The hopes of several of Mozambique's minor political parties that they could ride into parliament on the back of Renamo have been dashed, and it now seems clear that Renamo will fight this year's presidential and parliamentary elections on its own.
Forming a joint list would mean Renamo surrendering some of the parliamentary seats it now holds in favour of its 15 allies, a prospect that must have alarmed some sitting Renamo deputies. The reality is that Renamo does not need 15 tiny appendages. It is the only opposition force that is organised all over the country, and is under no pressure to take any of the 15 seriously.
On 20 February, nine parties, most of whom had previously been members of the group of 15, broke definitively with Renamo, and set up their own coalition, the Mozambican Opposition Union (UMO), to contest the elections.
Three members of UMO are recent creations: they are the Peasants' Party, ALIMO (Mozambique Independent Alliance), and PAMOMO. The other six members all stood in the 1994 elections, and all did poorly. FAP (Patriotic Action Front) ran as a member of the Patriotic Alliance (AP) coalition which picked up 1.95 per cent of the votes. The others are as follows, with their percentage of the 1994 vote given in brackets:
SOL - Social Liberal Party (1.67 per cent),
PACODE - Democratic Congress Party (1.10 per cent),
PRD - Democratic Renewal Party (1.01 per cent),
PADEMO - Democratic Party (0.77 per cent),
UNAMO - Mozambique National Union (0.73 per cent).
PADEMO president, Wehia Ripua, has been elected as the leader of UMO. The charismatic and outspoken Ripua is much better known than his party. In the 1994 presidential election he came third - with 2.87 per cent of the vote.
Ripua said that UMO would work together to win the elections and "allow the Mozambican people to have a civilian government". He claimed that Mozambique had never had a civilian government, and would not have one in the future "if it continues to be governed by Frelimo and/or Renamo".
This is the second opposition coalition to declare its intention of fighting this year's elections. The first was the Alliance for Democracy (APD), consisting of MONAMO (Mozambican Nationalist Movement), FUMO (Mozambique United Front), and the PCN (National Convention Party).
There are some signs that awareness of the lethal disease AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) is on the increase in Maputo. Medical staff believe this is shown both in the increased demand for condoms and in the use of confidential counselling services.
According to Emilia Adriano, executive director of MONASO (Mozambican Network of Anti-AIDS Organisations), in January the Counselling Centre in the inner Maputo suburb of Alto Mae attended to 95 people who had gone there for information on AIDS.
The centre also carried out 80 blood tests on people wishing to know whether they were carrying HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. 24 of these people (30 per cent) - 13 men and 11 women - were indeed HIV-positive.
The Centre also has a "help line" where people who are worried about AIDS or want information on the disease can ring up and ask. Confidentiality is guaranteed. In December and January, 165 people, aged between 15 and 25, used this line.
Emilia Adriano thought the increasing demand for counselling was positive, and showed a growing awareness in society of the danger of AIDS. Nonetheless, a great deal still needed to be done, particularly among those many Mozambicans who are not reached by the mass media.
The total number of AIDS cases diagnosed in Mozambique up to June 1998 was 8,678. But this figure in no way represents the real extent of the disease, since most AIDS cases have not been diagnosed. The Health Ministry fears that by the year 2000 there will be 1.5 million Mozambicans (out of a total population of about 16 million) infected with HIV.
Not enough statistical data is available to give a full picture of the AIDS situation in Mozambique, but one alarming figure comes from the Maputo Central Hospital blood bank. All donated blood is routinely screened for HIV. There were 191 blood donations in January, of which 49 - 26 per cent - were rejected as HIV-infected.
The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is to provide Mozambique with $2.4 million worth of assistance for up to 80,000 victims of natural disasters.
This aid was originally designed to help victims of the drought which it was feared might hit the southern provinces of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane. It consists of 5,000 tonnes of maize and beans - enough to feed 80,000 people for four months.
The WFP says it has no problem in switching this aid to the victims of other disasters. The beneficiaries will now be victims of the floods living near the river banks, who lost their crops to the flood waters.
Overland traffic between Maputo and Beira has been re-established, after emergency work to repair a stretch of the main north-south highway washed away by torrential rains in the central province of Sofala.
The floods had created two gaps in the road - one of about 30 metres and the other of around 200 metres. Both were filled in by the Italian contractor Astaldi.
The second gap was formidable: it was two metres deep with a small river running through it.
Despite predictions that the work would take much longer, Astaldi finished the emergency repairs on 13 February.
The repairs are not complete: no asphalt has yet been replaced on the damaged parts of the road, and so the authorities are warning that great care should be taken in driving along these stretches.
The repairs came as a great relief to truck drivers who had been trapped on either side of the gap in the road. They had been forced to camp beside their vehicles for the best part of a week, and many of them had run out of money and food.
Despite floods in several parts of central and southern Mozambique, the country will still expected to have a good 1999 harvest, according to Deputy Agriculture Minister Helder Muteia.
Estimates by the National Early Warning System are that since mid-January floods have destroyed 44,509 hectares of crops. This compares with 100,000 hectares lost in 1997, while in 1998 45,500 hectares were lost to floods, and about 20,000 hectares to drought elsewhere in the country.
The report from the Early Warning System noted that, despite these setbacks, food production has been growing year after year. (Most of this growth is due to the increase in the area under cultivation).
This year, the most flood affected provinces are Gaza, in the south, and Sofala and Zambezia in the central region of the country, and the most serious losses are of maize.
Nonetheless, Muteia believes that the harvest will surpass the target of 1.7 million tonnes of grain.
He says this means that, except for the most seriously affected areas, there will be enough food for peasant families' own consumption plus a significant surplus for sale.
Muteia noted, however, that further heavy rains are still to be expected.
Teams from the Early Warning System, who visited the affected areas estimate that, in terms of seeds, peasant farmers will need about 367 tonnes of maize, 113 tonnes of peanuts and 110 tonnes of beans in order to re-sow their fields.
The institution is issuing recommendations to farmers for improved conservation and storage of grain given the current damp conditions.
A top-ranking mission from the African Development Bank (ADB) concluded a five day visit to Mozambique on 19 February, declaring that "we are hopeful and optimistic with what we have seen on the ground".
The mission included 12 of the ADB's 18 executive directors, which the mission leader, Alice Dear of the United States, said this was not abnormal. She thought it important to observe what was happening in Mozambique at first hand "rather than depending on documents".
The ADB began lending money to Mozambique in 1977. A total of 44 operations have been approved since then, budgeted at around $800 million.
However, an assessment of the ADB portfolio of projects in 1995 concluded that performance was "unsatisfactory". This was blamed on the war and on "inadequate technical and management capacities".
From 1996 to 1998, however, there was "a great improvement in the quality of project implementation", attributable largely to conditions of peace, said Dear.
In 1998, the ADB approved $42 million worth of projects in Mozambique, mainly in the social sectors.
Mozambique is also one of the 39 countries eligible for money from the recently replenished African Development Fund. The Fund has about $3 billion to be disbursed over the 1999-2002 period, with a strong stress on poverty alleviation projects.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi on 19 February shrugged off Malawian threats to stop using the northern Mozambican port of Nacala. This follows reports that Malawian trade officials want to switch Malawian trade away from Nacala to the Tanzanian port of Mtwara.
The threat seems linked to Malawian demands for a large share in the management of the Nacala port and railway: just as in the Maputo and Beira rail and port systems, the management is to be entrusted to a consortium of private interests.
The relaxed attitude of the Prime Minister lies in the knowledge that moving large amounts of Malawian trade through Mtwara is highly improbable. Both Nacala and the Beira are much nearer to southern and central Malawi than Mtwara is. Only the northern tip of Malawi might gain some advantage in using Mtwara.
Furthermore, Malawian trade can go all the way to Nacala by railway, and most of the line was fully upgraded in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In contrast, there is no railway to Mtwara. Malawian trade wishing to use the Tanzanian port must first go by road to Lake Malawi. Then it must catch a boat to the Tanzanian side, before taking roads to Mtwara.
Nacala is generally regarded as the best deep water natural harbour on the east African coast. It does not need to be dredged, and its great depth means that ships of very large displacement can enter at any tide.
Maputo's privatised steel rolling mill, CSM, is at a standstill because it has failed to pay its electricity bills. The publicly-owned electricity company, EDM, disconnected CSM after it had run up an electricity bill of 616 million meticais (about $50,000).
One of the CSM directors, Joao Garochine, has removed computers from the darkened steel mill so that he could process the wages of the 450 workers at home.
It is far from clear what has precipitated the crisis at CSM, which is 60 per cent owned by the Portuguese Simoes group, and 40 per cent by the Mozambican state.
Between 1992 and 1994 CSM received $17 million from the Mozambican treasury in concessional loans. The money was to be used exclusively to finance the import of equipment.
The destruction of hundreds of tonnes of obsolete pesticides is proving more difficult than authorities initially imagined.
It now appears that the plan to centralise all these dangerous chemicals in the industrial city of Matola prior to their destruction, possibly by incinerating them in the furnace of the Matola cement factory, is not viable.
According to the secretary general of the Environment Ministry, Francisco Mabjaia, in at least one district, Malema, in the northern province of Nampula, it is not possible to move the pesticides to Matola.
The Malema pesticides would therefore have to be destroyed on the spot. This could not be by incineration, said Mabjaia, since the only furnace which is technically capable of destroying such highly toxic chemicals is the Matola one.
Mabjaia suggested that the pesticides "could be mixed with concrete, and then deposited in a specially designed, and tightly controlled, secure landfill".
The final decision on whether or not to incinerate those pesticides that have been transported to Matola will only be known at the end of March, since the environmental impact assessment is being reviewed.
The torrential rains that fell over much of Mozambique in February have led to an increase in the number of cholera cases, and of deaths from the disease, particularly in the cities of Maputo, Beira and Quelimane.
The deputy national health director, Avertino Barreto, told reporters on 16 February that over the past seven days 113 people are known to have died from cholera. During this period, he added, 3,249 new cases of cholera were diagnosed.
Since the resurgence of cholera in September 1998, there have been 36,425 cases and 1,619 deaths - a lethality rate of 4.4 per cent.
This is double the lethality rate from the 1997-98 outbreak of cholera. Between August 1997 and the end of May 1998 there were 35,221 cases, but only 804 known deaths.
The Canadian non-governmental organisation COCAMO (Cooperation Canada-Mozambique) has made 2.5 million Canadian dollars (about $1.7 million) available for a three year mine clearance programme in three Mozambican provinces.
The areas covered are Maputo and Inhambane provinces in the south of the country, and Nampula in the north.
In addition to mine clearance as such, the programme also includes components of assistance to land mine victims, and community rehabilitation projects.
According to the COCAMO coordinator in Nampula, Tracy Brown, the organisation hopes to increase the availability of artificial limbs and orthopaedic services for mine victims, and strengthen the capacity of Mozambican activists involved in land mine programmes.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi declared on 19 February that the government favours "continued dialogue with the private sector", over the introduction of a Value Added Tax (VAT) that will replace the current sales and consumption taxes. However, he refused to state clearly whether the government would yield to pressure from business and change the date for VAT introduction.
The government's date for the switch over to VAT is 1 April, but since August 1998, the formal business sector has been warning that this date is unrealistic, and that companies cannot possibly be ready for such a major revolution in the tax system by April.
The Confederation of Mozambican Businesses (CTA) has stressed that it is not opposed to VAT as such, but its members need more time to prepare. It therefore suggests that VAT be delayed until 1 January 2000.
An early introduction of VAT was one of the conditions for Mozambican entry into the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) debt relief initiative, sponsored by the World Bank and the IMF.
An IMF delegation is currently in Maputo, and Mocumbi confirmed that the government's top priority was access to HIPC. "Without HIPC, all budgetary projections go down the drain", he said.
Mozambique was admitted to HIPC in principle in April 1998. But this "decision point" is followed by over a year in which the country must follow stringent IMF targets, before reaching the "completion point" (in June 1999) when the debt relief is actually made available, and over $1.4 billion (in net current value terms) is wiped off Mozambique's debt stock.
Prime Minister Mocumbi denied that the IMF had told the government "No VAT, no HIPC", but his stress on the priority of HIPC, when he was answering questions about VAT, carried a different message.
He insisted that the government timetable for VAT introduction was "on track" - but businesses disagree, pointing out that key pieces of VAT legislation have not yet been published, and that no layman's manual on VAT procedures is available, explaining the densely complex technical language of the tax code itself.
A national seminar to launch a project to support Mozambique's provincial governments began on 17 February in Maputo. The project is funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to the tune of $2.5 million.
Addressing the opening session of the seminar, the Minister of State Administration, Alfredo Gamito, said that the project was part of the current reform of the public administration, the central goals of which are to modernise and decentralise the administration, and to turn the civil service into a professional body.
The new project is aimed at strengthening the planning, coordinating and decision-making capacities of the provincial governments. Particular attention is to be paid to training up staff of the local branches of Gamito's Ministry (known as "Provincial Support and Control Directorates" - DPACs)
Gamito said the project should strengthen the internal coherence of provincial government structures and the linkages between them, and with private investors and the donor community.
An advisor will be recruited for the office of each provincial governor, supplied with a computer, printer and respective software.
Documents from the Ministry of State Administration state the project is aimed not simply at staff training in general, but at the individual upgrading of each of the officials involved and the capacity building of the departments for which they work.
Gamito himself stressed the importance of working through existing bodies, instead of creating parallel structures "which tend to die when the projects that create them end".
He hoped that the project would be the basis for "a tree of initiatives" at provincial and district level "opening up spaces for new activities, contributing to an improvement in the efficiency and effectiveness of the services of the Public Administration".
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