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Mozambique

Bob Geldof and the food riots in Mozambique

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Last Friday, Bob Geldof’s face gazed pensively from the front page of the FT’s business section over a story that he was seeking to raise a billion dollars for a venture capital fund for Africa.

The front page of the main paper, meanwhile, told of violence on the streets of Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, where more than 20 people died in food riots after the price of bread went up by 25 percent.

Same day, same paper, same continent. But for me, the two stories were linked in another way. Let me explain.

Geldof’s transition from advocate for aid to fund manager, seeking to capitalize on resurgent economic growth, is not as surprising as it may sound.

Africa can certainly use more investment in agri-business, financial services and telecommunications that will be the focus of the new fund.

And these investments, if capably managed, should contribute to creating economic growth and opportunity.

But the scenes of violence in Maputo show that economic growth is not enough to ensure a peaceful future in a society that has known or is prone to violence. Rather, they indicate that even the most enduring transitions away from conflict and fragility can experience a violent tipping point.

Mozambique's long post-conflict transition

Nicholas van Praag's picture
  War...           

The most visible sign of Mozambique’s long history of conflict is the war memorial opposite Maputo’s main railway station.  It is designed in the fascist-deco style beloved of European dictators in the 1930s.  Built in 1936, it was a belated commemoration to the Portuguese and Mozambican soldiers who died in the Great War—in clashes with forces from what was then German East Africa.

There is no such reminder of the hundreds of thousands who died in the more recent wars of liberation, which lasted from 1961 to 1974, or the 14 years of civil war that followed.  After so much suffering most people want to forget these years rather than erect public monuments to their memory.

Unlike the on-again off-again nature of so many conflicts today, the peace agreement reached in 1992 by the two main groups, FRELIMO and RENAMO, marked the end of hostilities.  ‘It had become a war of the protagonists, not of the people’, says Dr.  Americo Jose Ubisse, Secretary General of the Mozambican Red Cross.  When the guns fell silent, one million people had died and some 5 million were displaced.

During the intervening years Mozambique has made strides in turning around its fortunes, consistently posting growth rates of 8 percent in recent years—closer to Asian levels than to other African countries. 

This performance has made Mozambique a kind of post-conflict poster child.  So when I visited Maputo last month, the vibrant but run-down capital, I wanted to find out how Mozambique had seized these impressive results from the jaws of state failure and whether all is as rosy as the growth rate suggests.

Day trip to Dachau

Nicholas van Praag's picture

I was in Mozambique last week trying to work out how to dodge the volcanic ash and get back to Washington DC. Checking my itinerary on-line, the system advised me that I could use my stopover in Munich to visit Dachau concentration camp.

Was this for real? A day trip to one of the most horrendous killing grounds of the twentieth century (alternative suggestions were a boat ride on the Danube and a tour of Munich’s beer gardens).

Screenshot of the website showing a menu of activities available in Munich.