something similar in Spain. We also had a civil war, and then we had a dictatorship, which was quite hard. We also needed to have this period of reconciliation and rebuilding of the country. Sometimes, countries need to have a strong leader with this kind of conviction of reconciliation, of forgiving.
So, these are the challenges that we had. We are successful. We had negotiations. We had the peace accord, and we restarted the program of reconstruction of the country. Thank God, because of the success we had and the peace accord, the world came together to help us to start the reconstruction of what was destroyed. We could build more schools than schools were destroyed. The schools that were destroyed were more than the schools which existed in colonial days. So, taking the schools from colonial days, the schools built in the time of President Samora up until 1984, all these, for the most part, were destroyed – almost 2/3 of them. We have built many more schools than all of that. You could say the same thing about medical services, the clinics, the small hospitals, and so on; the infrastructure, like power lines, the roads, bridges, and all of this.
That is in terms of physical infrastructure, but in terms of social infrastructure, we can build many schools, but what we aim to change is in the curriculum – what we teach our kids in order to really generate this generational mindset change that we need to further advance in the future.
We had to rebuild many things, and the main thing that we needed to rebuild was society itself. The people had fallen apart. We needed to have families know where their parents and children were. We had all of these refugees in Malawi, Zambia, Swaziland, and Tanzania. So, we had almost 2 million people outside: 1,700,000. Inside here, we had more than 3 million displaced people. Put all of this together.
Now, what to teach people in schools. Of course the essential thing was to teach them how to read and write. Literacy programs were necessary, but we had to teach them our history, including the history of liberation, the history of colonialism, and try to build their identity; to teach them about equality, about the fight against tribalism. We had to teach them about unity, which we have. That was our line, our slogan, during the liberation struggle: to fight against racism, against tribalism, against regionalism – to believe that we can have an identity as Mozambicans. Through our culture, we can dare speak about a Mozambican culture, in a mosaic of cultures. You have all the differences within the mosaic. You put them together, and it becomes one. We had to create this culture.
We also had to create the culture of peace, and this we are continuing to do. We are creating this culture of peace through many different ways, through cultural expressions: dance, painting, cooking, and story telling – all of these things – but also, through sports. You do it in such a way, as we did and still do, by bringing people from everywhere in the country to gather as many times as possible. So, they usually have them through the school competitions in sports. You take them to one province. In all of the 11 provinces, there are 128 districts. Today, there are more districts; they have created new districts now. So, put them in one province, and they speak all the languages differently, using Portuguese as a linking language. But, they know each other.
They have more in common than just sharing a nationality.
All the cultures in the country belong to all of us. They have the sense of belonging to this country and the sense of having all which belongs to our country as belonging to each one of us. These are sports festivals. We also have cultural festivals. Again, there are groups of dancers, musicians, singers, and painters coming together in one province. They are changing, and we do this very many times. So, this is a process of creating a culture of peace, a culture of unity, and a culture of solidarity. So, our curriculum, as you were saying, tends to create this spirit in the minds of all children, all youth. But also, to have our youth believe in ourselves – that we can do something. President Obama says, “Yes, we can,” but we have said it many times; that we can develop up our country. The same way that we fought to liberate the country, we can develop our country. In fact, when we were fighting for independence, we had to find our objective of the struggle. We had put the questions, “Why are we fighting? What is our objective?” The answer was, “National independence.” Then, another question would follow, “What kind of independence?” The answer would be, “Political, economic, and cultural independence.” So, we have achieved the political independence in 1975. Now, in the new program is the fight for our economic independence.
The second independence.
That is why President Samora Machel was saying that this decade, from 1982 – 1992, would be the decade of the defeat of underdevelopment. He thought that when we were going to reach our second phase of independence, which our President now calls “second independence”. This is a program that comes from that time. This independence can be attained in the present circumstances by developing our internal forces of production, our productive forces. So, to educate our youth to become entrepreneurial is our main task. I am happy because we have young people now showing the capability that we say that we have. That is being confirmed. We can go anywhere now and discuss businesses which we did not know before.
Mozambicans now dare to take risks.
We did not have business here. When I speak about small shops that had been abandoned, it means that we did not even have Mozambicans to run the small shops. So, we had to learn to create the same entrepreneurship among our youth. Today, we are saying in our curriculum, our government says that for our people, it is not enough to know things. In school, you know a lot of things and can say what can be done by heart, and you expect other people to come and do it. But now the curriculum tends to say that you learn what can be done and how to do it, so that you will be able to do it yourself. When you shout out: “There are no jobs!” – You must create jobs.
Traditionally FRELIMO is a party that has always supported the role of women in many aspects: as a key component of the economy, society, and culture, and all of these aspects you were mentioning that are really a pillar of the Mozambican history. What has been the role of the Mozambican women in the history of the country – and especially during the reconstruction that you carried forward?
Well, let me just in passing say that generally in the diversion struggle, women themselves fought to take their place in power with the men. They participated in the armed struggle. First, we thought they would take care of the children and cook for the soldiers and so on... But no. They said: “We want to fight.” And, they fought.
After independence, it was the women who were the mobilising force of society in all that we had to do. The big movement in agriculture was undertaken by women. It is true that, traditionally, women have also been assigned by the traditional society this role of cultivating the land, but at this time, it was a mobilising force for all men and women to go to the fields and fulfil the main task, which was to grow food and cash crops.
In health services, they continued to come to the fore. But women were the less educated and they still are. So, they took to it that they had to mobilise among themselves for more participation in education. For that matter, we had to mobilise the men because the men would say that if their children were girls, those girls would have to get married. Those girls have to go and farm and learn how to cook. Men would not think that women could be drivers, engineers, builders of houses, or things like that. This has changed. So, men today, even in the areas where it took time to convince the parents to have their girls in schools, have changed drastically. That is why you go to the universities and now find that they have universities full of women. In some subjects you may find that on graduation day, in some faculties, you have more women graduating than men.
Well, on one occasion in Manica, out of 100 students I found only 37 men. The others were women. So I was very much relieved. The other day, I was visiting a school in Tete Province. The children came running, and when I looked around, they were all girls. It was a mixed school, but there were very few boys in that school. It was an upper primary school. I was very happy that there were things that had changed in the country.
When I came in 1974 to take up the office of Prime Minister of the transitional government, while I was driving around I was looking at the passing cars to see if I could see a black woman driving a car. I could not find one. I was told later when someone challenged me: “You said that there are no women driving cars, but so-and-so was driving, and so-and-so...” I said, “Well, you are proving my point if you can name the only women who drive cars.” But, today, these women are managers of companies. They are governors now. Actually, in my time, I was reluctant to appoint women as governors because I was not sure about the change of mentality of men.
Governors are supposed to go to a province. If a female governor's husband is in town, in the capital here, and you tell that man's wife to go to a province as a governor, then you could have a problem. Not a long time before I took the office of president, I witnessed some family conflicts because the woman would be occupying a post of responsibility in the party, let alone in the state. So, when they were invited in the ceremony, they would announce: “This is So-and-so and his spouse.” They said, “No, no, no, I can't do that,” and so the wife would come late. “Where were you?” “I was in a meeting.” “You can't be every day in a meeting.” However, when it was a man, the wife would take it as a normal thing that he was in a meeting. If it were a lady, then no. So, families had conflicts.
But, today, it is easy to appoint a woman as an administrator, and sometimes her husband can agree to go along with her. If not, they can be separated for a while and visit each other. Things are working the same for ambassadors. Today, we appoint ambassadors who are women in different countries, and sometimes, they cannot go with their husbands, especially if the both of them are diplomats.
I pointed it out because before this project, I was doing a project in Norway where most ministers were saying that the biggest lesson that Norway can teach to other countries is to empower the women. The difference of women in the workforce between the OECD standard and Norway produces more output and more income to the government in the form of taxes than oil. So, we should not be talking about gas or coal but empowering women in Mozambique.
Empowering women: that is a struggle that exists already. If you want to educate humanity, you educate the women. If you empower women, they are a good example in a family, so also in a society. Of course, we have to take advantage of this – what God gave to women, to be a mother, and to take care of a family. A woman is more concerned in the family about how the children grow up, even if she does other things. We, men, we take time to think that we have got responsibility in the education of our children. So, that spirit of women is felt in everything in society.
Our party has got a policy for the promotion of women. Since the power struggle we believe in gender equality. That is why we have created a system of quotas for the constitution of the organs of our party, the FRELIMO. The central committee must have at least 35% female members. And so, when we put lists for the election of members for parliament, we follow the same thing. That is why our parliament is above the 35% line. I think that if the other parties did the same, we would have women as the majority in parliament today. In Mozambique, we have already gone beyond the target of SADC countries, which I think is 35%.
So, changing the focus a bit, we have seen that under your leadership Mozambique has developed a strong sense of unity. Under your presidency in the 1990s and 2000s the country gave its historical leap forward. With everything in place to keep progressing, why did you step down?
Now, when I came to power, I told you that my challenge was the reconstruction of the country. But, during the reconstruction of the country, I had two other plans. One was lowering the poverty level, and the second was to create the basis for development. With this policy we could get a huge growth. Today we are speaking about 7.7% or 8%, which I think is a lot. Even if it was 6%, I would say it is a lot because this is from a starting point that was very difficult. In 1986 I was rebuilding the country from minus something and trying to rebuild the country. In 1992, when we got peace, and in 1994, when we had the first elections, I would say that we were starting from zero. The growth was of 10%, 12%, and on one occasion we reached 13%, but that was 13% starting from a low basis. We could sustain all of this growth until I left in 2004.
We had very visible successes in all fields, not only economic growth, but the human development was going maybe 0.1%, maybe 2%. But I was happy to see that because we had had nothing before. It meant that even on the human development side, we were successful.
In social development as a whole, we have been very successful. When I left, we had a number of universities. We started with only one small university in 1975. When I left, we had many big universities, both public and private. Investment was progressing.
We were already exporting natural gas to South Africa, and exploring gas in other parts. The electrification of the country was really impressive. There were thousands and thousands of kilometres of power lines. The connectivity of electricity in the villages was starting. Even in my village, where we had never seen electricity or a tarred road, when I left there was a tarred road and electricity in the houses and even in huts. In some villages, we were starting to see running water. The distance to go and fetch water was reduced from 20 kilometres to five kilometres. So, water sources were nearer to the people. So, there were some things that were visible to the people. If I stood for elections when I left, I would have surely been re-elected.
However, I thought that there are many differences between what is real and effective and what appears to be real. So, perceptions sometimes may damage good things. If you are in power for 20 years, even if you are doing good things, some people will be only pointing their fingers on what is not going on. When I left, there was a tarmac road passing near my village, coming from Maputo and then diverting to that direction. People would say, “But the President is from here. There is no road here – why?” Because they heard there was a road or electricity somewhere else, and they would question why there was not a road or electricity in their village. You would find this in many villages. You go and interview people, and they would say, “Oh, the government did nothing!” They would only point out the negatives, and people would echo. People would say, “Yes, he overstayed. 20 years – he is a dictator.” No one would look at the changes that you are praising today. I thought that it was better that I stopped at that point because I did not want to be pushed out by anyone, lest be pushed out by external forces who think of it as a dictatorship not from bad practices but just because of overstaying. I stopped there, and I left. Secondly, it is very nice to go out while people like you.
You can do good things, and then you get stuck because you do not have more ideas to speed up the process. You can continue doing good things, but when people reach a certain stage, they want to go quickly to the next one. At the beginning, it was nice because we came from zero, and so going at that speed, we saw that people were applauding. But now, when the growth and changes are not as visible, even if they are there, it is very hard to get that same applause. So, people start quarrelling and blaming. It is better to go out while people still like you.
Hypothetically, if the natural gas reserves that were found in 2011–2012 had been discovered in 2001–2002 instead, would that have made you feel more inclined to say, “I have to stay to ensure that this will be managed in a responsible way”?
I do not think that if this had come at the time when I had to leave, no; I would not have changed my mind. I would have not caused the appearance of gas; the gas was there, it was discovered. But, I did have a similar way of thinking when I achieved the peace accord. I put the question, “Now, I could go out because I have done this. I feel fulfilled.” But I said, “If I do that, questions will arise.” People would think that I brought back the peace and then suddenly left. I should be the one with the idea of how we should all survive in a peaceful state. I changed the constitution, with many parties, and now so many people are coming here. They would question a sudden departure at that point. I said, “No, this is a period of construction, dating the institutions of the new constitution is a must before I go out.” This is what I meant by, “Now, anyone can come and proceed.”
These are the reasons why I went out. I knew that the country was going to continue without me because the way I followed to govern the country was as a collective government. It was not a single person standing there and dictating. I know that I was not a dictator because it was a rule by consensus. In my government, if there was no consensus, we would sometimes postpone decisions. I was blamed for that sometimes because I was “too slow to take decisions”, but I thought it was necessary to get a consensus, like we did for the constitution. We helped people get involved. In my time, we did not fight over leadership because we felt that each one of us could be a leader. Sometimes, we preferred the other stick, because we took the associated responsibility.
Yes. Each one takes some responsibility, so no one was afraid to take responsibility. We see that in some countries, people just take it for granted and say, “I want to be leader.” Then they fight each other or sometimes kill each other to be a leader. However in my time, since the time of the struggle, and even when I became president, I did not fight for it. I did not choose to be a president. When they said, “You should take the lead after President Samora Machel,” I asked myself, “Why me?” I did not say, “Oh, right, now I have got it!”
This question of oil and gas is really something that in those days was frightening. We were looking for it, but it was also frightening at the same time because in many countries where there was oil, there was war. Of course today there are a lot of people saying that there were those wars because the people in those countries would fight over the distribution of this resource amongst themselves. In many countries, we saw that it was also the central powers who controlled the oil and gas. Powerful companies: Texaco, Shell, Chevron. That is who controls it. It is America, France, and Russia. So, you had these wars in Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Angola, and Nigeria, with this tribal strife, and so on. If this oil had come earlier, maybe we would have concerns, at least about our independence.
Today, we have got some experience from other countries. We can now negotiate with some knowledge on how to establish the things. So that, the companies that come explore and exploit our resources, export them not just to make money for their own pockets but also leave some for our development. The way of sharing the oil among ourselves should be by using those resources which will come through those companies to our economy, and to be employed in the priority areas. We want people to eat well. We want people to get jobs. We want people to dress well, to have better housing, and to know more. We want people to know how to do that, so they become masters, even in the field of oil and gas, so that they will be part of it. They can be part of the transformation of this oil and gas in new industries: petrochemical, electricity generation, and others. This electricity can spur more factories in our own country.
So, this is how you distribute it. But, some people do not think so. They think that the oil is there, we work to bring it up, and each person will take $100. We have to plan, and not only to plan, but to make people understand what is coming out of these efforts and how this is benefitting each one of us.
The layers you have left of unity in the country really make it very hard for external factors to divide and rule. The people here are very united, and they know what they want.
But, all the same, one has to learn how to negotiate with them because there are many tricks. They start doing one thing, and then overnight you find yourself trapped in something. I am not saying that we will not get trapped here and there, but I think that our society and government are being careful. At the same time, we are creating the space and openness for the investors not to be afraid. Additionally, we are keeping the dignity to talk with the investors to avoid mistakes. For that, actually, the government is trying to join hands with other parts of the world to follow the good ethics in this field.
If good ethics are followed, then there will be coordination. If there is a lack of ethics, there will be chaos. Discipline in this must come from both sides. We are interested because we do not have the machines to bring the oil and gas from 1,000 metres underwater. We do not have the machines, even to know where the oil and gas are. We do not know how to do it. But, we are confident that these oil riches over there are ours. We do not want to say, “If we have to take 1,000 years to get the knowledge, if you want to take it anyhow, leaving nothing for us... so, the lack of respect.” We are saying, “This oil belongs to the people; it belongs to us.” So, they come and discover it, but they discover it because it is there, in our country, in our soil, subsoil, and under our water. So, knowing that they are helping us to bring something to the surface, it is ours. So, they are buying it from us.
As a politician and visionary of the country, when you find oil or gas, the first thing you have to think about is when you run out of the non-renewable source. What do you want to be left when you run out of it?
That is why from now, the government does not make oil and gas a priority for our economy. So, the priorities are the renewable resources. They will always be there. I can say that I do not know whether future governments will change the idea and make this a priority. I know of countries in this region that had mineral resources and who thought their economies could develop based on their mineral resources. But at a later stage they started thinking of diversification, and they turned to agriculture. Zambia was relying on copper, but when President Kaunda noticed that copper prices go up and down, that it is not reliable and they had to import food, he switched. Because Zambians without maize, without porridge, they felt that they ate nothing. There is no food if you do not have maize. So, he switched to maize, and then again they discovered that they should not depend on maize. They had to diversify. We are aware that there must be a diversified economy based on agriculture.
We have a lot to diversify. Of course the transformation industry is a must. Agriculture by itself is not enough. You have to transform what comes from agriculture, which could then convert cotton into clothing. One day, we will convert CNL, cashew nut liquid. We may produce that, which is a wealth that is not being taken care of. We can do a lot more out of agriculture. We can have full industries. We buy so many things from outside; packed fried potatoes and canned beans. We could do them here. Sausages, we can do them here. So, so many things – just to mention a few. So, this is industry linked to agriculture. We can link industry to mineral resources.
Agriculture is essential. There is famous phrase that says, you need a carpenter once a year, you need a dentist twice a year, but you need a farmer three times a day.
I see this also as a basis for integration because you do not do this without markets. So, you have the markets. First, we think of those close on our radars as our markets: South Africa, Swaziland, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania, etc. All of these are markets, and we can expand these markets. Then there are the far away markets also. These markets are very important because we also depend on them. We are speaking about economic independence. I have made it clear during my days, even during the transitional government, that when we speak about economic independence we are very much aware that there is not a single country that has got an absolute 100% independent economy.
So, we are interdependent countries, but interdependence pre-supposes that minimum of independence.
Just to close the interview and really hear what you think about the future of the country, what line of action should the political elite that is currently in power follow? What should they keep in mind from the past in order to really go ahead and follow these steps that were first taken by your government?
Well, I think that we, as a society, and the government in particular, we have to always be careful about the steps we are taking in the face of the attention that the world is giving us. Now, we will have a lot of advice; we will have a lot of offers, and we should not get mad by that. However, if we continue in that line, I think that in 20 years – I will not say 10 – then we may be speaking with confidence on what President Samora Machel wanted to achieve from 1982-1992. That is: to defeat underdevelopment. I am not saying 10 years because from the time you discover a mineral resource it takes you six to 10 years to have it come out and become a commodity. Let's take this gas, for example. It will take six more years to come to start doing LNG. So, if you say 10 years, you are giving four years to use the money coming from that. But, I would say the same thing even about agriculture. We are speaking about mechanising agriculture a bit more, having commercial farmers. In agriculture you take at least five years to start having some return. So, I am saying that after 10 years, we will have a return here and there, and then we will start having the first results of long-term policies. So, we need 10 more years to see the impact of what we are currently doing. But, we have to keep this discipline and not be distracted by overexcitement. Essentially, we have to keep this peace. We should not fight. We have to have more peace of mind.
Like Nelson Mandela said, “I dream of an Africa which is in peace with itself.”
Within ourselves. The peace starts within oneself. If you are not at peace with yourself, then you immediately cannot be in peace with your neighbour.