The Southern African Development Community (SADC) "is the only vehicle that will take us to that promised land of a united and prosperous southern Africa", declared South African Foreign Minister Alfred Nzo, the current chairman of the SADC Council of Ministers, in Maputo on 29 January.
He was speaking at the opening of a two day session of the Council, which has been preceded by three days of intensive meetings of experts of the various SADC sectors.
Nzo declared that the ministers had gathered in Maputo "to collectively reaffirm our unwavering faith in our common objective of strengthening the ties that bond us together", but he then abandoned diplomatic niceties to suggest that the meeting should ask "honest, searching questions as to whether we have done the best we could to achieve the objectives of SADC, and to derive maximum benefits from the organisation's sectoral activities".
Regional integration should not be just about future benefits, but should "decisively address today's pressing problems such as the impending drought, such as job creation and skills development, and of course issues of production, trade and investment".
Nzo said it was a matter of concern that "we are still far from achieving the collective self-reliance necessary to make our region a major player in the global market".
Nzo also called for the "rationalisation of SADC institutions" and "the ratification and implementation of SADC protocols". These were matters "of the utmost urgency".
SADC Executive Secretary Kaire Mbuende noted that over the past four years the region had undergone fundamental changes - including the end of apartheid in South Africa, the fall of the Banda dictatorship in Malawi, Mozambique's first multi-party elections, "and the general move towards more transparent, accountable and democratic state institutions".
Part of the dream of SADC's founders had been realised in the shape of "a politically united southern Africa, which values human rights, good governance and the rule of law".
Mbuende noted that, with last year's admission of Seychelles and Congo-Kinshasa to membership, the SADC region's population has risen from 150 million to nearly 200 million people, and its GDP from $150 billion to about $180 billion. "This has created a relatively large and attractive market for any investor", he said.The challenge now facing SADC, Mbuende continued, "is to realise and uphold the vision of an economically integrated southern Africa, in order to fulfil the other part of the dream of the organisation's founding fathers".
Host Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi stressed the need to implement the SADC trade protocol. Movement towards a free trade area "will allow us to remove inefficiency and distortions from the market".
Mocumbi said that "a new model of revitalised cooperation between SADC countries" must involve "revising and rationalising" the SADC programme of action. The programme contains well over 400 separate projects, and Mocumbi was evidently suggesting that many of these should be scrapped or merged.
The National Elections Commission (CNE), the independent body in charge of organising elections, on 6 February published the timetable for the country's first municipal elections, scheduled for 29 May.
Political parties, coalitions of parties, and independent groups of citizens who intend to contest the elections must register from 23 to 26 February.
Parties must submit a copy of their statutes, their symbol and acronym, and proof that they have been legally recognised by the Ministry of Justice. Since most of the parties also fought the 1994 general elections, they are already registered with the Justice Ministry, and so this requirement should cause no problems.
Independent groups of citizens must also submit a list of backers, amounting to at least one per cent of the electorate in the city or town they are contesting.
From 9 to 16 March lists of candidates must be submitted to the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), the electoral branch of the civil service.
Over the next fortnight, the CNE will verify that each of the candidates meets the requirements set forth in the legislation governing the municipal elections. For instance, candidates must be Mozambican citizens who are at least 18 years old, and must have resided in the municipality they are contesting for at least six months.
Among those barred from standing are magistrates, soldiers on active duty, bankrupts, anyone in debt to the municipality, and owners of companies that have ongoing contracts with the municipality.
A definitive list of candidates will be published by the CNE on 29 April. Over the next three days, the positions on the ballot papers will be determined by lot in each of the 33 municipalities where the elections will be held.
From 11 to 14 May candidates must send the CNE the lists of people they wish to appoint as polling station monitors. Credentials for the monitors will be issued from 19 to 22 May.
The electoral campaign itself will run from 14 to 26 May. Campaigning is forbidden in the 48 hours prior to the elections. Between the end of the campaign and the day after voting, the publication of opinion polls is also banned.
The CNE says it intends to announce the definitive results by 15 June, and that the newly elected mayors and municipal assemblies will be sworn into office between 15 June and 5 July.
Renamo's leader, Afonso Dhlakama, has repeated his demand that the government scrap the voter registration of November-December last year and hold a new one.
Dhlakama said that Frelimo must admit its mistakes made during the registration, and hold a new one in the 33 places to be covered by the municipal elections. He also demanded the politicisation of the electoral branch of the civil service, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE). Dhlakama wants a STAE consisting of representatives of political parties. He claims that the current STAE "carries out Frelimo orders".
In fact, under electoral legislation, the instructions that STAE carries out come from the CNE. STAE is only an executive body, whereas the political decisions are taken by the CNE, three of whose nine members were nominated by Renamo. The three Renamo members, Jose de Castro ( former Renamo general secretary), Joao Almirante and Juliano Picardo, have announced that they are suspending their participation in CNE meetings.
"There are people from districts not covered by the municipal elections, but who have been registered in the electoral registers of other districts so that they can vote for Frelimo", Dhlakama claimed. "There are people with three or four voters cards with different numbers".
The first accusation, that people are being bussed in from other areas to vote in the municipal elections, has also been made by Frelimo officials against Renamo. It is inherently unlikely, because of the enormous costs involved in moving thousands of people significant distances on two separate occasions - once to register and once to vote.
As for people trying to vote three or four times, the main safeguard against this is the use of indelible ink, into which voters must dip their fingers. Polling station staff will not allow people who already have the ink on their fingers to vote again, no matter how many cards they have. This worked very well during the 1994 general elections.
Dhlakama's claims that the registration had been fraudulent do not impress foreign observers, including the European Union, who paid most of the $11 million spent on voter registration.
The information provided to EU ambassadors by the EU and UN experts working at STAE indicated that there were plenty of administrative and logistical shortcomings in the registration, but no sign of organised fraud. This message was conveyed by British High Commissioner Bernard Everett, who led an EU troika (including Dutch and German representatives) at a Maputo meeting on 30 January with Dhlakama and Renamo general secretary Joao Alexandre.
The Democratic Union (UD) coalition, now expanded from three to eight parties, has said it wants the elections to go ahead, despite the flaws in the registration.
The German NGO, the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, launched on 5 February, in Maputo, six publications for voter education in preparation for the municipal elections.
The materials are in the shape of brochures, containing cartoons and posters, and a glossary of terms and concepts related to municipal elections. The booklets are written in Portuguese and Shangaan, Sena, Ndau and Makua.
Several organisations took part in preparing these materials, including Swiss Cooperation, the Austrian North-South institute, and the Mozambican Language Study Nucleus (NELMO) at Maputo's Eduardo Mondlane University. The glossary contains 400 entries, and the entire package of materials cost $70,000.
Thirteen Mozambican and foreign shareholders have set up a consortium, the Nacala Development Corridor Company, whose first task will be to carry out feasibility studies on the Nacala corridor, which includes the port of Nacala, in the northern province of Nampula, and the railway to Malawi. Former Defence Minister Alberto Chipande has been appointed chairman of the management board.
The consortium, with an initial share capital of $100,000, intends to negotiate with the government for a concession to develop and run the Nacala port and railway.
The Mozambican shareholders include companies such as the MG-Consultores, Gestra, "Sociedade de Tecnologias Portuarias" (Port Technologies Company), and three individual shareholders, namely Alberto Chipande, Amade Camal (a prominent businessman who is also a parliamentary deputy for the ruling Frelimo Party), and Daniel Frazao Chale. Two other leading Frelimo parliamentarians, Armando Guebuza and Teodato Hunguana, have interests in MG-Consultores.
The foreign investors include two USA companies, namely the American Railway Development Corporation and Edlows, the Portuguese company TERTIR (Portugal Terminals), and another consortium that includes the Portuguese engineering company SOMAFEL and the French firms COGIFER & SAE International.
This Franco-Portuguese group undertook the massive rehabilitation of the Nacala railway (from Nacala to the town of Cuamba, in Niassa province) in the 1980s.
The Mozambican shareholders have 33 per cent of the consortium, while the foreign investors have 67 per cent.
The consortium's spokesman, Fernando Amado Couto, explained that during the next six months studies will be carried out to assess the technical, financial and economic conditions of the project.
Explaining the basis of the consortium's optimism, Couto noted that it already has an idea of the Malawian and Mozambican traffic using the corridor and its value, and also knows the amount of investment needed to rehabilitate the infrastructures.
He estimated that the rehabilitation of the railway between Cuamba and the Malawian border and the branch line from Cuamba to Lichinga, which were not rebuilt in the 1980s, would cost between $50 and $70 million.
Couto said that the consortium is merely a transitional body, preparing the next stage, which is an investment society. He explained that in the second stage investment requirements will be much higher, with a minimum share capital of $1 million. In that stage it is expected that the publicly-owned Mozambique Port and Railway Company (CFM) will join the consortium, which will bid for the management concession on the entire Nacala Corridor.
Transport Minister Paulo Muxanga announced on 3 Febraury that a second international conference of investors to mobilise funds for the Beira Development Corridor will be held in Beira in March.
The first such investors' conference took place in Zimbabwe in December 1996. It was then that Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe signed the agreement introducing the "development" component into the Beira transport corridor.
On 2 February two investment companies for the corridor were set up in Beira, after the signing of a protocol that established a Beira Development Corridor Business Council. This Council brings together businessmen from central Mozambique and their counterparts in the Zimbabwean province of Manicaland.
"Their aim is to cooperate in investments in the corridor", said Muxanga, "since each company on its own has little chance of prospering".
The Mozambican and Zimbabwean governments, he added, will assist the businessmen in mobilising the human and material resources needed.
The committee of Mozambican NGOs fighting against desertification has urged the government to take urgent measures to discipline the activity of logging companies, and stop the indiscriminate felling of trees.
The chairman of the committee, Policarpo Tamele, said on 27 January that desertification in Mozambique was taking on "dangerous" proportions, due to the growing number of areas where forest cover has been removed.
The number of logging companies has risen substantially in recent years, and many of them cut down trees ruthlessly, without any regard for environmental concerns. Tamele called for a special fee to be paid by logging companies, the proceeds from which would be ploughed into reforestation.
Until fairly recently desertification was limited to the six provinces south of the Zambezi (Tete, Sofala, Manica, Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo). Much of this area is naturally semi-arid. But now, according to Tamele, the problem has spread north, and parts of Zambezia, Niassa and Cabo Delgado are facing deforestation.
The Anti-Desertification Committee consists of six Mozambican NGOs. At a meeting on 13 January it decided to launch activities to make communities, farmers and loggers aware of the dangers and blockages to national development that could result from measures that damage the soil, the forests and the environment.
Tamele said involving the communities in the fight against desertification was particularly important, since they interacted with the soil and the forests every day, as they struggled to grow crops or to gather firewood.
Tamele called for a proper integration of environmental concerns into national development policies so that activities take conservation criteria into account.
The health authorities in Beira have announced that the death toll from the cholera outbreak in Sofala province, which began on 24 January, now stands at 78, with 827 patients currently hospitalised.
A total of 1,565 people suffering from cholera had passed through Beira Central Hospital by 5 February. A further 11 cases have been reported from Nhamatanda district, about 100 kilometres west of Beira.
A new cholera ward was inaugurated on 5 February at the Beira Health Sciences Institute, to respond to the ever growing number of patients. This is the second block in the institute to be converted into a cholera ward.
Francisco revealed that the epidemic has also reached Beira Central Prison, where eight cases have been diagnosed and admitted to the hospital.
To help tackle the epidemic, a team from the French NGO "Medecins sans Frontieres" including three doctors, six nurses and three sanitary engineers, has arrived in Beira.
The engineers' task is to help find ways of solving the problem of the city's poor sanitation system, which, together with the heavy rains, is blamed for the severity of the epidemic in Beira.
A team from the European Union has also arrived in Beira to identify the problems and assess the kind of support the organisation can give, to fight the epidemic.
Other NGOs, such as the German GTZ, and the Mozambican Red Cross, are also involved. The former is undertaking civic education, advising on the precautions to be taken against cholera, while the latter is helping in the rehydration and transport of patients to hospital.
The Sofala health authorities received on 5 February 5,000 more litres of intravenous rehydration solution.
The cholera epidemic since mid-August has now killed a total of 412 people, Deputy Health Minister Abdul Razak Noormahomed announced.
The worst situation is in the central port city of Beira. Noormahomed described it as "dramatic and worrying because of the poor sanitation conditions in the city".
In Maputo province the cumulative total is 2,058 registered cases and 58 deaths, mostly in Matola.
In Gaza province there have been 763 cases and 11 deaths.
In Manica province there have been three cases of cholera, and in Inhambane two, none of whom have died. Northern Mozambique is so far totally free of the disease.
The basic treatment for cholera is simply to replace the fluids lost through the violent diarrhoea and vomiting. This requires copious amounts of intravenous rehydration solution. Health authorities have sufficient stocks for several more weeks.
Russia has agreed to an 80 per cent discount on Mozambique's debt to the former Soviet Union. According to the Planning and Finance Ministry, technical negotiations between Mozambican and Russian delegations took place in Moscow from 28 to 30 January. These talks finally agreed a figure for the debt of $2.5 billion as of 1 January.
One of the reasons no progress had previously been made in dealing with the debt was that the Mozambican and Russian figures were not the same - a problem arising from the exchange rate of the rouble.
The Russian authorities then agreed to write down the debt to $509 million dollars, a discount of 80 per cent. This is the discount agreed to by the Club of Paris, the grouping of major creditor nations, in mid-January: and it is not as generous as some western governments and NGOs such as Oxfam had been arguing for. The British government, for instance, had been in favour of a 90 per cent reduction in Mozambique's debt stock.
The remaining debt to Russia has been rescheduled under the "Naples terms" granted to Mozambique by the Club of Paris in November 1996. The debt will be rescheduled over 33 years, at an interest rate of 0.8 per cent per annum.
Further negotiations over the debt to Russia will take place in the second quarter of this year, the release announced.
About two thirds of this debt was military, resulting from the armament provided by the Soviet Union to the Mozambican armed forces during the wars of destabilisation waged against Mozambique by the Rhodesian and South African white minority regimes. The rest is the legacy of a number of civilian projects involving Soviet equipment.
Experts from the Romanian Finance Ministry and the Foreign Trade Bank arrived in Mozambique on 1 February to assess the level of Mozambique's debt to this former socialist country.
The Romanian charge d'affaires, Valeriu Nicolae, said that the debt is estimated at around $100 million. Nicolae said that "a solution to the debt problem should take into consideration the Mozambican economy's real ability to pay, and the undertakings given to international financial institutions".
He claimed that Romania had never made the development of trade or of bilateral economic cooperation dependent upon solving the debt issue, and that Romania is proposing a broadening of the judicial framework for relations between the two countries.
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