Mozambique forgets its past and faces a bright future

Driving around Maputo, is like driving through the pages of a socialist history book. Avenida Vladimir Lenin leads into Avenida Mao Tse Tung and Avenida Kim Il Sung runs parallel to Avenida Salvador Allende. So in fact, it is more like driving around a history book of disastrous economic policies and human catastrophes. And yet Mozambique is not the desperate failure that the capital’s street names would suggest. By abandoning years of failed socialism and embracing economic freedom, life for ordinary Mozambicans is improving.

It was not only the failed socialist policies that ruined Mozambique. Years of bitter civil war destroyed most of the country’s infrastructure, to say little of the destruction of human lives. Yet the country has been at peace for more than fifteen years and has had several democratic elections. Successive peace-time governments have steadily increased economic freedom and have been rewarded with increased economic growth.

According to the Heritage Foundation’s index of economic freedom, the Mozambican economy moved from a score of 4.39 in 1995 to 3.34 in 2005, where 5 measures the least free and 1 the most free. There are still many aspects of the Mozambican economy that are not free and overall the country is ranked as “mostly un-free”. Yet the trend is towards greater freedom and given the obvious benefits that the country has reaped from freedom, it is hard to believe that it will regress.

Economic growth was above 7% last year and inward investment has been impressive. According to Heritage, “Mozambique allows 100 percent repatriation of profits and retention of earned foreign exchange in domestic accounts.” Mozambique’s wealthier neighbour, South Africa, still has foreign exchange controls, which limit repatriation of profits and foreign currency accounts.

You can see the evidence of this openness to foreign investment as you drive towards Maputo from the South African border. Rising out of the flat bush is BHP Billiton’s Mozal aluminium smelter – a state of the art facility in one of the poorest countries on earth. Smelters are not the most attractive constructions, but this one stands out of the featureless surroundings like a beacon of hope.

Not only does Mozal represent an inward investment of more than a billions dollars, but BHP Billiton has also been funding malaria control in the country. The malaria control programme run in conjunction with South Africa and Swaziland has ensured that malaria cases in the south of the country have plummeted. The programme, which involves spraying tiny amounts of insecticide inside houses, has been so successful that a similar initiative is soon to be started further north.

I first came to Maputo seven years ago and was shocked to see many dilapidated buildings and roads in a state of disrepair. Yet then, as now, I was struck by the fact that so many Mozambicans were not sitting around in the street begging or waiting for a handout, but were busy selling, trading and creating something out of nothing. This attitude of self-reliance, perhaps born out of years of adversity, seems to have paid off. There is still a great deal of poverty now, but the streets are cleaner and improved, the buildings are smarter and there are several new, gleaming hotels and office blocks. My own hotel, on Avenida Julius Nyerere, is one of the nicest I have ever stayed in and I am using the wireless internet connection for communication.

As I wandered down Julius Nyerere I considered how grateful ordinary Mozambicans must be that Nyerere’s vision of African socialism and collectivisation has been consigned to history. Even though the Mozambican economy is far from free, the growth in that country shows how readily countries are rewarded for adopting policies that increase freedom. Mozambicans seem to exude a sense of optimism and hope that is quite infectious.

But if Mozambique demonstrates how important increasing freedom is, Zimbabwe is a constant and ugly reminder of how countries are punished for reducing freedoms, disregarding property rights and abandoning the rule of law. However one chooses to place the current Zimbabwean crisis in a historical context, one cannot escape the fact that life for ordinary Zimbabweans is now immeasurably worse than when President Mugabe came to power. Not only are Zimbabweans poorer, but they are sicker too, with a life expectancy of just 33 years.

Mozambique and Zimbabwe stand in stark contrast to each other; the former progressing, the latter regressing. But if Mozambique and other southern African nations want to secure the freedom of their people and the resulting prosperity that arises from that freedom, they must take a stand against Mugabe’s tyranny. If that happens, many more good news stories will flow from the continent.

Author: Richard Tren is a director of the health advocacy group – Africa Fighting Malaria. This article may be republished without prior consent but with acknowledgement to the author. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Free Market Foundation.

FMF Feature Article/ 2 August 2005
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