Technical staff in the Ministry of Agriculture are looking into possible links between the drought now affecting parts of southern and central Mozambique and a resurgence of the "El-Nino" weather phenomenon (the warming of the surface waters of the Pacific Ocean).
"El-Nino" has been blamed for previous southern African droughts, notably in 1992. Once again much of the region is suffering abnormally low rainfall, and there are strong suspicions that "El-Nino" is the culprit.
Agriculture Minister Helder Muteia announced on 22 March that this research will continue until a definite link with "El-Nino" is established, or the theory discarded. He was speaking at a press conference after the end of a meeting of the African Agricultural Research Forum (FARA) which brought together specialists from some 50 African countries.
Muteia said that the government's current estimate is that 41,000 people are facing hunger. They have sold off their stocks of food, and their harvest for this year is mostly lost.
"What makes matters worse is that the whole region is suffering from drought", he said. "Even South Africa, which normally has no problem with grain, is feeling the situation". But Muteia was critical of media reports that dramatised the situation, and gave inflated numbers of people at risk. (The daily paper "Noticias", for instance, has claimed that over half a million people are at risk). The minister declared that "such numbers don't reflect reality".
The drought was not generalised across the entire country - it was at its most severe in the southern three provinces, and Muteia pointed out that this region is always a food deficit area, and usually only contributes about 10 per cent of Mozambican grain production.
Over 100,000 people are in need of food aid for the next few months in seven districts of Tete province, to make up for the loss of large areas of cultivated fields due to poor rainfall.
According to "Noticias" on 22 March, Tete governor Tomas Mandlate has issued a call for assistance in the districts of Zumbo, Mutarara, Magoe, Changara, Moatize, Cahora Bassa, and Chiuta. Mandlate explained that the province needs at least 1,908 tonnes of grain and 152 tonnes of beans, to be able to provide 10.5 kilos of grain and 1.5 kilos of beans per month for each of the needy families.
He said that his government has been working to encourage the peasants to use low-lying humid lands for agriculture and also to plant short cycle crops, and sell livestock in order to acquire much needed food.
A multisectoral team, including officials from the National Disaster Management Institute (INGC), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Agriculture and Health Ministries, recently visited the province to assess the situation.
Meanwhile, the INGC could not confirm reports that 45 people have died of hunger in the districts of Memba and Monapo, in the northern province of Nampula.
The chief of the Planning Department of the INGC, Joao Zamissa, said that "In this case there are no clear indications that there were deaths from hunger. We are waiting for a report. If the deaths were actually due to hunger, it is strange that it happened suddenly. We acknowledge that there are chronically vulnerable areas along the Nampula coast, but there are survival mechanisms, varying from one place to another".
He said that, following the alert, the INGC has channelled 80 tonnes of maize and 20 tonnes of beans for distribution in the affected areas, according to priorities defined by the Nampula provincial government.
The Agriculture Ministry has drafted a plan for simplified techniques of food production to compensate for the loss of thousands of hectares of assorted crops to drought in several parts of the country.
Agriculture Minister Muteia, speaking during the closing session of a seminar on food security in Beira over the weekend of 16 - 17 March, said that projects are underway to take advantage of the higher levels of humidity in low lying areas, small scale irrigation systems, and timely distribution of inputs for the second planting season.
Muteia said that, in the most serious cases of food shortages, the plan is to resort to "food for work" programmes. He warned that a poorly managed food aid programme may result in "the rupture of traditional production practices and procedures", which was why his ministry was acting very cautiously when it came to food aid.
Muteia said that 41,000 families have been identified so far as being in "a very difficult situation, calling for urgent action".
Between 50,000 and 70,000 hectares of crops were lost to drought this year. The Agriculture Ministry has made available up to $600,000 to be used, in a first stage, to assist peasants in the second season plantings.
Muteia explained, however, that it is the provincial authorities' job to find out the provinces' needs in terms of inputs. "What we want is for the provinces themselves to decide on the needs in terms of seeds, the rehabilitation of irrigation systems, and the use of the available resources", he said.
Teams from the Agriculture Ministry will soon visit various provinces to determine where and how many support units should be set up.
The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, on 21 March unanimously approved a new national anthem.
The old anthem, dating from independence in 1975, was strongly opposed by opposition parties, largely because the very first line reads "Viva, viva a Frelimo" (Long live Frelimo). The anthem goes on to make the prediction that Mozambique "will be the graveyard of capitalism and exploitation".
Since 1992 the anthem has been played, not sung. This did not satisfy the opposition, partly because they continued to associate the tune with the words, and partly because in schools up and down the country, teachers went on teaching pupils the old words.
Two competitions were organised for writing the new anthem, but both came up with mediocre entries. But when a new ad-hoc commission was elected in 2000, somebody remembered that the first attempt to revise the national anthem dated from the early 1980s. Then President Samora Machel had invited some of the country's best poets and musicians to write possible anthems.
The lyrics and tunes were written, and deposited with the military band. But the military situation deteriorated sharply, and revising the national anthem was no longer a priority.
The potential anthems gathered dust for almost two decades. When the ad-hoc commission revived them, they found that several were better than any from the competitions.
On 21 March the commission presented the Assembly plenary with three possibilities. Eventually the new anthem was unanimously passed, with a vague promise of "improving" the melody over the next couple of weeks.
The Assembly of the Republic on 20 March passed the first reading of a government bill on mining by 133 votes (from the ruling Frelimo Party) to none, with 99 abstentions (from the Renamo-Electoral Union opposition coalition).
The bill seeks to bring mining legislation into line with all the changes that have occurred in Mozambique over the past decade and a half.
The existing mining law dates from 1986, from the days of the one party state and the planned economy. It is therefore not compatible with the free market reforms that have occurred since then, or with legislation of the 1990s on land use, environmental matters, and investment.
Among the most important changes in the government bill are a reduction in discretionary powers in granting mining licences, and the introduction of "reconnaissance licences".
The new bill insists that mining should be in conformity with the country's environmental legislation, as well as with "good mining practices, in order to minimise waste and the loss of natural resources, and to protect them against unnecessary damage".
The bill was held up last week, because the government did not produce any written estimate of its budgetary consequences. The Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Castigo Langa, argued that there was no need for this, since there were no such consequences.
Nonetheless, the deputies insisted, and the debate could only start on 20 March once a government document had been circulated stating that "implementation of the new mining law will involve no additional costs, since no new bodies will be created to carry it out, and the capital and recurrent budgets of the existing bodies are already contained within the approved state budget".
During the debate Frelimo deputies praised the bill, but insisted that mining projects must bring benefits for people living in the areas concerned.
Renamo deputies dismissed the bill as useless, sometimes on grounds that had nothing to do with mining. Sergio Sefane argued that, because Frelimo is "socialist and anti-democratic", none of its policies could be any good. "The solution does not lie in passing new laws or changing old ones, but in changing the regime", he said.
Others took the regionalist line arguing that Frelimo is only interested in developing the south of the country and has no interest in the welfare of people living in the central and northern provinces.
Lourenco Juma argued that it was the government's fault that the Alma gold mine in Manica province, and a graphite mine run by the Irish company Kenmare Resources, at Ancuabe in Cabo Delgado province, had closed down. The closures could have been avoided if the government had offered better tax breaks, he argued, and particularly if it had subsidised the cost of the fuel (diesel) used by the Ancuabe mine The government did not take such measures, Juma claimed, "because these projects are north of the Save river, and Frelimo treats Mozambicans from the centre and north as second class citizens".
Langa retorted that anyone who thought southern Mozambique was rich should visit districts such as Chigubo (in Gaza province), a desperately poor and arid area. The idea that the government discriminated against the north of the country "is a false claim made by people who have no programme to offer", he said.
Langa informed the deputies that the Ancuabe mine had closed because the world graphite market had changed when cheap Chinese graphite. As for subsidies, Langa said that while some governments are able to inject money to keep companies open during difficult times, this was not the case in Mozambique.
Langa said the government was working to re-open the Ancuabe mine, and when electricity transmission lines reach Ancuabe, bringing power from the Cahora Bassa dam, it will no longer have to rely on expensive imported diesel.
Renamo deputies had also complained about the coal mines at Moatize in Tete, which are ticking over at a fraction of their capacity. This is because the only feasible way of taking the coal to port, so that it can be exported, is the Sena railway line, from Moatize to Beira, which Renamo destroyed in the mid- 1980s during the war of destabilisation.
"Those who destroyed the Sena line should not talk about the Moatize coal", said Langa. "But we are going to repair the line and move the coal, against the wishes of those who destroyed the railway. We are negotiating with potential partners so that the line will indeed be repaired".
There was a similar problem with the mineral resources in Upper Zambezia, said the minister. In the 1980s, Renamo had simply dynamited tantalite mines, included those at Murrua and Muiane. Langa announced that these mines are being rebuilt, and will be reopened later this year.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi has said that it is imperative to reform the international economic environment and allow the inflow of additional, untied financial resources to developing countries.
Speaking on 21 March at the United Nations conference on development finance in the Mexican city of Monterrey, Prime Minister Mocumbi reiterated calls on the developing countries to honour their commitment to allocate 0.7 per cent of their GDP to Overseas Development Aid (and 0.15 to 0.2 per cent to the least developed countries). This is the longstanding United Nations aid target - and most of the major western powers still fall far short of it.
For example, in 2000, within the European Union, the most generous country was Denmark where development aid was equivalent to 1.06 per cent of its GDP. The lowest was Italy with just 0.13 per cent. The least generous of all is the United States which gives development aid equivalent to just 0.1 per cent of its GDP - the smallest proportion donated by any developed country.
"We commend those countries that have achieved and even exceeded these targets", said, Mocumbi, warning that failing to achieve these minimal targets "will undoubtedly lead us to greater tragedies".
To be of any worth aid should not come tied to conditionalities, he thought. "As our experience has shown, one US dollar of untied aid has more value than two or more dollars of tied aid".
For Mocumbi, the conference marked a new and unique opportunity to develop a new paradigm for international cooperation - "a paradigm that allows a just sharing of the benefits of globalisation among all nations and removes the poor nations from their present marginal role into active players in the process", he declared.
"We came to Monterrey to reaffirm the need for a comprehensive approach to the issue of financing for development, an approach which must include a genuine partnership among all stakeholders involved in the development process. A partnership based on solidarity and mutual trust among all parties. A partnership founded on reciprocal benefits", he said.
He recalled that when the UN adopted the Millennium Declaration, specific development targets had been set, namely to reduce by half the percentage of people living in absolute poverty by the year 2015; to secure equal access to education for children of both sexes all over the world; to reduce maternal mortality by three quarters as well as child mortality by two thirds; to reverse the trend of HIV/AIDS, malaria and other endemic diseases.
But there is little sign that the war against poverty is being won: the current estimate for the number of people living in absolute poverty is 1.3 billion, and the figure is said to be growing as 2.8 billion live on less than two US dollars a day.
If the Millennium Declaration targets are to be met, then there is no time to waste. "We have to admit that we need to act now", said Mocumbi." We need to take concrete action that translates our political commitments into deeds".
Although the international community had launched a series of initiatives aimed at narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor, actions have not matched the words. The gap between the poorest fifth and richest fifth of the world's population has doubled between 1960 and 2000, and the richest fifth of the world's population enjoys 80 per cent of global income, while the poorest fifth has just 1 per cent of it. Most of the commitments to close the gap between rich and poor "remain to be implemented", said Mocumbi.
"In recent years we adopted the Plan of Action for the Least Developed Countries, the Doha Development Agenda and the Cotonou Agreement, which are commendable endeavours that still need fine tuning to make them work for the poor". Mocumbi said that one of the aspects that needed such fine tuning was access to markets. He did not see how agricultural products from the least developed countries could compete in the international market when their products are not subsidised, but when the governments of the developed world are giving their agricultural producers subsidies of $350 billion a year.
President Joaquim Chissano has denied that the Zimbabwean commercial farmers who are working in central Mozambique will bring with them the land problems that have plagued Zimbabwean politics.
Speaking in Harare to Mozambican Television (TVM) on 19 March, President Chissano distinguished sharply between the land situation in Mozambique, where all land is state property, and Zimbabwe, where it is mostly in private hands.
He pointed out that the white Zimbabweans coming to farm in Mozambique are investors, "and must follow precisely the same rules as other investors".
Furthermore, there was nothing new about foreigners farming in Mozambique. "We already have foreign companies in Mozambique working on much larger areas of land that those occupied by the Zimbabwean farmers", he said. Also, the opportunity to farm in Mozambique was not restricted to white Zimbabweans. If any black Zimbabweans had money to invest in Mozambique, they were welcome too, President Chissano stressed.
As for the controversial Zimbabwean presidential elections, won by the incumbent, Robert Mugabe, President Chissano repeated his belief that they had been free and fair, and claimed that "Europe and America do not know Africa well". President Chissano claimed that the anomalies and "the few scenes of violence" that preceded the elections had no impact on their outcome.
President Chissano said he had followed the Zimbabwean crisis over a period of years. "One cannot assess these elections just through an observation of a few weeks or even months", he added. "One must take into account a whole series of factors, and we think there was a great opening for a democratic process such as this, which allowed real participation of all forces. We think we should encourage democracy instead of discouraging it".
President Chissano argued that Africa should be given time to improve its nascent democratic systems. "If Africa is to have mature democracies, then it must be given time, and above all support, otherwise everything, including the continent's embryonic democracies, will collapse under such basic problems as lack of food, drinking water, medical care and schools".
A captured bank robber has confessed that his gang was responsible both for the shooting of the mayor of the southern city of Xai-Xai, Fakir Bay, on 7 March, and the raid on a bank in the town of Macia the following day, reports "Domingo" on 17 March.
The captured thief, 41 year old Bernadino Doane, was arrested last week shortly before a shoot-out with the police in the town of Chibuto, during which two other members of the gang were killed.
On 13 March Doane was arrested, the police had already picked up a second gang member, Daniel Manjate. On 15 March the police attempted to arrest the gang leader, named only as Arlindo. They sent Manjate to knock on Arlindo's door. The door opened, but instead of persuading Arlindo to surrender, Manjate went inside, took a gun, and both men attempted to escape through the back entrance. Shots were exchange, and both Arlindo and Manjate were killed.
The police say they are continuing the search for the other three members of the gang.
The Maputo City Court has found businessmen Ayob Abdul Satar and Momade Assife Abdul Satar guilty of usury, and ordered them to repay much of the money and goods they extorted from their main victim, the company Bazar Central.
The owner of the company, Abdul Magid Hussen, confirmed to AIM on 16 March that the court has ordered the Satar brothers to pay compensation of a million dollars. In addition, a debt of 6.3 billion meticais that Magid was forced to pay has been declared null and void, and the Satars must return the money.
Fines and legal costs to be met by the Satars come to over seven million meticais, and they were also sentenced to three months imprisonment for their illicit loansharking practices.
When this trial took place the two brothers were already in Maputo's top security jail, charged with the murder of Mozambique's best-known journalist, Carlos Cardoso, who was gunned down on the streets of Maputo on 22 November 2000.
Momade Assife Abdul Satar, and several other members of the Satar family, are also accused of the fraud that siphoned 144 billion meticais ($14 million at the exchange rate of the time) from what was then the country's largest bank, the BCM, on the eve of its privatisation in 1996.
Despite the court ruling, Abdul Magid doubts that he will receive money from the Abdul Satar family: but he is hopeful that he can regain the properties which they seized. He told AIM that the matter of enforcing the court ruling is now in the hands of his lawyer, Albano Silva.
The Mozambican government's Water Investment and Assets Fund (FIPAG) on 14 March signed an agreement with the French company Seureca Space for rehabilitating and expanding the Maputo water supply system.
The French company is to draw up the studies, and inspect work on the project, which should bring piped water for the first time to the neighbourhoods of Hulene, Mahotas, Laulane and Ferroviario, and will improve the supply to the neighbourhoods of Maxaquene, FPLM, Polana-Canico, Triunfo, Costa do Sol and Pescadores. In all, these improvements should benefit about 200,000 people.
According to FIPAG, the project is scheduled to take 22 months - seven months for studies, three months to select and hire a contractor, and 12 months for construction. The total budget for the undertaking is $13.5 million, financed by the Mozambican government and the African Development Bank (ADB).
The first secretary of Frelimo in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, Joao Alfai, has been suspended from his post, according to a report in "Noticias" on 21 March. The paper adds that Alfai was accused of a number of irregularities, denounced during a recent visit to Cabo Delgado by the party's secretary general, Manuel Tome.
A source within the Frelimo leadership declined to specify the nature of these irregularities, but the paper suggested that it may have to do with abuse of alcohol during a recent meeting of the party's Provincial Committee in Cabo Delgado.
Alfai, however, denies that he has been suspended, saying that he is simply on leave. He said he should have taken his holidays in February, but they were postponed for reasons he did not specify.
The Japanese government formally handed over, on 25 March, 491 million yen (about $4.7 million) worth of aid for the rehabilitation of health units in the areas affected by the floods that hit southern and central Mozambique in 2000 and 2001.
The Japanese Ambassador, Yoshihro Nose, said that this brings to $30 million total Japanese aid to Mozambican flood victims.
The donation, received by Mozambican Health Minister Francisco Songane, consists of assorted medicines and vaccines, and a variety of equipment, including four vehicles, 19 motorbikes, fridges, and solar panels.
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