Mozambique: From Marxism to market

Revolutionary mural in Maputo

British journalist Paul Fauvet came to Mozambique in 1980 just as the country was plunged into a civil war. He has witnessed every key event since. Here he describes the transformation of his adopted country from revolutionary Marxist state to embracing the market and the exploitation of its resource riches.

After its independence in 1975, Mozambique became known for the colourful and militant murals decorating public buildings in Maputo.

Workers, peasants and soldiers were shown marching firmly towards the socialist future. "Long live Marxism-Leninism!" declared some of the slogans.

Mozambique Direct branding graphic

The Maputo of the 21st Century also has murals. But now the walls bear images, not of clenched fists or of AK-47s, but of the ubiquitous Coca-Cola bottle, or of smiling faces boasting the virtues of one or other mobile phone company.

Comparing the iconography of Maputo walls today with those of the late 1970s gives some idea of the ideological distance the country has travelled.

'Struggle against the bourgeoisie'

The high-water mark of Mozambican Marxism was in the early 1980s under the single party rule of Frelimo, the successor to the Mozambique Liberation Front, which had won independence from Portugal.

At the Frelimo Fourth Congress in 1983, the call went out to "Defend the Fatherland, Overcome Underdevelopment, Build Socialism".

The national anthem of the time promised to make Mozambique "the grave of capitalism and exploitation".

Frelimo's own anthem described party members as "soldiers of the people, marching forward in the struggle against the bourgeoisie".

It was not to be.

Mozambique faced a powerful enemy in the shape of the South African apartheid regime, which used the rebel Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo) as a surrogate army, to bring the Mozambican state to its knees.

Mozambique: Key facts

map
  • Population: 23.9m
  • Capital: Maputo
  • Currency: Metical (plural Meticais)
  • Life expectancy: 50 years (m) 52 years (w)
  • GDP growth (2011): 7.1
  • GNI per capita 1992: £128, 2011: $509

Some would say that when the country's first President, Samora Machel, died in October 1986 in a plane crash at Mbuzini, just inside South Africa, the dream of a socialist Mozambique died with him.

But history is never that simple.

Marxism-Leninism quietly dropped

Unable to obtain sufficient assistance from the Soviet bloc, Mozambique joined the World Bank and the IMF in 1985. Western donors, even friendly ones in Scandinavia, made it clear that a programme with the IMF was a condition for continuing assistance.

The first structural adjustment measures, known as the Economic Recovery Programme (PRE), passed by the Mozambican parliament in January 1987, were clearly drawn up when Machel was still alive.

Some may have viewed it as a temporary diversion, assuming that the march towards a classless society would resume in the near future.

But the deal with the IMF and the World Bank meant major shifts in economic policy, including repeated devaluations, the elimination of most controlled prices, and a wide-ranging programme of privatisations.

But in 1989, Frelimo quietly dropped Marxism-Leninism from its statutes. The following year a new, pluralist constitution was adopted and the very name of the country changed.

It was no longer a "People's Republic", but just "the Republic of Mozambique".

Foreign investment

When a peace agreement between the government and Renamo ended the war in October 1992, the country was in ruins.

Renamo had burnt down schools and clinics throughout the countryside, roads were impassable, bridges and electricity pylons blown up, railways sabotaged and the economy was kept alive with massive injections of aid.

Yet the patient survived.

Contrary to a widely held belief at the time that parties which had run one-party states could not win democratic elections, Frelimo not only won the 1994 presidential and parliamentary elections, but every general election held since then.

The economy grew at a rapid pace, at rates of 7-8% a year. Large-scale foreign investment was attracted - best exemplified by the $2bn invested in the Mozal aluminium smelter on the outskirts of Maputo.

Coca Cola bottle advertisement in centre of roundabout in Maputo Maputo's revolutionary murals have given way to advertisements for international brands

Now the country has made huge mineral discoveries.

The coalfields in the western province of Tete proved much larger than expected - under Portuguese colonial rule, no thorough geological surveys had been undertaken. Despite logistical constraints in moving the coal to port, Mineral Resources Minister Esperanca Bias still talks of exporting, by 2020, as much as 50 million tonnes a year.

Even more impressive are the discoveries of natural gas in the Rovuma Basin, off the coast of the northern province of Cabo Delgado. The results from wells dug by the Texas-based Anadarko, and the Italian energy company ENI suggest recoverable reserves in excess of 150 trillion cubic feet.

This could make Mozambique one of the world's major producers of liquefied natural gas. Plans are afoot to build LNG plants on the Cabo Delgado shore, and production could start by 2018.

Income from natural resources will greatly reduce Mozambique's dependence on foreign aid.

Already economic growth, and the resulting increase in domestic tax revenues, has reduced dependence. The latest Finance Ministry figures show that in 2012, only 27% of public expenditure was funded by foreign aid. A few years ago, over half of the Mozambican budget depended on foreign grants and loans.

Economic growth

But a growing criticism is that the benefits of economic growth are not being spread throughout society, and that poverty reduction has faltered.

In the decade following the end of the war, very considerable improvements were made in living standards. The household surveys by Mozambique's National Statistics Institute showed that the number living below the poverty line fell from 69% in 1997 to 54.1% in 2003.

But the next survey, in 2009, suggested that the government's efforts to alleviate poverty had stagnated, and that the poverty rate was now 54.7%.

National averages hide severe disparities.

Advert on side of building for a mobile phone company in Maputo Adverts for mobile phones have become commonplace in Mozambique.

The survey showed that urban households spend twice as much as rural households, and that households in Maputo spend five times as much as households in the poorest province, Zambezia, in the centre of the country.

A growing gap between rich and poor is evident from the boom in luxury housing built in the fashionable parts of Maputo, and the explosion in car ownership. Traffic jams, unheard of 20 years ago, are now a regular feature of Maputo life.

But the majority of Mozambicans still live in huts or shacks, and depend on buses for their transport.

There has been a rapid expansion of the Mozambican electricity grid, and the latest figures show that 36% of the population have electricity, either from the grid or from solar panels, in their homes, a high figure by sub-Saharan African standards. But 64% still have no electricity.

The country remains acutely vulnerable to natural disasters.

Torrential rains and severe flooding on several major rivers, notably the Limpopo, in January and February, cost 113 lives and displaced about 140,000 people who took shelter in temporary accommodation centres set up by the government.

Even in Maputo city, poor drainage and illegal building meant that the rains caused mudslides that destroyed houses and blocked roads.

Electoral success

Poverty occasionally erupts onto the streets. Thus severe rioting against rises in prices, particularly for bread, effectively shut Maputo down for two days in September 2010.

The government broke with economic orthodoxy and introduced a subsidy for wheat flour to keep bread prices low. The World Bank and the IMF did not object. They regarded Mozambique as a success story and had no wish to push it over the riot threshold.

Frelimo policy may have somersaulted in the past three decades, but the party's grip on power remains strong.

President Armando Guebuza, once a Marxist intellectual and now a figure close to the business elite, won the 2009 election with 75% of the vote. He is not eligible to stand again, but, given the weak and fragmented state of the opposition, whoever Frelimo chooses to succeed him is almost certain to win the next presidential election in 2014.

Memories of the country's Marxist past have faded, and even Frelimo's trademark slogan "A Luta Continua!" ("The Struggle Continues!") is rarely heard nowadays.

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