A week of riots and clashes sparked in the capital as the government attempted to raise fuel prices by 50%. Mozambique is often unheard of in international news, but a week of violent riots in Maputo leaving 100 injured and four dead were enough to bring the world’s poorest country to the headlines. The fuel price jump was proposed as a response to the 14% rise in diesel fuel costs. Food prices have also experienced an increase due to the rise in fuel costs. The reason that riots erupted was not only because of rising fuel costs, but mainly because of the low wages that people in Mozambique make. The more interesting question may be why is Mozambique so poor and why would the government seek a 50% increase in price to meet the demand?
Mozambique is moderately large country on the East coast of Africa. With a history of Portuguese colonial rule, civil war, effects of apartheid, and a wide-reaching famine, Mozambique has had great difficulty in bringing its people out of desperate poverty. Mozambique gained independence in 1975, but was quickly pulled into war against white rule in Rhodesia and South Africa. The apartheid government of South Africa not only oppressed its own people, it engaged in near full-scale war with Angola and Mozambique as well as raiding and blockading Lesotho, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Malawi. “This was a war against ordinary people, in which schools and health posts were primary targets and civilians were massacred on buses and trains. At least two million Mozambicans and Angolans died in the war South Africa waged against them; millions more had to flee their homes.” writes Action for Southern Africa and the World Development Movement in an Africa Action Report.
A generation of children never received education because schools were destroyed, mothers and children died because health services were devastated, and now the region cannot rebuild because they are asked to pay again for the injustices of the apartheid regime through debts. The war waged by the South African apartheid government made Mozambique one of the poorest countries in the world. Over one million people died between 1977 and 1992, the economy was destroyed along with the countryside, and the country was left with a legacy of landmines. The South African government supported a rebel group called RENAMO. RENAMO or Mozambican National Resistance was formed after independence as an anti-communist conservative political party. It fought against the FRELIMO (Mozambican Liberation Front) and the Zimbabwean government of Robert Mugabe which was overthrowing the white Rhodesian rule. RENAMO received support from South Africa as well as the Central Intelligence Organization of Rhodesia and the CIA of the United States. RENAMO was known for its widespread brutality and human rights abuses. It was instrumental in destroying the economy of Mozambique and ensuring that a southern African country under black rule could not be stable.
The US and South African backed RENAMO insurgency destroyed the basic infrastructure and industry of Mozambique. With this extreme loss of income Mozambique was forced to turn to the IMF and World Bank in order to create the infrastructure destroyed by apartheid. “Mozambique has been forced to delay universal primary education until 2010 because it has to repay the apartheid-caused debt.” notes the Africa Action Report. This debt cause by apartheid South Africa is easily deemed odious. Meaning the debts imposed were against the interests of the local populace, and as such should be written off as unlawful under international law.
On top of the apartheid debt and lack of infrastructure, in 2001 Mozambique experienced terrible flooding that has threatened nearly a quarter of the country with death by famine. Again in 2007 terrible flooding forced almost 60,000 people to be evacuated from the Zambezi River Valley. It was said to have been worse that the flooding in 2001. Roads were destroyed, bridges washed away, hundreds of homes disappeared under water – this on top of apartheid debt and a landmine scarred countryside. There is hope for Mozambique. Tourism is increasing and international investment is at a high, but at what cost? The government of Mozambique needs to ensure that it does not sell out its future in investment schemes that will rob indigenous peoples of their lands and leave the country empty of resources.
Mozambique has suffered and is still suffering from the white empowered South African apartheid government system backed by none other than the United States of America. If you would like to understand the current rioting in the capital of Maputo, you need only look back to apartheid to recognize why the 170th of 175 countries listed on the development index sits right next to the richest country in all of Africa.