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!

Hey, I just came across your blog. I was really interested to read what had happened in Maputo. I used to live in Moz, if you would like to see my site:


Stay safe, Tchau
Great to see you the other day sir - not a day older. You need to get in touch with my mate who lives nearby and wreastles with the same shit all the time...

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?