In early February, the Chinese President Hu Jintao, accompanied by a business delegation led by the chairman of China's Eximbank, paid his first visit to Mozambique. As in many other African countries, the Chinese government paved its way into the Mozambican economy - so far mainly in the construction sector - with soft loans for prestige government buildings. The bilateral trade volume has steadily increased to currently over USD 200 million. Taking up promises made at the second China-Africa Cooperation Summit in November 2006 and recalling the principle of "pragmatic cooperation", Hu Jintao cancelled Mozambique's USD 20 million debt and signed additional financial agreements valuing USD 200 million, including an interest-free loan of USD 15 million for a national football stadium. Additionally, the Mozambican government was keen in signing an accord on technical cooperation in the agroindustrial sector.
During his third African tour, and for the first time, President Hu Jintao faced considerable public protest in Zambia before arriving in Mozambique, where the high-level Chinese visit was caught up in political controversy. Just days before the visit, a report commissioned by an NGO network in the province of Zambézia (FONGAZ) and written by Catherine Mackenzie, had sparked a heated debate over the role of China in promoting the unsustainable use of forest resources. While the Government of Mozambique praised China's "unconditional aid", Marcelo Mosse, the coordinator of the a nti-corruption NGO Centro de Integridade Pública (CIPE), wrote an open letter to Hu Jintao expressing concerns that Chinese aid, ultimately as tied as Western aid, may deepen Mozambique's external dependency and undermine reforms towards democratization, transparency and good governance. He specified that cooperation with China might open doors for the disrespect of immigration and labour legislation, further enrichment of the elites as well as the "looting of natural resources"and "environmental vandalism". Carlos Serra, a well-known academic, had also addressed an open letter to the President of Mozambique calling on him to commission an official inquiry into logging. Most of the criticism focuses on the extent to which sustainability criteria were being undermined, often in violation of official policy, and how this was being made possible by corruption. Most critics were concerned that Chinese demand for timber, which appears to be fuelling logging, may be wittingly taking advantage of Mozambique's weak institutions. While forest resources were apparently not discussed officially during the Chinese President's visit, the issue was taken up in the Mozambican Parliament early in March at the request of the opposition parties. For the first time in Mozambique's Parliament, a member of Frelimo criticised the Government for its attitude towards the problem. It is important to note that before the discussion took place the opposition parties demanded the presence of the Prime Minister who, according to the constitution, is supposed to address Parliament on such matters of importance. The Prime Minister was away on a foreign trip and was represented by the Environment Minister and the State Administration Minister. Only the majority vote of the Government allowed discussion to take place, but significantly enough, both the Speaker and his deputy abstained. Renamo president Afonso Dhlakama has reaffirmed his intention to stand as a presidential candidate in the next elections, despite growing internal dissent against his leadership style and allegations of mismanagement of party funds for personal enrichment. In a very controversial statement, Dhlakama, anticipating electoral fraud,threatened once more to resort to civil war. His declarations were promptly contradicted by two high-level Renamo generals who accused Dhlakama of marginalizing senior Renamo officials to avoid criticism from his own ranks. Other Renamo dissidents from the so-called "National Salvation Junta", created in September 2006, issued an ultimatum for Dhlakama to step down. Dhlakama's declared intention to persist at the party top despite signs of increasing fragmentation of the former guerrilla movement does not augur well for Renamo's performance in the next polls. This fuels concerns that the main opposition party may sooner or later be doomed to irrelevance, a development that is likely to reduce incentives for the ruling party Frelimo to continue with democratic reforms. At the same time as it appears to be consistent with the latter's strategy to destroy Renamo as a credible opposition party. Since taking office two years ago, President Guebuza has given strong indications of a less accommodating attitude towards Renamo. A recent example of this was the electoral law package passed by Parliament in December against fierce opposition from Renamo and which the President, oblivious to opposition complaints, promulgated.
The Government has continued to show efforts to purge corruption in the civil service. Following the dismissal of 191 civil servants in 2006 for corruption allegations, further officials were arrested and charged for corrupt practices. In January, the Interior Minister acknowledged criminal infiltration within the police and promised to reform recruitment practices. This came after a spate of violent crime, including two bank robberies in broad daylight in the Maputo city centre, which raised doubts about the police's ability and willingness to fight crime. Meanwhile, in February, the Supreme Court confirmed the verdicts passed at first instance against the group held responsible for the murder of journalist Carlos Cardoso in 2000. It also admitted the possibility that further persons were involved in the crime. However, while a separate court case against the son of former President Chissano continues, investigations into the Banco Austral bankruptcy scandal, another high-level corruption case, remain to be disclosed. The NGO Centro de Integridade Pública (CIPE) blamed the Attorney General for declining to publish the Banco Austral Forensic Audit, which had been commissioned by the Government under pressure from donors and was completed already a year ago. It has to be noted, however, that the Administrative Court published its detailed and critical report on the Government's 2005 accounts. The Global Integrity Report released in January by an US-based organization and drawing from data gathered by CIPE rated the overall performance of Mozambique concerning anti-corruption policies and practices as "weak", with a "very weak"rating of Mozambique's civil service.
Mozambique's bilateral and multilateral donors have reaffirmed their commitments for ongoing support of the Government's second Poverty Reduction Strategy (PARPA II) until 2009, by which time the Government aims to cut current poverty levels to 45%. The World Bank signed two credit agreements to support the implementation for PARPA II and the Maputo Municipal Development Program.
Large-scale floods in January and February caused severe damage to houses and agricultural production. They displaced over 120'000 persons until the end of February, mainly in the Zambeze Valley. cyclone Flavio was particularly severe in Inhambane province, especially in the tourist region of Vilankulo. All in all the Government estimates the total cost of the damage at USD 71 million. According to the Government, the floods affected 285,000 people in the provinces of Zambézia, Manica, Sofala and Tete. 107,534 of them were accommodated in especially erected centers. 1,000 classrooms were destroyed, affecting 46,000 school children. 80,000 hectares of various crops were destroyed. However, the floods did not reach the levels of 2001. The Government relied on its own counsel to delay issuing an international emergency appeal, but organisations such as the World Food Programme (WFP) went ahead to do this in a move that raised several eyebrows among international observers who were impressed by Mozambique's resistance to the urge to issue an appeal. It appears that INGC did a good job in preparing for the disaster. Having assessed the weather forecasts adequately it may have failed to take into account the behaviour of those in charge of the Cahora Bassa dam. Indeed, a Mozambican engineer has accused the dam management of having misjudged upstream flows and having contributed enormously to the disaster. These issues were taken up in parliamentary discussions, but the Government insisted on its own positive evaluation of the response.
The coming two months are not likely to feature anything spectacular in Mozambican politics. Once the Mozambican Parliament adjourns, the political class will go into its usual slumber with the Government, busily sharpening the details of the Economic and Social Plan to be discussed with Programme Aid Partners. The Government is likely to be put under pressure by civil society, particularly regarding crime and the exploitation of natural resources. The recent shooting of an innocent person by police has seen the first calls for public demonstrations, at least in Mozambican internet fora. Coming close on the heels of a devastating [US?] State Department human rights report criticising Mozambican police for brutality and total disregard of human rights, the recent killing casts a dark shadow over sections of Mozambican public opinion, which had dismissed the report as American hypocritical interference in Mozambican internal affairs.
Country Team: Mozambique
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