Mozambique News Agency
A major earthquake shook Mozambique just after midnight on 23 February, which was felt as far away as Johannesburg, Harare and Lusaka. According to the US Geological Survey National Earthquake Information Centre, the earthquake was of a magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale, which made it the largest earthquake in southern Africa since records began. People in Maputo and Beira took to the streets as their houses shook violently during the earthquake. In the following hours there were several aftershocks.
The epicentre was in Machaze District in Manica Province, 220 kilometres south west of Beira and 530 kilometres north of Maputo.
Despite the intensity of the earthquake, the latest reports indicate that only five people were killed, with another 40 injured. A preliminary report states that 400 houses were destroyed along with six schools, a water tank, three water points and two small bridges. However, the director of the Disasters Management National Institute (INGC), Paulo Zucula, cautions that this data is not yet definitive, because assessment teams are still in the field.
The Mozambique government has asked the United Nations for technical support. In response, the UN has mobilised two helicopters to help officials in Gaza and Manica Provinces assess the damage.
The Ministry of Public Works has also dispatched teams, to check on any possible structural damage to bridges and dams.
More than a thousand Muslims marched in Maputo city on 25 February to protest against the publication of the controversial cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed by the independent weekly "Savana". The cartoons in question, which caused a wave of demonstrations by Muslims around the world, were first published in a Danish paper, in September 2005.
On 17 February "Savana" republished eight of the 12 cartoons on the founder of Islam, the Prophet Mohammed, which first appeared in the Danish paper "Jyllands-Posten". Among the cartoons which "Savana" chose to reprint is the most polemical of all - which shows Mohammed with a bomb in his turban.
The march in Maputo started in the suburb of Alto Mae and ended in Independence Square, where the demonstrators prayed for about three hours. Some of the banners carried by the demonstrators demanded the sacking of Savana's director, Kok Nam, and its editor, Fernando Goncalves.
Demonstrators wore T-shirts proclaiming that "Islam equals Peace and Tolerance", and held banners with slogans such as "Danish papers please do not offend us", "Prophet Mohamed, compassion to humankind, we repudiate all those who offend prophet Mohamed, shoulder by shoulder we will win".
The "Savana" management has formally apologised to the Muslim community for publishing the cartoons, and has stated that the publication of the cartoons was only aimed at showing people what was the object of such a hot controversy.
The cartoons were first published in Denmark, and elicited no reaction beyond Denmark's borders. They were then republished in October in an Egyptian paper - and, although the great majority of the Egyptian population are Muslims, there was no reaction.
Only in late January, when a few Danish Imans hawked the cartoons round the Middle East (plus three forged ones that did not appear in "Jyllands-Posten"), was an artificial fury inflamed.
Islamic fundamentalists started issuing death threats, and boycotts of Danish products were initiated. In solidarity with the Danes, newspapers in several other European countries, starting with Norway, republished the cartoons.
Mobs in Syria sacked the Danish and Norwegian embassies in Damascus, and the same fate overtook the Danish embassy in Beirut. The row has subsequently spread across the Islamic world.
Muslims account for about 18 per cent of the Mozambican population, according to the 1997 census.
The director of the World Bank in Mozambique, Michael Baxter, said in Maputo on 21 February that the investment environment in Mozambique needs to be improved. Addressing a press conference to launch a report, "Doing Business in 2006", Baxter said that the main reason for such a situation is that investments in Mozambique still continue costing "more time and money than the business as such". He said that this aspect constrains economic growth.
The report states that a Mozambican investor has to go through 14 different steps, which takes about 116 days, before he starts his new business. A document distributed by the World Bank during the ceremony says that these problems represent a very serious burden to the small and medium-sized businesses, most of which are already debilitated by other structural constraints, such as the poor access to credit and financing.
Despite this, Baxter finds that Mozambique is on the right path. He gave the example of the first Absolute Poverty Relief Plan (PARPA-I), which identified some of the problems and produced recommendations to deal with them.
Meanwhile, according to Baxter, PARPA-II, which is in its final stage of preparation, stresses the importance of adopting reforms to improve the investment environment as a pre-requisite for sustainable economic growth and the relief of absolute poverty.
During the report's launch, Trade and Industry Minister Antonio Fernando reiterated the Mozambican government's commitment to improve the business environment, stating that "we want business to be able to be started in the shortest possible time - why not in a single day? We want licenses to be issued in a record time".
Fernando said that it is still on the government's agenda to render credit more accessible to business people. He continued that the relationship between the government and the private sector, the revision of the Labour legislation, and the launching of the valuing of the national product, are some of other challenges to promote the country.
On 16 February the European Union signed an agreement with the Mozambican government in Maputo which paves the way for granting euro 95 million (about $114 million) for the new Poverty Relief Budget Support (PRBS III) as part of the Absolute Poverty Relief Action Plan (PARPA II), for the period 2006/2007.
Under the agreement the European Commission will support the Mozambican government in improving public services, strengthening its management - particularly over public finances - and promoting economic development.
Signing the agreement on behalf of the Mozambican government was deputy Foreign Minister Henrique Banze, while Francisco Carreras, charge d'affairs of the European Commission, signed on behalf of the European Union.
Banze said that "Mozambique and the EU are partners with a common objective aiming at reducing the levels of absolute poverty among Mozambicans through a strategy that covers areas such as transport infrastructure, rural development, food security, health, good governance, and the development of the private sector".
For his part, Carreras said that this money is to support the country's state budget for 2006 and 2007, corresponding to euro 45 million a year, with the remaining euro 5 million earmarked for institutional empowerment and technical assistance, particularly in the area of public finances management.
The African Development Bank (ADB) has found that last year's drought and the increase in international oil prices hit the economic performance of Mozambique.
Addressing a press conference in Maputo on 14 February at the end of his visit to Mozambique, ADB President Donald Kaberuka said "the results of drought and the impact of the increase in the prices of fuel are extremely prejudicial to the country's economy".
Kaberuka pointed out that Mozambique still has "a long way to go and the challenges it faces are enormous", but he believed that the country is on the right path, and during his four day visit he had gained a very good impression.
During his stay Kaberuka held a meeting with President, Armando Guebuza to discuss ways to improve cooperation between the government and ADB. He also met with Prime Minister Luisa Diogo, and with representatives of the private sector and of the international community.
"During the meetings with development partners we exchanged ideas on how to harmonise our actions in order for our support to be more effective", he said, describing as positive the performance of some of the projects he visited which are benefiting from ADB support.
Kaberuka also praised the transparency in the use of funds granted by his institution, and he reiterated that ADB is prepared to increase its financial assistance and stimulate the contribution of the private sector to the country's development.
For his part, Deputy Finance Minister Pedro Couto said he expects ADB to continue its support for the government's efforts. He recalled that the Bank has pledged aid of $240 million for the coming two years.
An agreement was signed during Kaberuka's stay to allow part of that money to be used in direct support of the state budget.
President Armando Guebuza said in Maputo on 20 February that a change of attitude towards HIV/AIDS is the biggest challenge in checking the spread of the disease among Mozambicans. He stressed that this change implies a new social posture that will allow more cooperation between different sectors of society and between the different organisations that are involved in the fight against AIDS.
President Guebuza was addressing a press conference where he presented the results of the meetings he has held with different sectors of civil society, as part of his "Presidential Initiative on the Fight Against HIV/AIDS".
In the context of this initiative, the President has held meetings with women's associations, religious leaders, youth and students, and representatives of the National Council of Fight Against HIV/AIDS (CNCS).
The general director of the National Roads Administration (ANE), Ibraimo Remane, has urged that foreign technical assistance should not be used only to build or repair roads, but should also cover staff training "on the ground".
"We should rethink the philosophy and practice of contracting and using foreign technical assistance. I believe that this assistance should not be restricted to doing the building work, but would also be valuable in "on the job" training of Mozambican technical staff", he said, during a national seminar on the Revised Strategy for the Road Sector, which ended in Maputo on 15 February.
This strategy is to underpin phase two of the "Third Roads Programme", to be implemented between 2007 and 2011, and budgeted at just over $1.1 billion.
Remane stressed that this sector, which is vital for the country's development, must prioritise practical technical training in the field, rather than theoretical training as has been the case to date. "It is essential that we have technical staff with solid knowledge aimed at practical solutions to the problems that emerge during the building process", he said.
Remane argued that the road sector should also concentrate its efforts on national staff who are working in the various provinces, to empower them in the technical aspects of the jobs, in analysing and assessing bids, and in the negotiation and management of contracts.
Commenting on investment, planning and contracting for the building of roads and bridges, and the definition of a national and provincial roads policy, Remane said that the dual function of the roads network must be taken into account. This network ensures the necessary social and economic mobility to promote growth, but also encourages regional development by facilitating links between all corners of the country.
He drew attention to the fact that any action aiming at improving the roads must take into account that the quality of the roads contributes to reducing regional imbalances, thus promoting national unity.
Roads in good condition, Remane added, stimulate economic growth, reduce the cost of transport, and allow access to rural areas and to the markets, thus facilitating agricultural marketing.
Prime Minister Luisa Diogo on 14 February swore into office new chairpersons for the boards of four publicly owned companies, but gave no explanation as to why their predecessors had not been given further terms of office.
Thus Maria Dimas replaces Benjamim Pequenino as chairperson of the Mozambican post office; Domingos Fernando takes over from Luciano Sitoe at the head of the Maputo bus company, TPM; Tayob Adamo replaces Rassul Khan as chairman of the dredging company, EMODRAGA; and Anibal Samuel is the new chair of the Civil Aviation Institute, replacing Antonio Pinto.
Of the outgoing chairpersons, Pequenino had attracted considerable attention, partly because of an offensive he spearheaded against corruption in the post office, and partly because he was the only head of a public company who was also a member of the main opposition party, Renamo.
Speaking at the swearing-in ceremony, Prime Minister Diogo said these four companies "play a fundamental role in transport and communication. Because of its economic and social responsibilities, the activity of this sector has an impact on the fight against absolute poverty".
The policy approved by the government for transport and communication, she said, stresses such areas as making the movement of people and goods easier, improving access to new communications technologies, improving the access to the country's ports, and ensuring the safety of civil aviation.
TPM, she said, "plays a role of great importance in transporting the city's residents, and providing the public with transport at accessible fares".
As for the post office, Prime Minister Diogo urged the new management to continue restructuring the company, and branching out into providing financial services, particularly in rural areas.
Prime Minister Diogo acknowledged the problems that EMODRAGA faces in keeping the entrance channels to Mozambican ports at the requisite depth so that large ships can enter. This is a particular problem for the central port of Beira. The Prime Minister promised that the government is mobilising resources to acquire new equipment for EMODRAGA.
As for the Civil Aviation Institute, this is the regulatory body for Mozambican aviation. The Prime Minister hoped that, under a new chairperson, it would "undergo a new dynamic, at a moment when air safety is a major priority, not only for our country, but regionally and internationally".
The Mozambican government on 16 February signed a contract in the northern city of Pemba with the Norwegian company Norsk Hydros under which the latter will prospect for oil in the basin of the Rovuma river, which forms the boundary between Mozambique and Tanzania.
The contract was signed by the Minister of Mineral Resources, Esperanca Bias, and the deputy chairperson of the Norwegian company, Harvor Breivik. It covers two onshore blocks where some work was done in the 1980s. Indeed, one well was drilled in Mocimboa da Praia which, according to Bias, showed the presence of natural gas.
The contract sets up a concessionary company for the two blocks, in which Norsk Hydros is the main shareholder. A ten per cent holding goes to Mozambique's publicly owned National Hydrocarbons Company (ENH).
Bias said the government was pleased that an internationally renowned company had won the tender and was bringing some of the world's most advanced oil technology to the Rovuma Basin. She also praised Norwegian cooperation with Mozambique, stating that "in the oil sector, the creation and growth of Mozambican institutions, namely the National Oil Institute and the National Hydrocarbons Company, would not have been possible without the financial assistance provided by Norway".
After the signing ceremony, Norsk Hydros offered the government of Cabo Delgado province $50,000 for the opening of standpipes to improve water supply in localities and villages to be chosen by the provincial government.
There is no good reason for Mozambique to rejoin the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), according to Luis Sitoe, director of international relations in the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Interviewed in "Noticias" on 13 February, Sitoe said that a technical team looking into the matter was recommending to the government that Mozambique should not apply to rejoin.
Mozambique suspended its participation in COMESA in 1995, and said it would take no further part in the organisation until there was a clarification of COMESA's relationship to SADC (Southern African Development Community). Such a clarification has never been forthcoming.
In the mid-1990s it seemed clear that countries could not belong indefinitely to both SADC and COMESA - and Mozambique opted decisively for SADC.
COMESA, however, has persistently begged Mozambique to come back, arguing that there are significant benefits to membership. But Sitoe, and the technical commission, are sceptical, pointing out that Mozambique can have relations with the non-SADC members of COMESA without returning to the organisation.
SADC is gradually building a southern African free trade area, and this will lead to a customs union - and then countries must choose. They cannot be members of two customs unions.
Of course, there was a downside, Sitoe admitted, in that the COMESA rules of origin are simpler than those of SADC. Companies exporting to other COMESA members were penalised when Mozambique pulled out of the organisation - they had paid customs duties of just 2.5 per cent when Mozambique was a member, but these rose to 30 per cent, or in some case to as high as 80 per cent when Mozambique left.
But trade with the non-SADC members of COMESA was negligible in comparison with SADC members who are obliged to open their markets to Mozambican produce as the SADC trade protocol takes effect, and regional integration advances.
The Mozambican government on 13 February signed a contract with the Portuguese consortium Mota Engil/Soares da Costa for the construction of a bridge over the Zambezi river, linking Sofala and Zambezia provinces.
The contract was signed by the general director of the National Road Administration (ANE), Abdul Remane, and by a representative of the Portuguese consortium, Carlos Cachoeiro, in the presence of the Minister of Public Works, Felicio Zacarias.
Speaking immediately after the signing, Zacarias said Mozambique was now finally resuming a task that was interrupted, a quarter of a century ago by the war of destabilisation.
It had always been clear that the main north-south highway was not complete without a bridge over the Zambezi. Work on the approaches to the bridge began in the late 1970s, but work had to be abandoned because of attacks by apartheid-backed Renamo rebels.
But only in the last couple of years has Mozambique succeeded in raising money for the bridge (from Sweden, Italy and the European Unity). A tender was launched last year to choose the contractor, and the Portuguese consortium won.
"Mozambique has done its part of the job, and the rest is up to the contractor", said Zacarias, urging the Portuguese consortium "to comply with their obligations and meet the deadlines".
Cachoeiro said that work on the bridge will employ 600 people directly and provide 2,000 other jobs indirectly. He pledged that all would be done to ensure that the work is completed within the 36 months agreed.
The bridge will be 2.3 kilometres long, and 16 metres wide. It is budgeted at euro 67 million (about $80 million). The European Union has promised euro 25 million, Sweden euro 21 million, and Italy euro 20 million.
In addition, the Japanese government provided $9 million for complementary work, including resettlement of those people who must be moved because of the building work, and improvements to the health and drinking water infrastructures on both sides of the river (at Caia, in Sofala province, and Chiumaura, in Zambezia).
The Mozambican government has banned the import of all chicken products from countries where bird flu has been reported, which includes Nigeria, Egypt, and Niger. Farming national director Ventura Macamo said that this measure is part of the government's efforts to prevent the entry of the H5N1 virus into the country.
Macamo said that this plan includes inspection at all ports and airports in all provinces. He added that health and farming technicians are placed in all areas that are thought to be at risk, particularly where migratory birds come from other continents, such as Europe and Asia.
He warned farmers that if the disease reaches the country many of their birds will have to be slaughtered. Mozambican authorities estimate that an outbreak of this disease, which is spreading in some European, Asian, and Africa countries, would cost Mozambique about $50 million.
To tackle the threat, the Mozambican government has made available $14 million, of which $4 million is to be used in preparations against the disease, with the rest put aside for compensation for farmers affected by any future outbreak.
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