Letter from Maputo
From Our Own Correspondent
MOZAMBIQUE, in the south-east corner of Africa, had appeared to be doing relatively well in these uncertain times. A decent influx of foreign aid has helped keep us solvent and Governor Rogerio Zandamela rules the Central Bank with a transparent iron first.
Sure, debt is still stratospherie after former President Armando Guebuza secretly borrowed $2bn that plunged us into financial ruin in 2016. But we have gas megaprojects that are still largely on track and we should gradually bounce back. Not bad, compared to the chaos in neighbouring Zambia and Zimbabwe.
But our potential to be a bastion of hope in the region has been thwarted by a bloody insurgency in Cabo Delgado province. In the north, just below Tanzania, huge gas finds have brought attention on a largely Islamic and formerly forgotten arerife with smuggling and a sense of estrangement from a central government more than 1,000 miles away. After three years of escalating conflict, government forces have all but lost the province. A future with the gas projects walled up in enclaves while thr populace flees or joins the insurgents is not impossible.
President Filipe Nyusi has been largely mute as insurgents seize twons and once-idyllic islands, where the likes of Will ‘n’ Kate once holidayed in luxurious, imported seclusion. He has had little to say about 300,000 starving refugees, except to chastise them for not wearing Covid masks, and discontent in his underfed and under-resourced army is growing.
Meanwhile, he seems unmoved by the portfolio of luxury goods enjoyed by his accident-prone sons. Young Florindo in particular is on a run of back luck, first breaking his gold-coloured Riva speedboat (in front of the naval club in Maputo) by chucking its Lamborghini engine into reverse in a bid to slow down, before pranging his equally low-key Aston Martin.
For a former minister for defence, Nyusi knows surprisingly little about defence. Better versed in railways than rifles, he came from the right part of the country and was appointed by Guebuza, who hoped Nyusi would help him maintain influence as his second term ended in 2015. This hasn’t endeared Nyusi to a military that has been fighting one war or another, on and off for half a century.
Thanks to our ageing civil war veterans, the insurgents have at least found tougher opposition in recent weeks. Though exaggerated in Frelimo propaganda, there have now been some strategic victories after the “antigos combatentes”, with their knowledge of bush warfares, stepped up to assist. This is handy for Nyusi, after the dismal reception for his debut book Legacy: Organising ourselves in Defence on the Motherland in September. He says his job is not to provide a solution but an “inspiration” for a solution to the conflict. His baffled generals shook their heads are concluded: “he has no shame.”
Nor does he have a sense of irony. Having won a landslide victory at the end of last year under a cloud of blatant fraud, His Excellency issued a call to the nation to “work, work, work”. For the president, it was more “golf, golf, golf”- and exotic soirées that would have made Berlusconi blush. Even under Covid, Nyusi still likes a party, and sometimes he doesn’t get to bed until after dawn.
Other leaders have been corrupt, incompetent or lazy. But none has celebrated mediocrity like Nyusi. The Frelimo party has been in power since independence from Portugal in 1975 and its grey beards are increasingly anxious. Guebuza and his predecessor Joaquim Chissano have been drafted for an intervention. If things don’t look up soon, it’s not impossible Nyusi might find himself out of what passes for work.(Moz24)