Mozambique News Agency

No.119, 8th October 1997


Vital action needed against drought threat

Agriculture Minister Carlos Agostonho do Rosario on 1 October urged civil society to take responsibility for seeking out solutions to reduce the impact of the drought that is likely to hit the country in the 1997-98 agricultural season.

Specialists fear that the phenomenon known as El Nino (an anomalous warming of the surface waters in the Pacific Ocean which disrupts the world's weather patterns) will cause a sharp reduction in rainfall in southern Africa. This year's El Nino, the strongest on record, and it is predicted that the impact of El Nino on southern and central Mozambique will be felt from November 1997 to March 1998.

The Zambezi valley divides Mozambique sharply into two quite different agro-climatic zones. North of the Zambezi soils are fertile, rainfall is plentiful, and generalised crop failure is quite unheard of. But south of the river conditions are much drier, and soils poorer. El Nino accentuates semi-arid conditions that already exist in much of southern Mozambique.

Speaking at a national meeting to prepare the 1997/98 agricultural campaign, Rosario said that both civil society and the international community would have an important role to play to prevent the consequences of the likely drought from assuming "alarming proportions".

One of the measures necessary to reduce the impact of any drought is to persuade peasant farmers not to sell all their production from the 1997 harvest, but to hold some back to see them through the difficult months that may lie ahead.

The Agriculture Ministry is also urging peasants in drought-prone areas to concentrate their efforts on drought-resistant crops such as cassava and sweet potatoes. It is urging them not to bother with maize, a crop that is always difficult to grow successfully in much of southern Mozambique, even at the best of times.

Rosario stressed that local communities must avoid slash and burn techniques for clearing land, should make the most use possible of low lying areas which retain moisture longest, and should plant trees in their fields, both to produce fruit and to give shade.

He said that what was important "is not just knowing whether there will be a drought, but to know early on what alternative measures we can take".

China promotes investment in Mozambique

China is to establish a centre to promote investments in Mozambique, as part of the cooperation between the two countries. The Chinese government has chosen the province of Anhui, near Shangai, on the eastern coast of China, to coordinate activities of cooperation.

Speaking during the celebrations of the Chinese National Day, the Chinese press attache in Maputo, Xing Huidong, said that a delegation of the Anhui provincial government will visit Mozambique in October for preparatory meetings.

For his part, Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi will visit Anhui between 4 and 12 October, also to discuss cooperation matters with the local government.

According to Xing, Chinese donations to Mozambique for 1997 amount to more than $10 million.

During the visit of Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng to Mozambique in May, China donated $2 million to the Mozambican police for the acquisition of patrol vehicles and motorbikes.

China is also preparing to start building next year 70 houses for high ranking Mozambican military officers. The Mozambican Defence Ministry has now completed mapping the area where those houses will be built.

In addition, China is to finance the construction of an annexe to the building where the Assembly of the Republic, the Mozambican parliament, sits.

Human rights report published

Although the Mozambican state is constitutionally the guarantor of the fundamental rights of citizens, in reality it has frequently violated human rights, accuses the country's Human Rights League (LDH), in its report on the human rights situation in Mozambique, covering the period from May 1995 to December 1996.

LDH chairperson, Alice Mabota, formally launched the report in Maputo on 30 September.

Despite its strong criticisms of state bodies, notably the police and the prison service, the LDH report acknowledges that respect for human rights in Mozambique is improving.

It declares "the effective furtherance of human rights is not possible without the participation of all Mozambicans. Thus we recommend that all of society remains vigilant and denounces any violations of human rights".

Case histories

One of the case studies reported is of Herminio Nhancale, a young man who was beaten so badly by three policemen on 12 October 1996, that he lost his right eye.

The incident occurred when he was going to his Maputo workplace, and was stopped by the three policemen who demanded to see his identity card. He was not carrying it, so they demanded that he hand over the bag carrying his work tools.

When he refused to do so, they beat him with their rifle butts, and in the process blinded him in one eye. They then dumped him outside Maputo Central Hospital.

Nhancale was hospitalised for 30 days, and had to pay his medical costs himself. He complained to the Maputo City Police Command, but when this took no action, he approached the LDH. The LDH is attempting to prosecute the three policemen involved, whose names it has obtained, and has channelled the issue to the Attorney-General's office.

Another case concerned nine ground staff of Mozambique Airlines (LAM) who were accused of stealing money from a passenger at Maputo airport on 22 May 1995. A group of six policemen attempted to beat confessions out of them. They were subjected to savage beatings, of which the LDH has photographic evidence.

The case has been sent to court but so far, more than two years after the incident, no policeman has been tried for assaulting the LAM workers.

Hundreds of cases followed-up

The report says that the LDH legal aid office received complaints from 678 citizens from mid-1995 until the end of 1996. 542 were serious enough to be followed-up.

52 complaints concerned police activities, including illegal detentions, beatings and shootings. In five cases, the victims of police brutality died.

Two of these cases are in the hands of the Attorney-General's office, while the other three are still with the Criminal Investigation Police (PIC). In all five cases the policemen concerned were detained.

The report notes that the LDH could not follow-up some cases because the victims were unable to identify the policemen who assaulted them, and did not know which police station they came from.

Domestic and labour disputes highlighted

Battered women have also sought support from the LDH against violent husbands or boyfriends. The LDH received 97 complaints of domestic violence. In 50 cases the report says that LDH mediation restored "peace and harmony" to the homes concerned. 15 cases have been sent to court, and the remaining complaints were dropped.

The LDH was also contacted about 131 labour disputes, but in only 33 of these cases were there sufficient grounds for taking action. Three of these led to successful court cases. 12 were settled out of court.

The LDH was asked for help in 73 disputes over housing. Simple counselling solved 14 cases, 21 were negotiated to a satisfactory conclusion, 16 are in the hands of courts, and in only five cases has a definitive court decision been given in favour of the complainant.

Other requests for LDH assistance concerned divorce, maintenance, and land conflicts.

Poor prison conditions raised

The LDH has also set up an office to monitor the country's prisons and to push for prison reform. Regular visits to prisons by members of this office have painted a depressing picture of detainees kept in jail well beyond the legally established time limits for preventive detention, minors detained (and often in the same cells as adults), inadequate diet, poor medical care, and a high rate of mortality.

In the prisons, "children and adults, armed robbers and simple conmen, soldiers and civilians, the sick and the healthy are all mixed together", accuses the report.

The LDH prison monitoring office has managed to secure the release of 17 prisoners who were being held illegally, and a further 20 cases are awaiting replies from courts.

The report notes that prison do not have to be sinks of misery, hunger and disease. "Some prisons have undergone improvements thanks to the individual efforts made by their directors", it says, citing in particular the jail in the northern city of Lichinga, where the prisoners produce food on nearby farmland to boost the prison diet.

The report points out that the LDH is not a rich organisation, living exclusively on membership fees and donations. Thus lack of funds is a serious constraint on its activities.

The report criticises the greed displayed by some Mozambican jurists who, when approached by the LDH, "demand enormous sums of money for any service they provide".

Plans to rebuild Cuamba-Lichinga railway

The public owned ports and railway company, CFM, on 30 September announced a project to rebuild the Cuamba-Lichinga branch line, in the northernmost province of Niassa, budgeted at $26 million.

The chairman of the CFM board, Rui Fonseca, presented the project at a conference on the subject, held in Lichinga, the Niassa provincial capital, and chaired by Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi.

The line is a spur from the Nacala corridor, the railway that runs from the Indian Ocean port of Nacala to the Malawian border. While donors were prepared, in the 1980s, to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to rehabilitate the main Nacala corridor, little attention was paid to the Lichinga line. The line is in a shocking state of disrepair, obliging the few trains that CFM sends to Lichinga to crawl at a slow pace - and even then derailments occur.

The CFM project calls for repairing the line in two stages. The first, budgeted at $10 million, would replace every other sleeper, place fresh ballast on 30 per cent of the line, strengthen earthworks, and replace the drainage system. This would make the line safe enough to take three trains a week, each carrying 500 tonnes. This would amount to transporting 72,000 tonnes a year.

The second phase would involve total replacement of the sleepers, new ballast along the entire line, and repairs to bridges and embankments. This would be carried out three to eight years, and would lift the line's capacity to 400,000 tonnes. The second stage would cost $16 million.

CFM has called on both the state and the private sector to mobilise funds for the project. It points out that repairing the 295 kilometre railway would have important multiplier effects on the Niassa economy, and would break the isolation to which the province has been condemned.

Prime Minister visits Gorongosa

Conditions are now ripe for reopening the Gorongosa National Park, in the central province of Sofala, according to Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi

During a ceremony to mark World Tourism Day on 27 September, in Chitengo, which once housed the Gorongosa tourist lodge, Mocumbi said "today, we are here in Chitengo to inform the whole world that Gorongosa is back, as from today, on the Mozambican tourism map".

Mocumbi explained that it was not a coincidence that Gorongosa was chosen to be the centre of the celebrations of World Tourism Day, but because the park possesses excellent conditions for tourism due to its variety of forest and wild life.

He said that the government intends to show the world, through Gorongosa, the new Mozambican image of peace and prosperity.

In the next century, tourism and the environment will be driving forces for the creation of humanity's socio-economic welfare, he claimed.

He added that it is the government's intention to make tourism an industry that will maximise the country's acquisition of hard currency, to strengthen regional development based on local tourism and share the benefits among as many areas as possible.

He mentioned other objectives, such as projecting the country as a destination for investment in the area of tourism and the engagement of businessmen in tourist undertakings.

Mocumbi urged the Ministry of Agriculture's National Directorate of Forestry and Wildlife to keep improving its capacity to ensure the development of the natural treasure that is Gorongosa.

"I challenge the management of the Gorongosa National Park to continue with the rehabilitation work and staff training for the management of the natural resources and of this ecosystem, that is unique in the country", said Mocumbi.

He also urged the Centre for the Promotion of Investment (CPI) to create conditions for private investments in the area of tourism.

"Only thus can we make of this heritage that is the Gorongosa National Park a true source of wealth for the country", he concluded.

All tourism in Gorongosa came to an abrupt halt in 1981 when the apartheid-backed Renamo rebels attacked and looted Chitengo. They also kidnapped a British ecologist working from Chitengo, John Burlison.

Voter registration funds arrive

The Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), the electoral branch of the Mozambican civil service, has now received $6 million of the money donors have promised to support voter registration, reports the daily paper Noticias on 2 October.

STAE director Armenio Correia expressed satisfaction at the fact that foreign donors have started fulfilling their promises of supporting the registration, which ought to be held before the end of 1997, and is a pre-condition for holding the country's first municipal elections.

Correia revealed that most of this money was been disbursed by the European Union and through a trust fund administered by the United Nations Development Programme.

Switzerland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark have contributed a total of around $3.6 million via the UNDP.

Of the $11 million that the European Union agreed in August to grant to Mozambique for registration and electoral purposes, it has so far disbursed three million. The Mozambican government itself has already disbursed $500,000, and is expected to disburse a further $1.5 million shortly.

On the total amount needed to complete the registration, Correia said this was difficult to estimate because the prices of the necessary materials "fluctuate a great deal on the market". But he gave an estimate of between $10 and $11 million.

As for STAE's preparations for the registration, Correia said that his institution is busy rehabilitating infrastructures, used for the first multi-party elections, in 1994. Money had been sent to the various provinces to upgrade STAE buildings, that have fallen into disrepair since 1994.

As for staff training, he said that his institution has just completed the training of 28 trainers, to be distributed countrywide and train others. About 10,800 people will be involved in the registration work.

Finance Minister on Russian debt

The admission of Russia into the Club of Paris, the group of major creditor nations, last month is an important step for the relief of Mozambique's foreign debt, Planning and Finance Minister Tomas Salomao told reporters on 2 October.

"We have to make the most out of Russia's entry into the Paris Club", he declared, thus confirming the long-standing belief that an undertaking to relieve the debt of countries such as Mozambique was a condition for Russian entry into the Club.

Salomao said that Mozambique's debt to Russia is about $2.3 billion (40 per cent of the total foreign debt of around $5.7 billion). Of this, $1.3 billion is military debt: the former Soviet Union used to be Mozambique's major source of military hardware and training. The remaining billion dollars results from various civilian cooperation projects with the ex-USSR.

Salomao said the government's next step must be to contact the Secretariat of the Club of Paris to request information on the conditions that Russia accepted in order to gain entry. Based on this Mozambique could then sit down with the Russians "and negotiate a favourable discount on the debt".

Speaking of the results of the annual meeting of the World Bank and the IMF, held this year in Hong Kong, Salomao again confirmed that Mozambique will be granted eligibility for the HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Countries) debt relief initiative.

Salomao now expected the HIPC debt relief to be implemented in December 1998 or June 1999. He warned that to benefit from HIPC terms, Mozambique would still have to work "full steam ahead" until the end of the year in order to fulfil the pre-requisites demanded by the IMF and the World Bank.

Salomao stressed that the government wants the country to benefit from the HIPC initiative as soon as possible, in order to relax the pressure that debt repayments represent for the state budget. Significant levels of relief will allow Mozambique to switch resources away from debt servicing to priority areas as health, education and water supply.

The World Bank and the IMF state that the aim of the HIPC initiative is to reduce the debt of beneficiary countries to "sustainable" levels.

The HIPC initiative aims to deal, not merely with debt servicing, but with the debt stock itself. Currently the net current value of the Mozambican debt is over 400 per cent of the country's annual export earnings. The Bretton Woods institutions believe that 200 to 250 per cent is a "sustainable" level. In September, Salomao was confident that with HIPC terms this ratio could come down to 200 per cent or less.

As for the debt service ratio, the Bretton Woods institutions believe that 20 to 25 per cent of annual export earnings is "sustainable". The British charity Oxfam, which has campaigned hard on third world debt, believes that a 12 to 15 per debt service to exports ratio would be more appropriate.

Electricity prices to continue rising

The price of electricity in Mozambique will continue to rise over the next two years, and will only stabilise once it has reached the equivalent of 9.5 US cents per kilowatt-hour, according to the Deputy Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Castigo Langa.

Interviewed by AIM in London, Langa said that the increases were part of a plan to make the publicly-owned electricity company, EDM, economically viable. Regular price rises under this plan had begun two years ago when the average price of a kilowatt hour was the equivalent of five US cents. Currently the price is eight US cents.

"Our studies showed that when we reach a price of 9.5 US cents per kilowatt-hour, EDM will be viable, and there will be no need for further price rises", said Langa. He said the government had no other option. Keeping prices low would merely play into the hands of those who would like to see EDM privatised.

He pointed out that, if EDM were to fall into private hands, the new owners would not merely want a viable company - they would want one that made a substantial profit, so that prices would rise still higher.

The government was aware of the difficulties that low income families have in paying for energy, he added. That was why EDM had a system of differential tariffs, with a preferential domestic rate which is much lower than the industrial rate. Even within the domestic rate, there are lower prices for those who use only a little energy.

In London, Langa attended a seminar on privatising electricity services, and found here that some opinions of World Bank consultants, handed down to Mozambique as if they are unchallengeable wisdom, are in fact strongly contested.

"Present at the seminar were some consultants who have been sent to Mozambique by the World Bank, and who have tended to assume that their opinions are the last word on the subject and should be accepted without question", said Langa. "But during the seminar it was shown that some of their theses are no good, and are nothing but personal opinions or hypotheses".

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