MOZAMBIQUE: Mozambique's long struggle for progress
Karin Palmquist

Kofi A. Annan

It hasn't even been three decades yet, but one could easily be fooled. The short history of independent Mozambique following a war of independence encompasses a 12-year civil war, a period of centralized, socialist economy, the creation of a western-oriented market economy, and the building of infrastructure from a starting point of virtually nothing.

Mozambicans descend from San hunters and gatherers, but of these people little is known. Bantu peoples settled the country in the first century A.D. and seven centuries later Arab traders set up trading posts and settled along Mozambique's coast. The Portuguese colonized the area in the early 16th century.

Portuguese colonialism collapsed in 1974 after a decade of armed struggle, and on June 25, 1975, former Portuguese East Africa became independent Mozambique.

"Before 1975, Mozambique was unknown, a Portuguese colony. It wasn't a country but an overseas province of Portugal. Our first task was to make the country known," Mozambique's ambassador to the United States, Armando Alexandre Panguene, says.

"At the time of independence we had nothing," the ambassador continues. "The colonial administration did not allow for the development of the country. Mozambicans weren't allowed to own businesses, even drive cabs.

"To advance, we had to renounce our language and assimilate to Portuguese culture. We weren't allowed to teach our indigenous languages."

Portuguese is still the official language. "The only way we can communicate is with Portuguese…. It is our legacy, whether we like it or not. Along with Sao Tome, Guinea and Angola, we contributed to the spread of Portuguese. Now you find Portuguese speakers everywhere," Ambassador Panguene says.

After independence, Mozambique's military leaders established a one-party state allied to the Soviet bloc, eliminating political pluralism and organized religion, a move not popular with the United States.

"We have come a long way with the United States," the ambassador says. "When we first pushed for independence it wasn't appreciated. Portugal had a lot of friends and the initial help in our struggle for independence came from the Eastern bloc. We came to identify ourselves with those policies, until we realized there are other ways."

"Our first president, Samora Machel, had good relations with Margaret Thatcher. She introduced him to Ronald Reagan and we opened this embassy in Washington in 1983. Relations have developed and we now get the normal assistance from USAID."

The time of peace was brief. Just two year after the end of the war for independence, civil war broke out between the government and a rebel movement called the Mozambican National Resistance, financed by Ian Smith's regime in what is now Zimbabwe. South Africa's apartheid regime supported the rebel aggression as well.

"They thought Mozambique gave a bad impression to blacks in Zimbabwe and South Africa," the ambassador explains. The new war lasted 16 long years and a million people died before the government and rebels struck a deal in 1992. 

At independence in 1975, Mozambique was one of the poorest countries in the world. The long conflict with Zimbabwe, from 1977 to 1992, only made things worse. Portuguese nationals left the country, leaving behind them a country with few educated professionals and a decrepit economy.

In 1983 President Machel declared that socialism had failed in Mozambique, but his death in a suspicious plane crash in 1986 delayed the transition to a market economy. 
Through a series of macroeconomic reforms in the late 80s and the assistance of its donor countries, Mozambique managed to improve its growth rate. In 1994, the country held its first multi-party elections and Joaquim Chissano, still in office today, was elected president. Fiscal reforms, such as the introduction of a value-added tax and reform of the customs service, brought the government some much needed revenue.

Positive as these improvements are, Mozambique remains dependent on foreign aid and seventy percent of the population remains below the poverty line. GDP per capita in this country of 17 million is a mere $1,000 (2002 est.). Most of the work force (80%) survive on sustenance farming on the country's four percent of arable land.

The largest investor in Mozambique is South Africa and the largest single foreign investment to date is the MOZAL aluminum smelter. A pipeline is being built from Mozambique to South Africa by a South African company. Other investment projects, in areas such as titanium extraction and processing and garment manufacturing should help the country's trade balance.

"We have to convince American companies that they can do good business in Mozambique," the ambassador says.

Five years ago, some of Mozambique's creditor countries wrote off a chunk of its crippling debt under the IMF's Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) and Enhanced HIPC initiatives.

Mozambique still needs the help of donors for bigger projects. One such project is a bridge over the river Zambesi. The original bridge was destroyed in the 80s, during the war, and never rebuilt. "If we had that bridge, we could transport goods from one part of the country to the other much easier, instead of going through Malawi like we have to do now," says the ambassador, who has made reconstruction of the bridge a priority of his mission in Washington.

The bridge would cost an estimated $80 million to build. The Swedish and Japanese governments have offered to help, but their assistance will not be sufficient for the whole project. "The administration here should be more flexible," the ambassador sighs.

Another area where the country needs help is in the fight against HIV/AIDS. According to the CIA fact book, 13 percent of Mozambicans are infected with HIV (2001 est.). That means 1.1 million people are living with HIV/AIDS in Mozambique and 400,000 children have been orphaned by AIDS. Life expectancy at birth is only 31.3 years.

Mozambique is one of the 14 countries that qualify for Bush's $15 billion HIV initiative, and in a deal brokered by the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, four drug companies -- three Indian and one South African-- will cut the price of their AIDS drugs for distribution in Mozambique, among other countries. 
 "Lots of developing countries envy Mozambique for the good cooperation we have with the United States," the ambassador says. "Fingers crossed, we'll qualify for the Millennium Challenge as well. Mozambique practices good governance. It is a market economy. There is no reason why we shouldn't pass."

Curriculum Vitae

Name:  Armando Alexandre Panguene
Date of Birth:  December 18, 1942
Place of Birth:  Marracuene - Maputo
Marital Status:  Married to Maria Teresa Panguene with three children

1974 - 1975: Provincial Governor
1975 - 1977: Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
1977 - 1980: Ambassador to Portugal
1980 - 1983: Provincial Governor
1984 - 1987: Deputy Minister of Defense
1987 - 1988: Presidential Roving Ambassador
1988 - 1996: High Commissioner to Great Britain
1996 - 2001: High Commissioner to South Africa
2002 - present: Ambassador to the United States of America
2003 - present: High Commissioner to Canada

Languages: English, Portuguese, French