"We have no more debt with Britain - they have scrapped it all", Mozambican Prime Minister Luisa Diogo told reporters in Maputo on 16 December. She was speaking after the British Chancellor of the Exchequer (Finance Minister), Gordon Brown, had met with President Joaquim Chissano. Brown announced, not only that Britain has cancelled all Mozambique's bilateral debt, but that it will also pay 10 per cent of the servicing of Mozambique's debt to the World Bank (in proportion to Britain's 10 per cent holding in the Bank).
Brown put the amount of debt pardoned at some $150 million over the next few years. He said he hoped that Britain's initiative of paying off the debts of developing countries to the World Bank would be followed by other rich nations. The money that countries such as Mozambique would otherwise have spent on debt servicing could now be channelled to the health and education services, he added.
Brown said he knew Mozambique was making "notable progress in poverty reduction", and he thought it just that Britain should "join in promoting the country's prosperity".
"The rich countries should shoulder the duty of helping the poor ones combat misery by making more resources available for key social areas", he added.
Brown went on to meet with President-Elect Armando Guebuza, to express his hopes for continuing close ties between Britain and Mozambique under the new government, likely to take office in late January or early February.
On 15 January Gordon Brown visited the Maragra sugar plantation and mill, 70 kilometres north of Maputo, where he was left in no doubt as to Mozambican sugar producers' deep concern that, if the sugar market is suddenly liberalised, they may no longer be able to survive.
Under the current quota system Mozambique is able to sell sugar to the European Union at €524 a tonne, compared with the world market price of only $150 (about €110) a tonne.
Changes proposed in the EU sugar regime are long overdue: but the problem is that current proposals would reduce, not only the subsidies paid to the EU's own sugar producers, but would also sharply cut the guaranteed price of sugar from developing countries.
At a press conference on the Maragra premises, Prime Minister Luisa Diogo stressed that the Mozambican sugar industry "is still in its infancy. It is necessary to give time to our industry so that it can become competitive".
"Mozambique wants to maintain its preferential access to the European market", she said. "Europe should realise that countries such as Mozambique need special treatment for a period".
Brown made no specific promises on sugar, though he pledged to "look at the concerns put to us".
But he did attack the European Union's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), and the scandal of the EU spending $300 billion a year on agricultural subsidies while it is only spending $50 billion a year on overseas development aid. Brown said "We want everyone in the global economy to make the most of their services and products. But there must be proper transitional arrangements, and protection for vulnerable economies".
He said he was taking several specific proposals on trade to the meeting of the Commission for Africa, which he will be attending on the final leg of his tour, in South Africa.
One of these was to set up a capacity, or infrastructure fund. His argument was that often products from African countries are not competitive because of transport constraints or an inefficient electricity grid.
Brown's proposed new fund would deal with "roads, railways, water, electricity, so that major infrastructural concerns can be alleviated in order to develop the supply side of the economy".
Brown would also propose further reform of the CAP, and also the removal of the non-tariff barriers "that stop countries from getting their products to market". This would mean, for example, overhauling legislation on "rules of origin".
Asked whether other countries were likely to join in the "mini-Marshall Plan" proposed by the British government, with its targets for sweeping debt relief and a doubling of development aid, Diogo contested the claim that the plan would prove "too expensive" for the rich countries. After all, if European countries could pay their farmers $300 billion in subsidies a year, they could afford more than $50 billion in development aid.
Diogo recalled that some voices had claimed that the "enhanced" version of the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) debt relief initiative would be "too expensive". But HIPC went ahead, "and nobody in the developed countries died because of it".
She noted that prior to the HIPC initiative, Mozambique was paying $169 million a year in debt servicing. Now, after "enhanced HIPC", the debt service burden is down to about $55 million. Most of this is multilateral debt - so Diogo was very pleased that Britain had decided to pay ten per cent of Mozambique's debt to the World Bank.
She pointed out that debt servicing is still larger than the health budget ($32 million a year), or the education budget ($50 million). "So we know that something is still wrong", Diogo declared.
The Prime Minister was fulsome in her praise for Brown and his proposals, describing him as "a great friend of Mozambique and of Africa".
"Gordon Brown knows fully what our agenda is", she said. "He's not a normal treasury minister, because he's interested in development issues".
Mozambique's Constitutional Council on 17 January announced that it has rejected the appeal by the country's main opposition force, the Renamo-Electoral Union coalition, against the results of the 1-2 December presidential and parliamentary elections.
Renamo first protested against the results to the National Elections Commission (CNE), demanding that the elections be annulled and new ones held. When the CNE threw out this protest, Renamo exercised its right to appeal to the Constitutional Council, which is the body that validates election results, and has the final word on election disputes. But the Council ruled that Renamo appealed too late, and that the 350 page document which Renamo submitted could not really be described as an appeal at all, since it was substantially different from the document which the CNE had rejected.
The electoral law says that candidates or parties who disagree with a CNE ruling have three days in which to appeal to the Constitutional Council. Since the CNE notified Renamo on 4 January that its protest had been rejected, the appeal should have been submitted to the Constitutional Council no later than 7 January. But the council says the document only arrived on 10 January, "manifestly beyond the deadline".
Furthermore, instead of asking the Constitutional Council to overturn the CNE's decision, the Renamo document requested that the Council "order the correction of all irregularities so that it may validate the general elections of 1-2 December". This, the Council said, was not an appeal against the CNE's decision - it was an entirely new demand that Renamo had not raised previously. "Since it is a new request, the Constitutional Council, as an appeals body, should not recognise it", the ruling said. For if it did recognise and debate this Renamo request, the Council would be acting as a court of first instance in electoral disputes, in violation of both the Constitution and the electoral law.
Ironically, Renamo is in this mess because it tried to moderate its demands - but did so too late. Whereas it had demanded that the CNE annul the elections, a few days later, when it appealed to the Constitutional Council, it had backtracked and merely wanted a "correction of irregularities".
The Council thus took the standard legal view that an appeals body cannot deal with anything that has not already been debated by a lower instance.
The Council also ruled that the CNE was quite right to reject the original Renamo complaint on grounds of missed deadlines. The CNE argued that Renamo should have protested against the results up to 21 December, the day the national results were formally announced. But in fact Renamo only submitted its protest to the CNE on 27 December, six days too late.
"The basic principle is that all irregularities should be protested immediately they occur", the Council said, agreeing with the CNE's stance. "Protests are not made about documents or notifications, but about facts, when and where they occur".
A protest against the national results should thus have been made on 21 December, at the CNE meeting that discussed the results. The Constitutional Council noted that the Renamo document is incoherent about this meeting. In one paragraph, Renamo says that the CNE meeting was held without the present of any political party agents, and so it was impossible to lodge a protest. Yet in the very next paragraph, Renamo admits that several agents were present.
The minutes of the meeting state that ten agents of parties and presidential candidates were present (not including Renamo), and, far from protesting against the results, merely lamented that the documents discussed at the meeting were not provided to them in advance.
"Lamenting" something is not the same as lodging a formal protest, the Council points out. Nor does the vote against the results cast by Renamo-appointed CNE members count as a protest, because only the official election agents of the candidates have the prerogative to lodge protests.
Earlier this month CNE spokesperson Filipe Mandlate pointed out that Renamo election agent Francisco Machambisse did show up for the public announcement of the results later on 21 December. But even at this public session he kept his mouth shut, thus letting slip his last chance of protesting against the results within the deadline.
All seven members of the Constitutional Council signed the rejection of the Renamo appeal - but Manuel Franque, one of the two Renamo-appointed members of the Council, put in a reservation. He claimed there was a problem with Machambisse's address, and that in reality he was notified by the CNE, not on 4 January, but on the following day. He therefore believed that delivering the appeal to the Constitutional Council on 10 January was within the deadline. (Franque is right only if January 8 and 9, a Saturday and Sunday, are discounted - but the relevant article in the electoral law speaks of "days", not of "clear days".) Franque raised no objection to anything else in the Council's ruling.
The Constitutional Council had previously rejected protests by three minor parties - the Independent Party of Mozambique, the Movement for Change and Good Governance, and the Expanded Opposition Front - all of whom had failed to make their initial protests "at the due time and place".
The Council can now deal with its main task - that of validating the elections. It remains to be seen whether the Council will, on its own initiative, deal with some of the substantive issues raised by Renamo - such as the CNE's failure to process about five per cent of the polling station results sheets, and the serious incidents of fraud that took place, notably in the western province of Tete, and which probably cost Renamo two parliamentary seats.
More than 4,000 new sources of drinking water were opened in Mozambique over the last four years, in an effort to improve living conditions, particularly for rural communities, according to the Deputy Minister of Public Works, Henrique Cossa.
Cossa told AIM that, with the opening of these water sources, the proportion of the population that enjoyed access to safe drinking water had risen from 36 to 40 per cent. "It's still not very much - but coverage in terms of water supply is increasing", he said.
Over the coming period, Cossa added, about $175 million will be invested in opening new water sources and in rehabilitating the water supply systems in at least nine Mozambican cities. By 2015, clean drinking water should be available for 70 per cent of the population.
Cossa said that the increase in water sources resulted from implementing the strategy defined at the World Summit on Sustainable Development held in 2002 in South Africa.
One of the provinces that has made considerable advances in the past four years is Inhambane, in the south of the country. Here a pilot project for rural water supply, budgeted at $5 million was implemented, resting on the direct involvement of the communities in the design and sustainable management of the water sources.
"I think the fundamental goal of this project, which is to guarantee the sustainability of water supply in rural areas, has been achieved", a source in the Inhambane provincial public works directorate told AIM.
Instead of the government taking full responsibility for maintaining wells and boreholes (which in the past often meant that they were not maintained), the communities themselves have now undertaken to share in maintenance costs.
Under this pilot project, over 200 water sources were opened in rural Inhambane.
The total budget for the Mozambican government's HIV/AIDS programmes in 2005 amounts to $54 million, Health Minister Francisco Songane told a Maputo press conference on 14 January. This sum covers not only drugs, but also such factors as laboratory testing and additional staff training. Songane admitted that only a small part of the sums required could come from Mozambique's own state budget, while the bulk of the funding would be provided by foreign donors.
The Minister was speaking to reporters on the final day of a "National Meeting of Integrated Networks", that brought together all the key personnel dealing with treatment for people suffering from HIV infection.
"The main objective of this meeting is the creation of consensus", said Songane. "All of us should study the problems and constraints, learn how to remove them, and leave here with the same orientation. Everybody involved in AIDS work is here, so that we are all in the same programme".
Songane stressed his Ministry's determination that AIDS treatment programmes must be sustainable. "Every step we take must be firm", he said. "We must not expand too rapidly, lest the situation run out of control".
So the number of people receiving the life-prolonging anti- retroviral drugs in Mozambican public health units has grown from just over 2,000 in March 2004, to about 4,000 in June, to over 6,500 by the end of December. The target by the end of 2005 is that there should be around 20,000 people on anti-retrovirals.
The target seems modest, when one considers that some 1.5 million Mozambicans are HIV-positive, and the Health Ministry estimates that in around 200,000 of them the disease has reached the point at which anti-retroviral treatment is called for (that point is when the number of CD4 cells - the part of the immune system attacked by HIV - falls to 200 or less per microlitre of blood).
However, most HIV-positive people are unaware that they carry the virus. And many live in rural areas where anti- retroviral therapy is not yet available. Songane said that currently the treatment is only available at central and provincial hospitals and a few rural hospitals. A priority for the coming year is to expand the network downwards, making treatment more accessible to rural people.
Songane said the Ministry is also training more staff who are not doctors to deal with aspects of anti-retroviral therapy.
There was no question of putting sick people automatically on anti-retrovirals. "Staff must verify whether patients are psychologically fit to start this therapy", said Songane, "and whether they will continue the treatment. Once you start on anti-retrovirals , you must take the drugs for the rest of your life".
But Songane warned that it was physically impossible for the health service to treat all victims of HIV. "This is our reality, and we can't escape from it", he said.
Asked how many hospital beds are occupied by AIDS patients, Songane's deputy, Aida Libombo, said the figure was difficult to estimate, "but it's very high". In the western province of Tete, "in some wards, the figure reaches 80 per cent".
As for the results, or lack of them, from years of prevention campaigns, Libombo said that knowledge of the disease and how to avoid it had clearly increased. A comparison of the two Demographic and Health Surveys undertaken by the National Statistics Institute in 1997 and 2003 showed a greater level of understanding of how to avoid infection, and also that a larger number of adolescents were now using condoms.
Asked what measures the government will take against the charlatans masquerading as "traditional doctors" who claim they can cure AIDS, Songane said the government has drawn up an advertising policy (which will take effect once it is published in the official gazette), that will effectively outlaw the sort of deceitful adverts that charlatans have been placing in the Mozambican press.
The government was also trying to regulate the practice of traditional medicine, distinguishing between frauds and genuine herbalists. His ministry had no intention of repressing traditional medicine. "Plenty of traditional healers are honest and know what they're doing", Songane said. "There is a great deal of useful information in traditional medicine. Unfortunately we pay more attention to the charlatans than to the genuine healers".
The weather forecast for the second half of the 2004/05 rainy season (January-March) indicates that there will be a good harvest throughout Mozambique this year.
Meteorological information provided to a meeting in Maputo on 10 January discussing the country's contingency plan for possible natural disasters this rainy season indicates a likely recovery following a slow start to the rainy season.
From October to December, only some parts of the central provinces received sufficient rain to meet the needs of the major crops. In the rest of the country rainfall was erratic. But for the key months of January, February and March, the forecast is that there will be enough rain to meet the water requirements of crops everywhere, with the possible exception of the northern part of Tete province.
The reports reaching the Agriculture Ministry from the provinces indicate a significant increase in cultivated area when compared with the 2003/04 agricultural year. There is a 2.8 per cent increase in the area sown with grain, a 2.9 per cent increase for beans and groundnuts, and a 2.3 per cent increase for cassava.
Assuming that the forecast for good rains is borne out, the Ministry estimates that there will be a five per cent increase in grain production this year - pushing production of maize, rice, millet and sorghum up from just over two million tonnes in the 2004 harvest to 2.1 million tonnes this year, The cassava harvest is set to rise by 2.7 per cent (from 6.4 to 6.59 million tonnes), and that of beans and ground nuts by 3.5 per cent (from 325,000 to 336,000 tonnes).
President Joaquim Chissano declared on 7 January that Mozambique and Tanzania now have sufficient funds to start building the "Unity Bridge" between the two countries, over the Rovuma river which forms the border.
President Chissano was speaking to reporters in the northern city of Pemba, immediately after he and his Tanzanian counterpart, Benjamin Mkapa, had signed a declaration of intent on financing, designing, building, operating and maintaining the bridge.
"Were it not for technical questions, we would already have started", said President Chissano.
The "Unity Bridge" is a dream of the two men who led Mozambique and Tanzania to independence, Samora Machel and Julius Nyerere - but in the 29 years since Mozambican independence no donor or funding agency has shown any interest in such a project.
So the two governments have decided to advance on their own, bit by bit. As long as there are no outside partners interested in the bridge, Mozambique and Tanzania will disburse funds annually from their state budgets. President Chissano estimated the total cost at around $33 million. He added that the draft Mozambican state budget for 2005 (which has not yet gone before the country's parliament) contains funds destined for the bridge, which President Chissano regarded as crucial "for implementing the ideal of regional integration of SADC (Southern African Development Community)".
"The benefits from the bridge will not be limited to bringing together the people only of this region, but of all Africa", he claimed. "Our enthusiasm for this undertaking is redoubled when we consider that it is part of the infrastructure development projects of NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development)".
President Chissano recognised that the costs of the bridge represent a huge challenge for the two countries, but he regarded this as "an unavoidable challenge that we must win. So we must resort to the vision that our late presidents Mwalimo (Nyerere) and Machel had, and mobilise our own resources".
This is one of the last acts of state that President Chissano will undertake as President of the Republic, a post he will hand over to President-Elect Armando Guebuza.
President Chissano remarked "I am leaving office with peace of mind, since I am sure that the construction of this bridge will go ahead".
"This role will also play a fundamental role on the future of the Mtwara Corridor". he added. (This transport corridor centres on the Tanzanian port of Mtwara, and involves Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique.) "With the conclusion of this bridge the overland link from Cape Town in South Africa to Cairo in Egypt will be shorter", said President Chissano, "particularly when we consider that the building of the major new bridge over the Zambezi is also ready to start".
Minister of Public Works, Roberto White, told AIM that the project also involves building five kilometres of access roads on either bank of the Rovuma. He said the bridge itself will be 600 metres long, and 10.3 metres wide. It will be between 7.5 and 10 metres high, depending on research still being undertaken by experts from the two countries. White thought that construction could take two and a half years.
The first design for the bridge dates back to 1977, and underwent improvements in 1981. But with Mozambique fighting for survival against the war of destabilisation waged by the apartheid regime, nothing further happened until 1992, when the Tanzanian and Mozambican governments signed a set of minutes on the matter.
Another decade passed until, in 2002, the two governments signed a memorandum of understanding on joint implementation of the project. "Finally today we have the signing of this historic declaration of intent on the legal framework to start carrying out the project", said White.
The Japanese government has donated 25,725 mosquito nets treated with long lasting and resistant insecticide to Mozambique to boost the struggle against malaria.
According to the United Nations Children's fund (UNICEF), these "Olyset ITN" nets were developed by a Japanese company, and it is the first time they have been used in Mozambique. The nets have been treated with an insecticide that can last for more than five years, without requiring any fresh application.
The nets will be distributed in the districts of Zumbo and Maravia in the western province of Tete, strengthening the Provincial Health Directorate's anti-malaria programme.
UNICEF is involved because malaria is one of the main causes of infant and child mortality in Mozambique. It says that, over the past four years, it has supported the distribution of insecticide treated nets in Zambezia, Gaza, Tete, Cabo Delgado and Maputo provinces. Through these programmes, more than 800,000 nets have been distributed, mostly sold at the highly subsidised price of 30,000 meticais ($1.50) each.
UNICEF estimates that malaria is responsible for 35 per cent of deaths among under-fives in Mozambique, and is thus one of the reasons why Mozambique continues to have one of the highest infant mortality rates in the world.
Malaria is also responsible for 30 per cent of all hospital deaths, and for 60 per cent of hospitalisations in paediatric wards. In some areas, over 90 per cent of under fives are infected with the malaria parasite.
Among pregnant women, malaria can lead to serious anaemia, and is believed to be a factor in 30 per cent of all maternal mortality.
UNICEF points out that sleeping under bed nets, and therefore preventing mosquitoes from biting, can reduce child deaths from malaria by 20 per cent. Yet currently only 10 per cent of Mozambican under-fives are sleeping under mosquito nets.
The provincial figures range from a low of three per cent in Sofala, to 15 per cent in Zambezia, Gaza and Maputo city.
This is a condensed version of the AIM daily news service - for details contact firstname.lastname@example.org
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