Telling the Stories of Mozambique
By Sarah Jones
November 09, 2014
Mozambique is one of the world’s poorest countries. But summarizing Mozambique with one of its oft-repeated statistics does not do the country or its people--and their struggles and successes--any justice.
Dancers in Xai-Xai, Mozambique, perform a war dance local to the Gaza district to welcome dignitaries.
Everything I read about Mozambique on the Internet in my pre-trip research was rewritten by the experience of spending two weeks reporting on child health and vaccines in the southern part of the country as an International Reporting Project fellow. Then again, this appears to be a trend when it comes to the world's under-reported countries.
Mozambique is poor. In 2004, foreign aid accounted for nearly half of the government budget, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The amount of aid implies the country could not create this wealth internally.
What I saw is that extreme poverty on an individual basis is the same everywhere. It means a lack of access to the basic necessities—and by basic necessities I mean the type of things that many people would call a human right.
No water. No healthcare. No food. No education. No jobs.
By "no water," I mean no plumbing, no faucet, no public restroom, no river, no nothing within walking distance. And "walking distance" is relative. I met plenty of people who walk over an hour to the closest clinic, which has a handful of doctors--a single doctor in some departments.
The situation is similar with food, education and health.
Even if someone were to walk two or three hours to a clinic, that clinic may not have the supplies it needs to provide the necessary care. And this is where extreme poverty differs from country to country. In some countries that clinic would have access to the vaccines or life-saving supplies it needs to provide that man, woman or child with care.
Mozambique lacks the financial means to build roads to deliver the vaccines—which are donated or provided via foreign loans—to the clinic. And this is the difference: If a country is too poor to help its citizens, how does the cycle end?
One solution is to build national ownership of natural resources to fund education and build a longstanding workforce.
Mozambique has discovered gas. The government could capitalize on this with a national gas company, which would use foreign investment to build pipelines and refineries of which Mozambique maintains ownership. In exchange, the Mozambican government could offer foreign investors a price reduction on exported gas.
The Mozambican government would then have to turn these profits into an internal investment for education in engineering and the gas and oil industry—thereby building the necessary workforce to take over the refineries in the future.
Then again, those in control of the national gas company might become the grey coats of the country. If they don’t have the best interests of the country and its people at heart, the consequences of the inevitable corruption, greed and nepotism which would invariably take place would be magnified given the dire situation of many of the people in the country.
The drive to Xai-Xai from Maputo
But enough about what could be. Let's focus on what is.
The majority of Mozambicans live in rural areas, on less than a dollar a day. But I did not find a single Mozambican who begged for money. And even in the direst situations, I didn't find a Mozambican who did not love his or her country.
The educated are going abroad to learn more about the world and gain tools and resources not easily provided at home. Unlike the common assumption of brain drain, these Mozambicans are returning home after they attain the highest level of education abroad.
When they return to Mozambique, they not only invest their talent and knowledge into building their country up but more importantly in training and investing in the education of the next generation through apprenticeships, fellowships and internships.
Mozambicans are learning from the mistakes of other countries and are working to build an efficient future for themselves.
A prime example of this took place after independence, when the country did not have foreign investments pouring in. A national policy was developed and well-communicated among the population. In an effort to reverse the impact of the divide and conquer tactics imposed by its colonizers, Mozambicans created a policy of relocating people from province to province so that no one part of the country could be ethnically or religiously categorized.
Shopping mall in Maputo
Also, Mozambicans realized that every district had its own local language or languages, so the country kept Portuguese as the official language. They felt it was the one foreign influence that would benefit the country.
Reporting from Mozambique was an eye-opening experience for me.
I saw some really dire and difficult situations. I saw the level of poverty in which the majority of the country is living. At a certain point, one must ask: How can we allow this to happen to one another?
Look closely under the blue garment hanging on a tree limb; there is a person there.
But then you see the pride, happiness and humanity in the face of the individual living in this extreme poverty. None are defeated. Women sweep the dirt and dust of an unpaved road near their home. When you ask to see the inside of their home, which is made of sticks from nearby trees and occasionally mud or clay, a pride wells in their chest and they stand up to show you their home.
Men stand respectfully in the presence of women, and communities look out for the welfare of a child regardless of whose child it is. When the kids play and run around, you can’t tell who is whose sibling because they all play and look after one another.
And then of course there are the cool kids--the older teens who stand off in the corner and hang out together now that they’ve outgrown the games of their younger siblings and neighbors. But they aren’t too far in the distance in case they are needed.
When little kids start to fight, as they often do, the natural leaders of the group--some of whom are a few years older--try to deescalate the situation with fairness and logic: take turns in order of right to left; or you’ve already had your turn, give someone else a chance.
Some of the children have shoes or sandals. Many do not. And to any outsider, this is an obvious indication of the financial gap from family to family in a small, impoverished community. But within the community, it doesn’t seem to matter so much.
In the rural areas, I was less concerned about leaving my gear unattended. In these areas, kids wandered about with one another, as an elder watched on should any of the little ones need him or her. When one elderly grandmother left the chair that was surrounded by about seven of eight little ones, a grandfather came and took a seat outside to watch the youngsters play.
After the trip to Mozambique, my spectrum of reference for the human experience has been enhanced and my understanding of the conflict that exists between our identity as souls and our experiences as human beings has deepened.
The obstacles before us are often a result of human constructs, but the strength of our character, resilience, integrity, humanity and desire to help one another is indivisible from our identity.
Sarah Jones reported from Mozambique on a fellowship with the International Reporting Project (IRP).