At least 113,000 Mozambican families (about 565,000 people), in the southern and central regions of the country, are said to be facing serious food shortages over the next few months because of drought.
According to preliminary reports, there are drought stricken areas in parts of Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane provinces, in the south, and Sofala, Tete and Zambezia in the centre.
"We have serious indications of drought, and that is why an assessment is being made from the agro-meteorological point of view", said the director of the National Disasters Management Institute (IGNC), Silvano Langa.
He said the Mozambican authorities are monitoring the drought situation, which is related to the "El-Nino" weather phenomenon that is causing very low levels of the rivers in these regions.
Langa said that at least 100,000 hectares of assorted crops, mostly maize, have been lost to drought in the first planting season.
"The agricultural campaign is still on. We will see what will become of the second sowing season. If there are conditions for planting we will make a timely distribution of seeds, particularly for drought-resistant crops".
The Italian government has announced a donation of 5,000 tonnes of rice, worth about two million Euros (about $1.72 million), to add to the existing stocks in the country to assist needy populations who are running short of food.
The first two consignments, totalling 1,900 tonnes, are expected to arrive in Beira on 18 and 20 March. As for the 3,000 tones of grain for the southern region, deliveries will be in April and May.
Silvano Langa, said that other organisations, such as the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Food Programme (WFP) have also pledged food assistance.
The Mozambican Red Cross is also prepared to make available for the victims of drought a few thousand kits that had been prepared in case of any repeat of the floods that had hit the country in the two previous years. This time, there were no floods, but parts of Inhambane, Gaza and Maputo provinces in the south, and Tete, Sofala and Zambezia in the centre, suffered inadequate rainfall. More than half a million people are said to be affected.
Langa said that about 6,000 tonnes of assorted foodstuffs are in stock: these are sufficient to cater for about 450,000 people for a two month period. He said that his institution is not waiting for the completion of the reports into the seriousness of the drought conditions, but is already distributing food relief.
"We have contacted our partners in order to have the food that had been made available for possible floods or cyclones to be used to cater for the victims of drought", he said.
President Joaquim Chissano said in Washington on 27 February that globalisation runs the risk of becoming something akin to slavery for the majority of the world's peoples, unless new rules of the game are adopted that ensure equal rights for all in a globalised economy.
Addressing a conference in the Woodrow Wilson Centre, on the final day of his official visit to the United States, President Chissano said it has become imperative, not only to accept that the current methods of international cooperation are unjust, but to correct them in practice, in particular so that international trade becomes a "win-win" process.
President Chissano argued that the slave trade, which brought Africans to the Americas, "was a form of globalisation". Nowadays the nature of the trade has changed, in that it is merchandise and not human beings that are bought and sold - nonetheless, the President insisted, the exchanges are unequal, with the poor gaining precious little from the sweat of their brows or their countries resources.
President Chissano was in Washington to meet with US President George W Bush at the White House on 26 February. The meeting took place along with Presidents Jose Eduardo dos Santos of Angola, and Festus Mogae of Botswana.
President Chissano on 6 March visited Perth, Australia, at the invitation of the local government and the Western Mining Company Ltd, which has been undertaking geological studies on Chibuto mineral sands in the province of Gaza.
Speaking to journalists accompanying him on his visit to Australia, where he took part in the Commonwealth Summit that ended on 5 March, President Chissano said that geological work and the negotiations with the company are in an advanced stage, and may be finished by the end of the year.
The main mineral in the Chibuto sands is ilemite, from which metals of the platinum group, such as titanium can be extracted.
Deputies from the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union coalition on 7 March tried to sabotage the debate on the report presented to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, the previous day by Attorney-General Joaquim Madeira.
As soon as Assembly chairman Eduardo Mulembue tried to start the debate, he was interrupted by Renamo deputy Luis Boavida who claimed there was a "prior question" to be resolved. He demanded, as a condition for starting the debate, that Madeira produce a list of names of people under investigation for all the crimes he had mentioned in his report (ranging from embezzlement through to murder).
Renamo was furious that Madeira had spoken of their party's leader, Afonso Dhlakama, in connection with the highly public beatings and kidnappings carried out by his bodyguards last year.
Madeira had explained how he had attempted to arrange a meeting with Dhlakama but that Renamo had changed the date twice, and then failed to come back to him with a definitive date.
Boavida demanded that, if Dhlakama's name had been mentioned, then so should the name of everyone else under investigation.
Deputies of the majority Frelimo Party regarded this as no more than a delaying tactic. Ali Dauto pointed out that the Attorney-General reported to parliament, because he had a constitutional and legal obligation to do so. But the constitution put no conditions on discussing this report.
"You can ask questions of the Attorney-General during the debate, and he will reply", Dauto said.
Boavida insisted that a list of names of suspects should have formed part of Madeira's report, and accused Frelimo deputies of trying to protect themselves.
"Perhaps many of the names of the suspects belong to the Frelimo parliamentary group", jeered Francisco Machambisse, while a third Renamo deputy, Dionisio Quelhas, told Madeira "you're either with god or with the devil, It's up to you".
"Raising "prior questions" is just an excuse used by the Renamo group to avoid debate", accused Frelimo deputy Teodato Hunguana. "You want an excuse to walk out of the room. Why are you afraid of starting the debate.".
"I am not opposed to the Attorney-General giving more names", added Hunguana. "He can give more names - including my own. I'm not afraid of the debate. But it's up to the Attorney General to decide whether he will release more names".
Mulembue had every opportunity to rule the Renamo "prior question" out of order - but he refused to do so and called for a vote. Renamo demanded a five minute interval before the vote - which stretched out into about 20 minutes. Despite the modernisation of the Assembly building last year, voting and counting procedures are still entirely manual - which meant that more time was lost before Mulembue could announce the inevitable result. With its comfortable parliamentary majority Frelimo beat off the Renamo demand by 132 votes to 105.
In all Renamo succeeded in wasting about 70 minutes of the assembly's time with its "prior question". Later in the morning, Madeira told the deputies that it would be improper for him to give names of suspects while investigations were still under way. To noisy heckling from the Renamo benches, he said that releasing a list of names before charges had even been laid would be prejudicing the constitutional principle of the presumption of innocence.
As for Dhlakama, to date he was not a suspect in any case. (The people who had been summoned to answer questions concerning crimes were among the Renamo security force supposedly guarding Dhlakama - and Madeira had not mentioned any of them by name).
Madeira added that, though he was not legally obliged to meet with Dhlakama, he thought it desirable that the Attorney- General should hold meetings with political and religious leaders to hear their opinions and any suggestions they might have for improving the workings of the legal system.
The Mozambican public are not complicit with crime, but victims of it, declared Teodato Hunguana.
Hunguana sharply disagreed with the claim made by Attorney- General Joaquim Madeira the previous day that Mozambican society "passively connives" with violent crime. Madeira had noted the frequency with which citizens are mugged in broad daylight, women have jewellery ripped from them, or mobile phones are stolen, and nobody else in the vicinity lifts a finger to stop the crime.
Hunguana politely told Madeira to stop blaming the victims.
The real problem was that the institutions of justice were not working properly. "As a result of the inadequacies shown by those directly involved in the fight against crimes (the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry, the courts and the attorneys) crime is growing in front of the apparent impotence of those who should put an end to it", said Hunguana.
Under these conditions society felt abandoned, he added. And when people tried to deal with criminals their own way "you come down on them and say it's a crime to take the law into your own hands.".
So if people shrugged their shoulders, and did not intervene to stop crimes, it was because they felt defenceless. "This isn't connivance", said Hunguana. "It's despair and powerlessness. So we can't accuse the public, the victims of crime, of conniving with crime. The connivance is elsewhere".
Hunguana praised Madeira for opening his office to the public, and encouraging all citizens and institutions to denounce crimes.
Contributions to the debate made by deputies from the Renamo-Electoral Union opposition coalition were often lists of alleged abuses and complaints that Madeira's office had done nothing about them. Thus David Alone claimed a young Renamo supporter named Trindade, in the western province of Tete, had been beaten so badly by local officials that he had lost the use of his arms. "Trindade's only crime is that he's a member of Renamo", exclaimed Alone.
Some of the Renamo allegations were promptly denied by Frelimo deputies. Cornelio Quivela claimed there was a reign of terror in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, with the police harassing and beating peasant farmers in their fields. But Frelimo deputy Miguel Mussa, also from Cabo Delgado, said this was completely fictitious.
The real problem in Cabo Delgado, he said, was that in the districts of Namuno and Balama there were people spreading disinformation about cholera, in order to provoke frightened people into beating up health workers who were accused of causing the disease rather than preventing it.
The worst rioting linked to cholera happened at Nipepe, in the neighbouring province of Niassa. Renamo deputy Hilario Waite tried to blame the violence, which led to 54 arrests, on the "arrogance and abuse of power" of the local administrator.
Frelimo deputy Sousa Jeque promptly denied this, and said the Nipepe riots had been deliberately started by Renamo. He noted that among those arrested were the Renamo district delegate and his deputy.
Frelimo deputies also noted that Renamo still keeps an armed force of its own which refuses to obey the established authorities. Acucena Duarte noted that, when accused of assaulting citizens, these Renamo bodyguards refuse to obey summonses issued by the public prosecutor's office.
"This is not isolated or individual behaviour", she said. "It has the blessing of the leadership of their party".
Duarte said it was unacceptable and repugnant that justice could be obstructed in this way, and that "suspects could evade a summons just because they carry guns and belong to Renamo".
Frelimo on 1 March warned that, if the opposition continues to hinder revision of the country's electoral laws, then the 2003 local elections, and the 2004 general elections, will take place on the basis of the existing legislation.
Speaking at the opening session of a sitting of the Assembly of the Republic, the head of the Frelimo parliamentary group, Armando Guebuza, said that impasses on the ad-hoc commission discussing the electoral laws could not be allowed to compromise the elections.
The Assembly decided in 2000 that revising the legislation governing municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections was an urgent task, and handed it over to an ad-hoc commission.
The commission soon slid into deadlock. The entire year of 2001 was wasted: in over 50 meetings the commission managed to discuss just 18 of the 424 articles in the current laws, and reached agreement on only seven.
The problem is one of radically different interpretations of the remit of the ad-hoc commission. Renamo is not trying to revise the legislation at all: instead it wants to write something completely new. Whereas Frelimo sees the work as one of repairing faults in what is essentially a sound structure, Renamo wants to tear the building down and start again.
Guebuza argued that the deadlock had been deliberately created "in an attempt to manipulate or to reverse principles that have already been discussed and accepted".
Frelimo would not allow Renamo's behaviour on the ad-hoc commission to delay the elections, he stressed. "In the absence of any better solution the elections would have to take place under the current legislation, since there is no legal vacuum", said Guebuza. He pointed out that the current legislation had been approved by consensus (in the late 1990s) "and nobody should ignore or pretend they don't know this".
The head of the Renamo parliamentary group, Ossufo Quitine, took the opposite line and accused Frelimo of holding up the approval of new electoral laws. "For merely fraudulent reasons, Frelimo is creating more and more obstacles", he said.
He claimed that changing the electoral laws would guarantee free and fair elections, and that the existing laws (although Renamo had voted for them) defend Frelimo's interests. The current laws, said Quitine, "create all the conditions for fraud in the electoral results, and for lack of transparency in the process".
The Mozambican legal system is beginning to deal with cases more speedily, but there remains a huge backlog, according to the report given on 1 March by the President of the Supreme Court, Mario Mangaze.
Opening the Judicial Year, Mangaze said that in 2001 the Supreme Court concluded 298 cases, compared with 185 in 2000 - an increase of 61.1 per cent.
He said this was largely due to improved organisation. The Supreme Court had set targets for each of its judges, and had restructured itself so as to free judges from other tasks, and dedicate themselves to casework.
In some provincial courts there was a 50 per cent increase in cases dealt with, but the overall average was an increase of just five per cent - rising from 17,626 cases completed in 2000 to 18,514 in 2001.
But the number of cases pending is formidable. In the Supreme Court, the number of pending cases has fallen by 4.5 per cent - from 1,179 at the start of 2001 to 1,126 now.
In the provincial courts the decline was only 1.9 per cent - from 130,519 cases at the start of 2001, to 128,039 now. Some of these cases, Mangaze admitted, will never be dealt with - some because the time limit has been exceeded, and others because the parties involved have simply lost interest.
He recognised the harsh criticisms made of the legal system for its failure to halt corruption and to defend citizens' rights. While these problems were not exclusively the result of a shortage of money and trained staff, Mangaze argued that the current state of the justice system "results from the lack of attention paid to it in the past".
But now, said Mangaze, there was increasing awareness "that economic and social development necessarily involve the existence of a strong judicial apparatus, endowed with resources that allow it to act efficiently and effectively".
He was pleased that today there was "an unquestionable will" on the part of the government to strengthen the justice system, and this had led to the drafting of the first integrated strategic plan to develop the sector, in joint efforts by the Ministry of Justice, the Supreme Court, the Administrative Tribunal and the Attorney-General's Office.
The Board of the World Bank has approved a $60 million credit in support of Mozambican higher education institutions, which will be disbursed over a five year period.
This money is particularly directed to the country's largest higher education institution, the Eduardo Mondlane University, the Pedagogical University (the university level teacher training institution) and the Higher Institute for International Relations (the main task of which is to train the country's diplomats).
Items to be funded include curriculum and academic reform, academic and administrative staff development, financial management and efficiency improvements, new facilities, and better use of information technology.
Part of the money will also be used to grant scholarships for higher education.
Another objective of the project is to develop in Mozambique a Distance Learning Network, to be operated by the existing private and public institutions and managed by a consortium of Higher Education institutions.
Among the reforms to be funded by the World Bank is the introduction of more courses that end in a Bachelor's Degree. Currently most university courses take at least five years, and successful students earn a degree called a "licenciatura" - something which has no equivalent in the English-speaking world, and is said to be somewhere between a bachelors and a masters degree.
The Swedish government is to grant two million Swedish Crowns ($880,000) for the implementation of the first stage of the Mozambican Higher Education Strategic Plan.
The strategic plan is to conduct feasibility studies on the expansion of higher education to the various provinces of Mozambique, and look into new criteria for access to this level of education, ensuring equality of opportunity for the various social groups in the different regions of the country.
The Zimbabwean electricity company (ZESA) has now completely paid off its debts to Hidroelectrica de Cahora Bassa (HCB), the company that operates the Cahora Bassa dam on the Zambezi in the province of Tete.
HCB, a company 82 per cent owned by the Portuguese state and 18 per cent by Mozambique, supplies Zimbabwe with 500 megawatts of power. For a lengthy period, Zimbabwe failed to pay, and ran up a debt which reached $42 million.
Although more Cahora Bassa energy is sold to the South African electricity company, Eskom, than to Zimbabwe, it is the latter which is providing the greater part of HCB's revenue,due to the low tariff paid by Eskom.
HCB is currently studying the possibility of building a second line from Cahora Bassa to Zimbabwe.
A pilot project in the use of the anti- retroviral drug Nevirapine is to start in the southern city of Matola later this month, according to Health Minister Francisco Songane.
Nevirapine is used to prevent the transmission from mother to child of the HIV virus that causes the lethal disease AIDS. Of all infant cases of AIDS, the great majority (60-70 per cent) became infected with HIV during birth.
Songane said that the pilot project will be supported by the Italian catholic organisation, the Santo Egidio Community.
Latest statistics indicate that about 1.1 million Mozambicans are infected with HIV,three per cent of whom are children under the age of four.
Unknown assailants shot and severely injured the mayor of the southern city of Xai-Xai, Fakir Bay, on 7 March.
Bay was rushed to Maputo Central Hospital with a bullet in his chest and another in his back. He is under the care of neurologists, but is currently paralysed from the waist down.
Bay was able to speak to Radio Mozambique, and said that he was attacked by four armed men at a crossroads near the Xai-Xai beach. He said that he was convinced that the motive of the attack was to steal his Toyota four wheel drive vehicle.
The Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development has purchased 100 per cent of the shares in Maputo's best known hotel, the Polana.
Previously the hotel was 55 per cent owned by a foreign consortium headed by the South African Kairos Hotels group, and 45 per cent by Mozambican companies - the national airline, LAM, the private financial investment company, SOCIEF, and the state- owned National Tourism Company, ENT.
Mozambique expects to harvest over 20,000 tonnes of tobacco this year - a growth of 25 per cent. Last year tobacco farmers produced 16,000 tonnes.
The plan to relaunch tobacco production is being undertaken initially in the northern provinces of Nampula, Niassa and Cabo Delgado, and in Manica, Tete and Zambezia in the centre of the country.
The relaunching programme falls under the cash crop sector of the National Agricultural Development Programme (PROAGRI).
Among the actions undertaken have been the introduction of varieties resistant to pests and diseases, the multiplication of improved seeds, the promotion of tobacco as a source of income for peasant households, and the mechanisation of production, using appropriate technologies, in the peasant sector.
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