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.