Friday, February 29, 2008

The fifth of this month will always be remembered in Mozambique. It was a kind of Bastille Day in which the people, for the first time in so many years, were able to make the single-party elite listen. In the western press the event was either not reported or simply mentioned as "food riots".

These reports totally miss the shockwaves this event caused both at the time, and the long-term ripple effects which are still making themselves felt through the Mozambican political economy.

Demonstrations and riots started on tuesday the 5th over the rise in chapa (taxi) prices and the govt. was completely unprepared. so business kind of ground to a halt for a few days and now we are catching up.

another knock-on effect is that they couldn't fill up the petrol pumps which set of a wave of panic tank-filling the next day. kind of a self fulfilling prophecy.

The govt. are in a bind because all the solutions are long term or at least medium term. But the govt. are not capable of managing anything that is not immediate. So a few years ago they promised to restart train services - but they only run twice a day through certain areas. They promised to renew the transport fleet of the city bus company - and even "bought" some chinese made LPG-powered modern buses. One of these then blew up so they grounded the whole fleet.

They promised to regulate the Chapas so they actually run the route they promise and don't cut the route - but that just gave the transport cops another excuse to take bribes from the Chapa-drivers. Most of the Chapas are owned by MPs anyway.

Its a pity as this story is a good counterpoint to World Bank president Bob Zoellick's flying visit on Monday 4th Feb. He complimented Moz on its macroeconomic success and pro-poor policy reforms la la la etc. The next day the powderkeg of angry poor people who aren't invited to the workshops and don't have expense accounts, finally exploded.

Why it happened: today everyone was supposed to go back to work after the long weekend but it was also the day on which the government had agreed with the Chapa (Minibus taxi) association, for a 33% increase in transport fares, based on the rising price of oil. Of course the govt. made no attempt to sound out public opinion on this, and this morning when the first chapas tried to do their rounds, there was an explosion of public anger.

Demonstrators blocked all the entrances and exits to Maputo, and of course there was some opportunistic rioting and looting to go along with it. In fact rather good-natured, as very few people were hurt and the demonstrators appeared to be genuinely trying to make a point - they only blocked road traffic, pedestrians were in general left alone. The police responded with cowardly ineffectiveness sprinkled with bursts of excess brutality. The govt. has said basically nothing yet. But night fell and the roads were still blocked. During the city business basically ground to a halt as goods and staff can simply not get from A to B.

The most important point is that the demonstrations were SPONTANEOUS - however much the elite try to make out that shadowy agitators from outside were responsible. For years mozambicans themselves have complained that they are "too passive". On the 5th they finally woke up. It is difficult to protest in Moz - if you do it alone you are ignored. If you try to organize a group, your association will never receive legal status, or its leaders will be co-opted with sinecures. If you really do manage to make your voice heard you will be killed very publicly and those who ordered the deed will never be prosecuted.

In other words, the elite thought they had it all worked out, how to keep the lid firmly on the pot. And the donors, to their collective shame, quite happily turned two blind eyes. They all forgot that if you keep the lid on, the water boils!

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Thursday, January 31, 2008

We passed the year end at Nina's house, the neighbours gaily letting off all kinds of of dodgy fireworks from their rooftops in a happy display that reminded me of the safety adverts we used to get at primary school. Reminded me of what they said not to do.

Nina's niece Jessica got startled at first, remembering the Paiol - the arms dump explosion a year ago which killed so many people. The sad thing is, at the time people thought the sound those obsolete soviet munitions really were fireworks - until they started coming in through people's roofs and cutting them in half.

Before we went to sleep there was a fun hour digging my car out of the sand so we could park it in the driveway - apparently mine was the first car to actually park there since the concrete was laid and a big chunk of it promptly shattered under my Mark II's 1300kg.

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Great story about 419eater.com, fighting against the neverending Nigerian scams. Now all we need is someone to blog the endless V!agra and Pen!s extension mails that (I at least) get millions of.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Brothers in arms?

In recent years the Mozambican leadership (along with all their pals at the head of the other SADC countries) have bent over backwards to avoid criticising old Uncle Bob, even as he runs his country into the ground and right through it. The independent press here have for several years carefully and forcefully separated the headline-grabbing "white farmer issue" from the dreadful and ever-increasing economic mismanagement and brutal oppression.

However, the elite have either ignored this or said they are "studying the matter". Just a few days ago, however, I saw a wee article in the business section of Savana (a leading independent newspaper), which mentioned that a massive shipment of grain bought by Zim from Argentina, had arrived at the port of Beira but was stuck there because the Zim govt. has no hard currency to pay the applicable customs duties.

And today I saw this article which suggests that unless the shipment is released, Zim has only 2 days flour supplies left. So the glorious leaders will not criticize Dear Robert, but if the cash ain't forthcoming it is another story. On the other hand, it is the people who eat bread so who cares. As a pupil of mine in Harare, 1993, said "Mugabe is rich - he does not eat sadza (maize porridge) or bread - he eats spaghetti - EVERY NIGHT!"

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

1. Tech. Here is an article I just had published on ZK "Rich Client" technology.

2. More Tech. Have installed Ubuntu 7.04 on my new Acer TravelMate 4200 laptop. I have been happy with Ubuntu for servers since 5.10, but for PCs it has always had some hassle or other. But this time they seem to have done it. I initially installed it just because the Acer came with, bizarrely, Windows installed on top of FAT32 instead of NTFS. Thanks but no thanks, Acer!! So I had to reformat the disk anyway, and while I was at it installed Ubuntu. And I haven't booted back into Windows. The suspend, hibernate, power management all work perfectly. The only tweak was downloading linux drivers for my graphics card from Intel, but they were very easy to find and install.

3. Crime again. The police effectively appear to have lost control of Maputo, pretty much every day some armed gang assaults a bank or big shop - and gets away with it. A couple of weeks ago, the police in one station heard about a stolen car - and went to get it. Some hours later, the gang who had stolen it, assaulted the POLICE STATION, killed one officer, and stole it back!!

Last week, one of my staff was walking to the bus stop at about 7pm and had to run for his life as a rolling shootout between cops and robbers came round the corner.

Meanwhile, in one of the provinces, a policeman on patrol discovered two men raping a teenage girl. He shot one of them dead. When they came to collect the body, they discovered that it was an off-duty policeman! The shooter, a cop who was actually protecting civilians for once, is now languishing in a cell while they decide what to do with him.

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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Yesterday morning a mysterious fire broke out at the Ministry of Agriculture (a huge, curved building that any visitor to Moz will pass as they drive in from the airport). It started at about 6am so no one was hurt (state functionaries start work at 7am).

Given that it only destroyed the economics, finance and accounting departments, the general opinion here seems to be that it was set on purpose, to cover up misuse of funds.

Now, of course, the government will plead for (and get) from the donors, a big handout to rebuild a spanking new ministry. Instead of, say, doing anything useful like:
- rural feeder roads
- rural marketplaces
- provincial main roads
- agricultural extension
- regulating oligopolies in the distribution and wholesaling of agricultural produce

ho hum...

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Sunday, May 06, 2007


A refreshing change from the normal tide of "the badder you are, the more likely you are to get away with it", which is the usual rule here in Moz.

A week or so ago three supposed criminals were taken from their homes by the police and held without charge in cells. One of them managed to get a call to his lawyer but by the time the lawyer got to the station, the guys had been moved to location unknown. A few hours later, they were taken to the area of Triunfo, Maputo's north-east corner, and shot several times each, in the back of the neck. Many residents who observed parts of what happens, went to the press (the independent press, obviously) to complain.

The case became a scandal among Maputo's equivalent of the chattering classes, and the PGR (equivalent of the Attorney General), for once investigated the subject thoroughly and soon emitted a report stating categorically that the killings were illegal executions, perpetrated by a death squad within the police. Based on this, the PGR emitted arrest warrants for the 3 police officers involved.

In response to this...
a. The police simply refused to arrest their own men and emitted their own report saying that the 3 criminals had somehow managed to break their handcuffs and escaped while trying to flee.
b. The Minister of the Interior (responsible for the police), categorically denied that death squads.
c. The vice minister of the interior admitted that actually they might exist.

At least, with this kind of public outcry, we have less risk of creeping into a Rio de Janeiro style situation where the police still perform dozens of extra-judicial killings every year.

One would hope, however, that the head of state would step in to remind the Police that, according to the constitution, they do not have any option about executing the arrest warrants issued by the PGR.

Meanwhile, the donors gave the government a generally glowing report, although they moaned a bit about the feeble progress in combatting corruption. But since they all live in fortresses in Somerschield and will certainly get somewhere classier on their next promotion, who's to rock the boat.

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