The Mozambican government's Plan of Action for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (PARPA) "is producing ever more visible results", declared President Joaquim Chissano on 29 April. Giving his annual State of the Nation address to the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, President Chissano declared that implementation of the anti-poverty programme "has significantly contributed to the promotion of human development and to the creation of an environment that favours the balanced, rapid and inclusive growth of our economy".
President Chissano's optimism is based in large measure on the results from the 2002-03 National Household Survey, undertaken by the National Statistics Institute (INE). A comparison with the previous household survey shows that levels of absolute poverty have dropped from 69.4 per cent in 1997 to 54.1 per cent in 2003. In rural areas, 91.7 per cent of children now have to walk for less than an hour to reach their nearest primary school. In 1997 the figure was 74.9 per cent. 54 per cent of the rural population have access to a health unit less than an hour's walk away, a substantial improvement on the 1997 figure of 40.1 per cent.
But President Chissano was concerned at the population drift from the countryside into the cities. To reduce this, programmes to attract investment to the countryside had been stepped up.
The new school curriculum, introduced in January, "seeks to complement the theoretical training of pupils with productive practices, in order to provide them with the skills to develop income generating activities", he added.
Despite the improvements of recent years, poverty remained the government's major concern, "with rather more than half our population still living in penury, unable to ensure basic conditions of subsistence for themselves and their families", the President declared.
But the face of the countryside had changed. "Not so long ago, when we visited the districts and localities of our country, we found people in extreme hunger, asking for assistance so that they would have the minimum to eat", said Chissano. "Today when we visit the same areas, we find the same people, but they are asking not for food, but for markets where they can sell their agricultural surplus".
"Now these people are demanding banks in their districts where they can deposit their savings after they have sold part of their production", he added. "They are calling for better roads, better public services, better water supply, energy and communications".
The government therefore had to ensure that the crops produced by peasant farmers could be sold. The strategy, including the provision of credit for small traders in rural areas, seemed to be working - for in 2003 a total of 572,000 tonnes of the main agricultural crops was marketed, an increase of 7,000 tonnes on the previous year.
President Chissano pointed to electrification as another success story. "Of the 128 district capitals, 117 now have electricity", he said. "In some districts, electrification has reached the administrative posts and localities". The availability of electricity "attracts investments, generates jobs, and thus increases household earnings", he said.
But Mozambique's development was under threat from the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which Chissano described as "a national emergency". The disease was spreading at a "frightening" pace, and currently "one in every seven adults in our country is infected". AIDS had become one of the main causes of death in Mozambique, and Chissano told the Assembly that about 84,000 Mozambicans had died of the disease in 2003.
Efforts to prevent infection were now complemented with treatment through the use of anti-retroviral drugs, which prolong the lives of HIV-positive people. The number of people receiving anti-retroviral treatment is scheduled to rise from 2,000 in 2003 to 8,000 this year.
Deputies of the Renamo-Electoral Union opposition coalition staged a walkout during the vote of thanks given by parliamentary chairman Eduardo Mulembue, after President Chissano had delivered his final State of the Nation address - as he is leaving office at the end of this year.
In reading out the vote of thanks Mulembue summarised Chissano's biography, noting that he had spent the past four decades working for the liberation and development of Mozambique. Renamo did not take objection to the initial phrases, as Mulembue spoke of the young student Chissano, concerned for the future of his country, the guerrilla fighting for independence, the Prime Minister in the Transitional Government (1974-75), and the first Foreign Minister of independent Mozambique.
But then Mulembue reached 1986, and mentioned Chissano's appointment as "President of Frelimo, the party that liberated the country". As soon as the word "Frelimo" was uttered, the Renamo deputies were on their feet and heading for the doors. Just three opposition deputies, all of whom have left the coalition, stayed in their seats.
The Renamo departure made no impact on Mulembue, who finished his speech, and delivered some small gifts from the the Assembly to Chissano.
Accepting them, Chissano assured his audience that, though he would be leaving the presidency, he remained ready to serve Mozambique. "I will remain linked to the people, in the villages and the cities, in the fields or the factories, in the schools and universities", he said. "I will remain Mozambican". He hoped that all deputies had the same feelings, regardless of whether they were re-elected for a further term.
Despite severe drought in parts of southern and central Mozambique, production of most crops grew significantly in the 2003 harvest, Agriculture Minister Helder Muteia said on 28 April.
Addressing the Assembly of the Republic, Muteia said there had been a five per cent increase in maize production, four per cent in cassava, 26 per cent in sorghum and 61 per cent in millet. As for cash crops, there had been a 10 per cent increase in the production of tea, 22.4 per cent in sugar, 27 per cent in cashew nuts and a remarkable 63.5 per cent in tobacco.
The only significant crop where production slumped was cotton. 84,000 tonnes were produced in 2002 and only 54,000 tonnes in 2003 - a decline of 30 per cent. Muteia blamed this on excessive rain and flooding in the cotton-growing areas of the northern province of Nampula.
He was confident that in the 2004 harvest, cotton production will be in excess of 80,000 tonnes, and that in 2005 it can top 100,000 tonnes.
He stressed the growth in Mozambican tobacco production. In the year 2000 only 4,000 tonnes were grown - the figure rose to 23,000 tonnes in 2001 and to 37,330 tonnes in 2003. This year Muteia expected production of about 45,000 tonnes.
This justifies processing the tobacco in Mozambique, rather than in Malawi, and a processing plant is under construction in the western province of Tete. Muteia said that this could double Mozambique's foreign exchange earnings from its tobacco. "Currently the country earns a million dollars from each 1,000 tonnes of tobacco", he said. "But with processing we will earns two million dollars for the same amount of tobacco".
With the major investments by Mauritian and South African companies in Mozambican sugar mills, the sugar industry has recovered, and in 2003 produced 212,000 tonnes of sugar, the highest figure for 25 years. This year's production is expected to reach 250,000 tonnes.
Muteia said that 20 per cent of sugar production now goes into the country's food and drink industry (where it ends up in beer, soft drinks and condensed milk). Thus, in addition to the 27,000 people employed in the four operational sugar companies, the sugar sector is also creating jobs in industry.
As for the troubled cashew industry, Muteia claimed "we have started the process of recovering processing capacity". 12 processing plants are in operation - but these are clearly very small, since between them they only employ 2,300 people, and process 8,600 tonnes of nuts. Another four units will open in Nampula province this year, employing another 750 people. These are all labour intensive units, shelling the cashew nuts by hand. The mechanised cashew factories, which once dominated the sector and made Mozambique a major player in the world cashew trade, remain closed.
Muteia stressed the role of the research institutes under his ministry. These had developed disease-resistant varieties of maize and groundnuts, and were working to overcome the brown streak virus that has damaged cassava production in northern Mozambique.
Mozambican researchers had tested 46 varieties of cassava for productivity and resistance to disease, and had selected eight, with productivity ranging between 12 and 22 tonnes per hectare. "These cassava varieties are already being promoted and have benefited about 700,000 peasant families", said Muteia. "Thanks to this development, production of cassava this year will reach almost seven million tonnes".
Parliamentary deputies of Renamo on 28 April opposed ratification of key Supreme Court appointments. President Joaquim Chissano has re-appointed Mario Mangaze as president of the court. He also named Luis Sacramento, previously head of the civil section of the court, as its deputy president. Both appointments require ratification by the country's parliament, the Assembly of the Republic.
Renamo deputies opposed Mangaze on the grounds that he has been at the head of the Supreme Court since 1989, and has presided over an alleged collapse in the credibility of the judiciary.
Sacramento has never been deputy president of the court previously, but Renamo rejected him simply because he has been a member of the court for many years.
Jeremias Pondeca claimed that under Mangaze the Supreme Court has become "a graveyard of cases". Appeals entered the court, and then nothing happened to them.
"Even Chissano admits that the justice system is in a bad state", said Luis Boavida. "There is a principle of rotating judges in the provinces, because of fears that they will set down roots, form friendships, and risk corruption. Yet Mangaze has been in the same post for 15 years".
For the ruling Frelimo Party, Abel Safrao retorted that if Renamo was really opposed to people holding office for lengthy periods, they should look at their own leader, Afonso Dhlakama - who has been at the head of Renamo since 1979.
"He's treated Renamo as his personal property", accused Safrao. And all he had to show for his leadership was three lost elections (the 1994 and 1999 general elections and the 2003 municipal elections). I don't know how you have the nerve to demand that other people stand down".
Frelimo also denied that the legal system was continually deteriorating, as Renamo claimed. On the contrary "there are improvements, and they have to a large extent been initiated by Mangaze", said Rosalia Lumbala.
Casimiro Huate noted that Mangaze and Sacramento are committed "to simplifying judicial procedures, to training new legal staff, and to a programme of building new premises".
"Renamo is afraid of a strong judicial machine", he accused, "because it might judge Renamo for the crimes it has committed. Afonso Dhlakama goes around inciting violence, and attacks upon other citizens".
The most extreme Renamo position came from Linette Oloffson who claimed that under Mangaze the Supreme Court "legalised the theft of a million votes in 1999".
She was referring to the Renamo appeal against the 1999 general election results. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected the appeal, on the grounds that Renamo had not presented evidence for any of its claims of fraud. The "million stolen votes" are a figment of Oloffson's imagination. The Court found that, at most, 377,773 voters were affected by the polling station notices that could not be included in the final count (and since they came from all over the country, there is no reason to believe that all, or even a majority of the voters affected, were Renamo supporters).
For Frelimo, Alfredo Gamito said that such Renamo speeches showed the real reason for their hatred of Mangaze. "Renamo just wants revenge for its defeat", he said.
The Assembly of the Republic, on 22 April unanimously passed a resolution ratifying the United Nations Kyoto Protocol on climate change.
Deputy Environment Minister Francisco Mabjaia, who introduced the resolution, said that "although Mozambique makes a negligible contribution to greenhouse gases, we must think and act globally".
The protocol was adopted in the Japanese city of Kyoto on 11 December 1997 by consensus - even the United States raised no objection. But that was because its delegation was led by the then Vice-President, Al Gore, well known for his commitment to environmental issues.
The purpose of the protocol is to reduce the concentration of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide, in the atmosphere. The consensus among scientists is that the man-made production of these gases drives the current warming of the planet which, if left unchecked, will have catastrophic consequences, notably through rising sea levels which will inundate coastal areas, and might utterly destroy small island states.
"The fundamental goal is to stabilise the concentration of man-made gases at levels which do not interfere with the climate", said Mabjaia. "We all have a responsibility to protect the planet", he said. "But Mozambique does not have the same responsibility as, for example, Japan".
The Kyoto protocol cannot take effect until countries accounting for 55 per cent of greenhouse gases have ratified it. So far 61 per cent of the world's nations have signed, but they only account for 44.2 per cent of the 1990 greenhouse emissions.
Currently the United States is unwilling to ratify the agreement. Thus the protocol will only take effect if Russia can be persuaded to ratify it. Mabjaia was optimistic that Vladimir Putin's government would indeed change its position and sign up.
The French government has pledged to support health sector programmes in Cabo Delgado province to the tune of €14.5 million (about $17.4 million).
A formal commitment to that end was signed in Maputo on 28 April between the governor of the Bank of Mozambique, Adriano Maleiane, and Jean-Pierre Barbier from the French Development Agency.
The money is earmarked for the building of six health centres in the province, the rehabilitation of the hospitals in the provincial capital, Pemba, and in the town of Montepuez, and the recruitment and training of health staff.
This is the second time that France has granted funds for health programmes in Cabo Delgado. Earlier, it had granted €1.5 million to finance a programme of priority investments in health.
The latest agreement is a debt swap, and Maleiane urged other creditors to follow the French example "and allow the money owed to be used in the country as a donation, to support development projects as part of the government's Action Plan for the Reduction of Absolute Poverty (PARPA)".
President Joaquim Chissano declared on 23 April that regional cooperation and integration should not be seen simply in terms of economic and political programmes - sport too could make a major contribution to integration. He was speaking in Maputo at the inauguration of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) games, an event involving about 1,100 sports people from 12 southern African countries.
Culture and sport could not be excluded from the concept of regional development, stressed the President, since "men and women are the subjects and main beneficiaries of development".
President Chissano hoped that such regional festivals might lead to the discovery of new talents that could rival such world-renowned athletes as Mozambique's Lurdes Mutola or Namibia's Frankie Fredericks.
The Executive Secretary of SADC, Prega Ramsamy, recognised the effort that Mozambique had made in organising these games, which is a demonstration of Mozambique's commitment to regional ideals".
The games lasted until 2 May with the only SADC members absent being the Democratic Republic of Congo and Seychelles.
Thousands of workers marched through the streets of downtown Maputo on 1 May, for the traditional May Day demonstration, under the slogan "For employment, development and social justice".
It took the march two hours to pass the reviewing stand, and the members of the government watching were in no doubt as to what the demonstrators wanted. Many of the banners and placards declared "Down with starvation wages!", and many others called on the government not to let particular industries go to the wall.
"Don't let the vegetable oil industry die", proclaimed one large banner. "On it depend hundreds of workers, and thousands of peasants".
The 150 strong workforce of the Soberana clothing factory, paralysed for the past year, asked Prime Minister Luisa Diogo "to explain how we can eradicate absolute poverty by closing down industries".
Workers from the Laurentina brewery, closed down two years ago, in a deal which gave South African Breweries a monopoly position in the Mozambican beer market, demanded the payment of compensation for their lost jobs. They pilloried Labour Minister Mario Sevene for their plight, and demanded the creation of unemployment benefit. "Mario Sevene, release our money!", their placards demand.
The rally following the march was very low key, lasting about 15 minutes. Joaquim Fanheiro, general secretary of Mozambique's largest trade union federation, the OTM, said the unions appreciated the government's attempts to create jobs - nonetheless he warned that unemployment was on the rise.
Furthermore, April's 14 per cent rise in the statutory minimum wage "does not meet the workers' needs". Indeed the OTM calculates that the minimum wage will only purchase 35 per cent of the basic requirements for the average family of five.
Fanheiro criticised the government for its failure to set up the promised labour tribunals. These courts have been envisaged in the constitution since 1990 - but still do not exist. As a result labour disputes join the huge backlog of cases in the normal courts.
Speaking for the government, Sevene assured the demonstrators that the executive shared their concerns over creating new jobs and maintaining existing ones. "Investment is the way to create more jobs and develop the country", he said. "The government is determined to create a strong basis for relaunching our economy".
Unions, employers and government alike, Sevene said, should "strive to maintain jobs, to increase production and productivity, and to step up training of the workforce".
Francisco Marcelino, better known by his nom-de-guerre of Jose de Castro, the senior figure from Renamo on the National Elections Commission (CNE), has resigned. Cited in "Noticias" on 1 May, Castro declared, "Yes, I presented my resignation at the last plenary session of the CNE. I took the decision after many months of thought, and it concerns personal questions".
Castro has sat on all four election commissions since the end of the war of destabilisation in 1992, and has headed the Renamo group on the CNE on each occasion. He was one of the two deputy chairpersons of the current CNE. He has been notorious for his obstructive behaviour, using every opportunity to denounce the CNE majority, and accuse the ruling Frelimo Party of preparing fraud.
Renamo is proposing to replace Castro with Raimundo Samuge, currently the head of the Renamo mobilisation department, and a close adviser to Renamo leader, Afonso Dhlakama. There has been speculation that Castro did not step down willingly, but was ordered to make way for Samuge.
The United States government has pledged to disburse a further $11 million to add to the $16 million financial package granted to Mozambique for the implementation of the HIV/AIDS Relief Emergency Plan.
The American government's coordinator of global activities against HIV/AIDS, Randall Tobias, made this announcement on his arrival on 28 April for a three day visit to the country.
Tobias recalled that US President George Bush announced, about 18 months ago, a new initiative to fight against the AIDS pandemic in Africa. This initiative includes a package of about $15 billion for the next five years, most of which is to benefit 14 of the most affected countries, including Mozambique.
So far, Mozambique has received $16 million, and Tobias promised a further $11 million to be disbursed in the coming weeks.
This money is to be used in programmes to assist orphaned children, in the fight against vertical transmission of the virus (from mother to child at birth), and prevention campaigns.
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