The Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, at the end of an extraordinary sitting on 20 September, passed unanimously a set of electoral laws, after the opposition Renamo-Electoral Union abandoned all the demands that it had been making for the previous two years.
Earlier in the day divergences seemed as deep as ever over voter registration, the National Elections Commission (CNE), and on whether the executive body, the Electoral Administration Technical Secretariat (STAE), should be exclusively staffed with political appointees.
Six hours of discussion between the parliamentary leaderships of the majority Frelimo Party and of Renamo on 19 September had led nowhere. There was no advance the following morning, and Frelimo deputies seemed resigned to postponing the entire electoral package into the next ordinary sitting of the Assembly, due to begin in late October.
But a shift in Renamo's position became evident at about 16.00, when a moderate opposition deputy, Maximo Dias, suddenly announced that Renamo was prepared to make one final attempt to reach agreement on all the points in dispute.
Negotiations resumed and to the surprise of observers, Renamo capitulated. On all the major points, Renamo dropped its amendments. Later Dias told AIM he had been in contact with Renamo leader Afonso Dhlakama who gave the green light for the dramatic change in Renamo posture.
During the past two years of negotiations in an ad-hoc commission reviewing the electoral legislation, Renamo had won several victories including larger electoral commissions.
Frelimo has always been in favour of a relatively small CNE - but the ad-hoc commission agreed to expand the CNE from 17 to 19 members (Frelimo had wanted no more than 13), and to deprive the government of voting CNE members. The ad-hoc commission also expanded each of the provincial elections commissions from seven to nine members, again knocking out government representation. As for district commissions, the ad-hoc commission reached no firm conclusion but agreed to at least seven members (there were only six in the 1999 commissions). For Frelimo, which had once argued (in 1997-98) that provincial and district commissions were redundant and useless bodies, this was a major concession.
For Renamo, the larger the commissions, the more jobs there are to be distributed among Renamo members. Since each commission member is paid, the commissions become important as a form of patronage.
Moderates such as Dias warned Renamo hard-liners that if they insisted on all or nothing, they would end up with nothing - or, to be more precise, the 2003 local elections, and quite possibly the 2004 general elections, would be fought on the existing legislation, unamended.
Dhlakama's role was probably crucial. Other opposition members told AIM that Dhlakama had been consulted. One said "the decision was taken by the parliamentary group, and Dhlakama consented".
Thus Renamo withdrew its demand for re-registration of the entire electorate. Instead, the existing registers, which were computerised after the 1999 general elections, will be updated every year (saving at least $10 million).
Renamo also abandoned its insistence that all decisions by electoral bodies should be taken either unanimously, or by a two thirds majority. Now, in the likely event of lack of consensus, decisions will be taken by simple majority vote. This includes the first decision of all - who should chair the CNE. The chairman will be an independent figure proposed by civil society organisations. Should there be more than one candidate, and lack of consensus among the other 18 CNE members (ten appointed by Frelimo and eight by Renamo), a simple majority vote will solve the matter. The only significant change over the previous Frelimo proposal is that such votes will be by secret ballot.
Renamo had even wanted decisions over protests and doubts at the polling stations resolved by a two thirds majority among the polling station staff. Frelimo warned that this was a recipe for paralysis. In the revised bill decisions will be taken by simple majority, and in the event of a tie, the polling station chairperson will have a casting votes. Appeals can be made to the relevant electoral commission.
As for STAE, Renamo abandoned its attempt to politicise from top to bottom this body, which is the electoral wing of the civil service. The principle is now accepted that STAE is a neutral body, staffed by civil servants appointed on the basis of merit. But during electoral periods, the STAE general director will be assisted by two deputies, one appointed by Frelimo and one by Renamo.
Other political appointees chosen by the parliamentary parties will be drafted into STAE 45 days prior to the elections, and will leave 45 days after the results have been announced. But the bill did not specify how many such appointees will be employed by STAE.
Only one significant concession was made to Renamo during these final negotiations - the district and city electoral commissions will now be the same size as the provincial ones, consisting of nine members. There are 148 districts and cities, and 11 provinces. So these commissions, plus the CNE itself, will have a total of 1,450 members, all of whom will expect to be paid out of the public purse.
Once agreement on all the contentious points was announced, the bills were hastily voted upon, at about 22.30. They passed by acclamation. The path is now clear to prepare updating the electoral registers, and to hold the municipal elections in mid- 2003.
Over 30,300 kits of various seeds have been distributed as part of the Mozambican government's plan to reduce the effects of this year's drought in southern Africa.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the seeds have been distributed in the southern provinces of Maputo and Gaza, and in Manica and Sofala in the centre of the country.
The plan to mitigate the effects of drought was launched on 13 March, in an attempt to provide immediate assistance to households seriously affected by the failure of the rains. The Ministry began a meeting in Maputo on 23 September to evaluate the plan.
Among the measures taken were to draw up plans in each of the districts affected to make use of low lying areas that still retained some humidity, to build new and rehabilitate existing small irrigation schemes, to increase the area planted with drought resistant crops, and to distribute seeds for the second sowings or the next agricultural year.
Speaking to reporters, Agriculture Minister Helder Muteia warned that the country has not yet entered the period of greatest food shortage. The situation is expected to worsen before the next main harvest is due in April next year.
The number of Mozambicans in need of food aid, largely because of drought in the southern and central provinces, has risen to about 587,000 (which is about three percent of the total population).
This figure was announced in Maputo on 16 September: it results from a joint assessment mission undertaken by the government, the World Food Programme (WFP), and the Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) in July and August.
The number is a 13 percent increase on the figure of 515,000 given by an earlier assessment mission in May. A report from the Mozambique Vulnerability Analysis Committee (VAC) blames the increase on the inclusion of pockets of hunger from two provinces north of the Zambezi - Zambezia and Nampula.
In Nampula, the problem is not related to drought: instead, one of the basic food crops, cassava, has been hit by brown streak virus, which has drastically reduced yields in coastal parts of the province.
But most of the affected households are living in Maputo, Gaza and Inhambane provinces in the south of the country, and Sofala, Manica and Tete in the centre.
The report notes that, taking the country as a whole, the 2002 harvest saw an increase in grain production. Total grain production is estimated at 1.77 million tonnes, which is five percent higher than in 2001.
1.24 million tonnes of maize were produced - which was an eight percent increase. However, most of this maize is in the north, and the hunger is in the south. There is an estimated surplus of 100,000 tonnes in the north, but the report remarks that "high internal transport costs make it uncompetitive to move the maize from the north to the deficit areas of the south".
In some southern and central districts grain production was 34 percent lower than in 2001. Most of these districts are naturally semi-arid areas, where rainfall normally ranges between 400 and 600 millimetres a year. Maize production is always a risky business in these areas.
The areas described as "critical", where poor households face the largest food deficits, are the Upper Limpopo (the Gaza districts of Chicualacuala and Mabalane), the Gaza interior (Massangena and Chigubo districts, and the northern parts of Guija and Chibuto), the Inhambane interior (Funhalouro and Mabote), the semi-arid interior of the northern Zambezi valley (northern Changara, southern Chiuta, south and central Moatize, northwest Mutarara, all in Tete), Memba district in coastal Nampula, and Chinde and Inhassunge in Zambezia.
To feed the 587,000 people at risk, the assessment mission calculated that Mozambique will need food aid donors to provide 49,275 tonnes of grain between now and March 2003.
At the time of the May report, food aid needs were estimated at 70,050 tonnes - of which donors have so far pledged 13,275 tonnes (or less than 20 percent).
The mission found that the main markets are not short of food. In fact, they are well stocked with staples - but at high prices, putting the food out of the reach of poor households.
"In the more remote parts of the country", it noted, "there are problems of physical access to markets due to poor road infrastructure. This means that even if households have reasonable access to cash income, they face difficulties in purchasing staple food".
The Mozambican government is proposing a growth rate of eight percent for the Social and Economic Plan for 2003, to be submitted to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, at its next ordinary sitting.
Prime Minister Pascoal Mocumbi told reporters on 19 September that the plan also aims at an average inflation rate in 2003 of no more than 8.3 percent. He added that the plan for next year is aimed at "improving the quantity and the quality of public services in education, health, water supply, sanitation, and roads".
Prime Minster Mocumbi said that the economy was growing in the first half of the year at a rate of over 10 percent per annum, much higher than the 7-8 percent target. "The assessment made in the first quarter, and confirmed in July, indicates this growth", he stressed. This growth, plus low inflation, "are good indicators of a healthy economy", said the Prime Minister. They were also key to maintaining a climate favourable to investment.
Prime Minister Mocumbi said that, even without including the aluminium ingots produced at the giant MOZAL smelter, Mozambique's exports are running at between $300 to $400 million a year. This compared with total exports in 1994 of around $100 million. "Only a major disaster could stop the country's economic development", he said.
Asked whether the escape of the accused assassin Anibal dos Santos Junior ("Anibalzinho") would scare away investors, the Prime Minster replied that the country's partners know what the government has been doing to establish institutions that carry out their tasks properly. Anibalzinho is one of the six men charged with the murder in November 2000 of Mozambique's best-known journalist, Carlos Cardoso. Mocumbi admitted that his escape was a test for Mozambican justice.
The percentage of girls in second level primary education (EP2, which covers grades six and seven) in Mozambican schools is tending to decline, unlike the situation in the first five grades of schooling (EP1), where both the absolute number and the percentage of girl pupils is growing.
These findings are contained in a report presented to the Education Ministry's technical council, bringing together government officials and donor representatives, that opened in Maputo on 23 September.
"Despite the fact that women are the majority of the Mozambican population (about 52 percent according to the 1997 population census), there are fewer literate girls than boys", the report says. "In 1999, 42.7 percent of places in EP1 and 40.1 percent in EP2 were held by girls. But this year, the figures are 44.6 percent in EP1 and 39.4 percent in EP2. As one can see, the tendency is positive in EP1 and negative in EP2".
The same document adds that there were 7,771 EP1 schools across the country at the start of the 2002 school year, 291 more than the previous year, which represents a growth of 3.8 percent when compared with 2001, and of 17.6 percent when compared with 1999.
"There are 2,644,405 pupils enrolled in EP1 this year, compared with 2,074,709 in 1999", says the report, which is an average increase of nine percent a year. "If this growth rate continues, we hope to reach the figure of three million pupils by 2004, a target established in the government's five year programme".
The report notes, however, that despite the growth in the school network, the demand for school places is still outstripping supply. It is estimated that 37 out of every 100 children aged between six and 10 do not yet have access to school.
As for secondary education, the report says there are 100,000 pupils enrolled in secondary schools across the country this year, which is the target established by the government. It notes that the sharp decline in enrolment between primary and secondary education shows the unbalanced growth of the education system. "Taking into account that the country's population is now estimated at 18 million, the 100,000 students in secondary education represent less than one out of every 100 people, which is clearly very low for the country's needs", reads the document, adding that the main stumbling block for the expansion of secondary education is the shortage of qualified teachers.
Education Minister Alcido Nguenha declared that his Ministry has made significant advances in the major areas of its strategic plan. The main objectives of the strategic plan are to expand education opportunities (largely through expanding the school network), improve the quality of education, and strengthen the Ministry's institutional capacity.
Nguenha stressed the rise in the number of children attending primary school. "We are moving out of the phase in which we were just recovering the levels first attained in the early 1980s, and into one of sharp development of the educational system with gross enrolment rates in first level primary education (first to fifth grades) of 123 percent", he said.
(The gross enrolment rate is a ratio between the children actually at school, and the children of the appropriate age group - it can be over 100 percent because many of the new entrants into primary school are much older than six, the age at which school enrolment is supposed to start.) Expansion of educational opportunities, the minister added, also included a revived literacy and adult education programme, as well as the restructuring of secondary education.
The government now wants to switch some of its attention onto vocational training. "Given the important contribution that technical and professional education plays in the struggle against absolute poverty, and in promoting social and economic development, the government has defined the reactivation of this level of education as an urgent priority", said Nguenha.
As for teacher training, Nguenha said the government's strategies are aimed at quantitative and qualitative improvement, through an increase in the numbers attending initial training in teacher training colleges, and also through on-the-job training via distance learning courses, and other methods of continuous training and recycling.
The Bank of Mozambique signed in Maputo on 11 September, a convention with the French Development Agency whereby the latter is to grant 7.2 million Euros to support programmes in the copra sector in the central province of Zambezia.
Central bank governor Adriano Maleiane signed the document on behalf of the Mozambican government, whereas Francoise Desmazieres, the Maputo director of the French Agency signed on behalf of her country.
At the signing ceremony, Maleiane said that the programme aims at safeguarding the coconut palms in that province, by fighting against the trees' lethal yellowing disease. Copra is the main cash crop for the rural population of coastal Zambezia, and the livelihood of around 500,000 people is threatened by the disease. Another objective is to increase the peasants' income and improve their living conditions by improving the quality of coconut by-products and defining conditions for future development of the sector through a master plan and support for its implementation.
The money will also be used to fund projects defined in the context of the government's Agricultural Development Programme (PROAGRI) and the Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (PARPA), designed to promote human development and create conditions for sustainable economic growth.
For her part, Desmazieres said that her institution's action falls under the contract signed in November 2001, in terms of which 29.79 million Euros of Mozambican debt to France have been cancelled, and transformed into development aid.
This is the third tranche of the debt/development swap. The earlier instalments went towards macro-economic support, and assistance for the health sector in the northern province of Cabo Delgado.
The Mozambican company "Final Farmaceutica" is set to sign a protocol in Maputo with the International Herbal Group (IHG) for the expansion of local production of medicines.
The idea is to promote the production of high quality and low cost generic medicines in the country, to cater for the needs of low income households. Under the terms of the agreement, Final will also produce anti-retroviral and anti-malaria drugs. The malaria drugs are to be manufactured from Artemisinina, a drug developed in China.
IHG has contracted the Mozambican company to research on malaria so that Chinese scientists, in cooperation with their Mozambican counterparts may assess the clinical feasibility of the drug Artecom, made from Artemisinina, and which is believed to be one of most promising solutions for the treatment of malaria when it becomes resistant to the other drugs.
The signing ceremony is to be attended by the Prime Minister of China's Macau Special Administrative Region, Edmundo Ho, who is on an official visit to Mozambique. Among the owners of Final is the Minister of Tourism, Fernando Sumbana.
The first issue of a new weekly paper "Zambeze" hit the streets of Maputo on 24 September, thus raising the number of serious weeklies in the country to four. The 32 page paper costs the same as "Savana" - 15,000 meticais (about 60 US cents).
The new paper is owned by a company called Novomedia, and its director is Salomao Moyana. Moyana has a long and distinguished career in Mozambican journalism. He was AIM's first correspondent in the northern province of Nampula in 1985-86, and then worked on the Sunday paper "Domingo" until 1994.
Moyana was one of the 13 founding members of the journalists' cooperative Mediacoop, and when Mediacoop began publishing "Savana", in 1994, he became editor, a post he held until May of this year.
Disagreements inside Mediacoop, which had now transformed itself into a limited company, resulted in the Board of Directors dismissing Moyana. His place at the helm of "Savana" has been taken by Fernando Goncalves. a former chief new editor at AIM.
The editor of "Zambeze" is Lourenco Jossias, who was previously editor of the Mediacoop daily newsheet "Mediafax". A couple of other Mediacoop journalists - Ericino de Salema and Carlos Andre - have joined Moyana and Jossias in the new venture.
The editorial statutes of "Zambeze" state that its main interest lies in "investigating, interpreting and divulging political, economic, social, sporting, cultural and environmental events in Mozambique, southern Africa and the world in general".
Its "fundamental editorial criteria" are listed as "independence, impartiality and a critical attitude towards all public or private powers", and it pledged to adopt a principle of "continual investigation and permanent doubt in relation to all sources". It therefore does not recognise any such thing as the anonymous "reliable source".
Meanwhile, Mozambique's oldest independent publication, the daily newsheet "Mediafax" has a new editor, Marcelo Mosse.
Mosse is already very familiar with "Mediafax" - when the late Carlos Cardoso was editing the paper in the mid 1990s, Mosse was effectively his number two.
Mosse began his career in journalism at the Radio Mozambique station in the southern province of Inhambane, where he worked as a cultural and a sports reporter. He became the "Mediafax" correspondent in Inhambane in 1993, and two years later moved to Maputo, where he worked directly with Cardoso, and also contributed cultural pieces for Mediacoop's other publication, the weekly paper "Savana".
For over a year Mosse has been fighting a criminal libel suit moved against him, and against the now defunct "Metical", by businessman Nhimpine Chissano, son of President Joaquim Chissano.
Workers at the Maputo tyre factory, Mabor, who have been on strike for a month, have decided to return to work after negotiations last week with the management.
The spokesman for the Mabor trade union committee, Eduardo Licumba, told AIM on 18 September that "we've ended the strike, because we were able to reach consensus with the management".
Among the workers' demands had been an increase of over 100 percent in the minimum wage paid in the factory, which is currently 1.5 million meticais (about $63) a month. Miserable though this figure may sound, it is almost twice the statutory minimum wage.
The strikers had also demanded changes in bonuses and the removal of the Mabor financial management. From Licumba's evasive answers, it seems that the strike failed and that none of the workers' demands have been met.
He admitted that there would be no immediate increase in wages. There would however be changes, including in wages, and in "relations with some individuals in the management", at some stage in the future, he said.
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