Whether approaching by plane, train, or bus, one cannot fail to notice the construction boom underway in Maputo. Roads into the city are expanding, high-rise apartments and offices push the skyline higher, and surburban housing sprawls further and further to alleviate pressure on the city centre.
Mozambique is one of the world’s fastest growing economies, with a GDP increase of 7.3% expected this year – and Maputo is undoubtedly the epicentre.
To some degree Mozambique is catching up. A devastating civil war which lasted from 1977 until 1995 left the country in ruins, with nowhere to go but up. Since then significant gains have been made in providing for the country’s 24 million citizens, almost 55% of whom live below the poverty line. The availability of healthcare continues to improve – now each of the country’s 129 districts has a doctor – and the agricultural sector, on which the vast majority of Mozambicans rely, is developing at speed.
Explorations over recent years have also revealed that the country holds some of the world’s largest mineral reserves. Already investment is arriving from all corners, with some of the world’s largest mining firms already working on the ground.
It remains to be seen whether the results of this mineral boom will benefit all levels of society. Wealth inequality has been slowly increasing over the years, and an engrained culture of political corruption is where many put the blame.
But despite widespread dissatisfaction with the way the country is run, everyone Mozambican I spoke to was hopeful for the country’s future, and certain that things can only continue to get better. The country has undergone enormous economic change in the past decade, with basic infrasturcture and access to essential services increasing dramatically in all parts of the country.
Though the most recent comprehensive survey on poverty, compiled in 2009, revealed that efforts to reduce poverty had plateaued to some degree (or even regressed in some sectors), next year’s report is expected to reveal some modest improvements.
Starting from such a low base after the civil war, improvement was quick to begin with, but Mozambique faces a hard slog ahead. Capacity building is an enormous challenge and includes everything from training doctors and teachers (only 40 per cent of whom are qualified) to providing quality infrastructure. But this will be the focus of much of Mozambique’s development planning over the coming years.
The country’s last budget, which allowed for about €8bn in spending, falls far short of what is needed to fund the many programmes and projects being implemented across Mozambique, but should the rich oil, gas and coal reserves be well managed, spending will continue to increase sustainably.
It’s an incredibly important time for Mozambique. The recent peace deal, which has ended two years of fighting between the government and RENAMO rebels, brought peace and stability ahead of the elections, which look set to create a serious parliamentary opposition for the first time since independence.
Many of the NGO workers I spoke to are hopeful that such an opposition would provide enough pressure to seriously improve the government’s commitment to poverty reduction, and to ensuring that Mozambique’s economic growth is inclusive and benefits all citizens.
Despite living in one of the world’s poorest countries, Mozambicans can see that there are great possibilities ahead. The overall positivity in the country is astounding, and regardless of the election outcome, planning and debate will continue at all levels to ensure that Mozambique continues to prioritise the betterment of individuals and communities, who even with recent improvements, remain incredibly deprived of essential goods and services.