If we talk about the last 20 years, there is no doubt Mozambique has gone through a massive structural makeover. The nation has gone up in every international ranking in terms political stability, macroeconomic performance and social change. With the discovery of gas, the paradigm is changing and a more solid platform for further change in emerging. What is your assessment of the last 20 years of change and where is the country heading over the next decade?
In the past 10 years many things happened, indeed, we had solid bases for changes to happen. In the first years after the signing of the Rome Accords, the roads and bridges, power and water supplies, the urban centres, hospitals and schools were collapsed. With the support of the international community, the government defined that the priorities were to re-build the infrastructure. This process reactivated the country’s production and allowed the economy to flourish once again.
Another important activity was mine clearance, so people could move freely around the country with less risk. This has significantly helped to reduce illiteracy, which accounted for 93% of the population in 1975. The socioeconomic layer started to change for the best. Now, we have in each district a health doctor, and in each province, a higher education institution.
In terms of drinkable water, 60% of the population in rural areas consumes it, although there are some areas where people don’t have access to it. It is still a very fundamental need that people drink potable water because it reduces the spread of disease and increases hygiene and human productivity; this is the impact potable water has on communities.
We already have health centres in every district – malaria is the deadliest disease in our country, more than AIDS – but when healthcare spreads though the districts, a person can be treated. Despite the epidemics, the Mozambican population is growing: in 1975 we were 9.5 million people and today we are about 22.5 million. This means the development of our infrastructure is helping this demographic expansion.
Many resources have been discovered, such as coal; we already knew about its existence, but we didn’t have the conditions to explore and extract it, because there was no infrastructure in place. Of the 128 districts of the country, 110 have electric power from the national grid.
All these key development advances are gradually resulting in a much more inclusive and widespread development.
The government focused the academic formation on the country’s emerging sectors, such as its mineral resources. The Eduardo Mondlane University increased the number of students for the geology course in Songo because of its connection to hydroelectric power [at the Cahora Bassa dam] and with the gas discovery in the Rovuma Basin as well. The challenge is also increasing on the government to strengthen Mozambique’s human capacity, because we can’t always count on what is coming from the outside; we have to learn to develop our own capacities. Our university population is about 100,000 students in 42 higher-level institutions (public and private).
How does the government make the transition from the primary and secondary levels to higher education more integral, so that Mozambican students can access higher education more competitively?
Our government adopted a support measure: from the 1st to the 7th grades it is almost free – the government buys the books and there are no fees, to help families in the most need.
In the 8th, 9th and 10th grades we made the fees free for the neediest families (they have to declare to the district administration that their incomes are not enough to pay for their children’s studies, so these children become social action students). The government pays so these students can study and do not abandon the classes. It also provides small lunches to those who live far or have to walk long distances to reach school. This is an effort to help the students increase their academic performance, because if a child is not well fed, he or she won’t reach a good psycho-pedagogical development.
For the students who finish 10th grade with high scores, the government gives them a scholarship; those students must come from all the corners of the country so we can ensure inclusive participation.
For major projects, the government guides people to create employment units, to build schools, hospitals, energy supplies, etc., as a part of the social action [by the developers] of the megaprojects, not just for their workers but for the entire community. We want each megaproject to have an impact on the living conditions of those communities by improving it, so they see the project as something beneficial to them. We need the projects to have an immediate response to the communities’ concerns; otherwise, it will bring unhappiness to the population. A megaproject takes much time: after the discovery is made, there’s too much to be done until we see the gas flow – it can take from 10 to 12 years, because infra-structure needs to be built, people educated, etc.
The growth we are reaching is not coming from the projects, yet, but from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and from the participation of the population. The BAÚ (a one-stop-shop) catalysed the country’s development: at a district level, a citizen goes to a BAÚ institution and one single representative will attend to all the matters he has to take care of – before BAÚ, the citizen had to go to many different institutions, so the BAÚ reduces bureaucracy, time and costs.
Development brings other challenges: with the non-renewable resources we have to think of what to do when they are finished. The government is already thinking about the diversification of the economy and one of the focuses is tourism. We are also very fortunate to have very fertile land; in the southern regions, Namaacha, Moamba and Magude there are very productive districts where cereals and also cattle are emerging businesses. And in coastal regions, we have some of the best beaches.
We have to improve and invest in the non-resource rich areas as well to generate an even income distribution and inclusive development. Our policy is that the resources we have, right now, in Cabo Delgado, Manica, Niassa, Maputo, etc., will serve the entire country. It is the role of the state to apply the best policies for the benefit of everyone.
As mentioned earlier, we also must keep investing in education, because no matter how poor a country is, as long as it has a highly qualified human potential, it grows. Only a good education will help us solve the current and future challenges.
The President’s statement about a ‘second independence’ is becoming a lot clearer as we speak to personalities like you. What does it mean to Mozambique, the people of Mozambique and to those who fought for the first independence to be now the owners of the solutions for development and walking towards a second independence?
That direction we follow, focusing on the holistic education of all Mozambicans, is to reach our ultimate goal: autonomy. Since the times of the fight for national liberation, Frelimo always focused on self-esteem, with the support of many organisations – both local and foreign. In 1964, when the national liberation fight began, we had already dreamt of what is happening today and that’s why we always say that ‘Education is a lantern that enables the people to see’. These are the words of Samora Machel, who at that time already knew that no matter how many resources we have, they will mean nothing to us if the people were not educated.
We are conscious that we do not have enough but we do know we are better off now than we were 10 or 20 years ago. The social and economic dynamics are always changing; we want to follow their dynamism. We have many plans, such as PARPA [the government’s Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty], the 2025 Agenda; all these visions are medium to long-term plans that we want to materialise. We want investors to come and find an internal capacity that in a given time can absorb their know-how and create win-win situations.
From the times of fighting against colonial rule up to nowadays, and considering all the changes in between, what are the values that you believe are still present at a party level and in governmental affairs?
Housing in Mozambique is almost free, the prices are symbolic; we have kept up with this. Healthcare, and most importantly HIV/AIDS treatment, is free. Medical consultations are from 1 to 5 meticals [1 to 3 cents] – not the ideal but we are aware that many can afford to pay more. Our government has a fund for helping the disabled and the elderly.
It is true that we are playing in a market economy, but we never forget the paradigm of our political orientation. We have the ‘7 million’ fund provided to each district, so that the communities can rely on micro-credits. These funds catalysed a big boom in terms of life quality: people now have brick houses, motorcycles, bicycles and other consumer products. This philosophy is a manifestation of the values we already had since the time of the fight for liberation.
With regards to the youth, the growth in higher education demand is never ending. Although the country does not have immediate employment for them, the government creates socially useful funds and activities to occupy them and give them more experience.
It is important to speak about the Mozambican women. The 21st century is the century of Africa and the century for women worldwide. The institutions that are empowering women are the most successful in this country. What is your analysis on the role that the Mozambican women should have in a more open global framework?
The activities the party and the government are planning are focused on women. Firstly, because women are the majority of our population. Secondly, because women are the social change makers, since they spend more time with children. Thirdly, women simply have many more responsibilities than men.
In the city, the majority of the PERM fund is absorbed by women. To be a good manager, one must write and read well. We give this prize to the young girls who study hard, and we have a sub-system called the Adults Education Fund, which focuses more on the women who had no opportunities to study. In those schools, there is an obligation for the teachers to give special attention to female students, so they won’t quit studying.
Our public markets are dominated by women and there are places, such as in Nampula province, where the women do the banking, with weekly or monthly contributions, to buy necessary housing goods that benefit all; they are economists. This target group is a group on which we are focusing our attention because we know the future of this country depends on them.
The engine of this country is the women: we have female governors and ministers that are our best example. The largest car in the country belongs to Vale, and a woman drives it, so we are also talking about physical strength. Life expectation is higher for woman than for men.
Upper Reach is working on a holistic international campaign to educate the world about Mozambique. What is your view on the power of media and what is the concept that has to remain in the minds of the readers?
It is essential to understand that Mozambique has many opportunities and not only in the mineral resources sector but also in many others such as tourism, energy and hydroelectric power. There are vast areas with rivers where we can benefit from watering systems; we have very fertile land for agriculture, cattle farming, apiculture and aquaculture.
International investors must realise Mozambique’s potential, they should not limit their knowledge of Mozambique to the recently discovered natural resources; there are many opportunities that are not spoken about – not because they are not being explored, but because they are waiting for investment to arrive.