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Five Star Hotels and the Needy Neighbors in Mozambique

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Abeja shows us the "sidewalk"
Latin music is candy to our ears as Abeja and I walk through the dilapidated streets of Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. The sidewalks and roads are crumbling and in disrepair, and the music is reminiscent of something we could have heard in Nicaragua or Guatemala, although with an unmistakable African flavor. Unfortunately, there is something else here that reminds us of those war torn countries far to the west. Maybe it is the drooping, faded building facades that tell us this is a country that has seen both prosperity and economic collapse, or maybe it is the look in people's eyes that tells us they have seen far too much in their lifetimes. As happy as Abeja and I are to be in a country where they speak Portuguese (which is a lot like Spanish) and listen to music other than western 80's pop hits, we are sad to learn that the history and current problems of this beautiful country are tragically similar to those in Central America.

Map of Mozambique
When the Portuguese abandoned Mozambique in 1975, they left a relatively undeveloped country in the hands of a population that, with only a 15% literacy rate, was not educated enough to take over the upper-level management jobs and run industry and government. Furthermore, many of the Portuguese, who were angry at having to leave, sabotaged equipment and killed livestock in order to thwart the efforts of the Mozambique government, which was trying to build on its newly acquired independence. The new ruling party, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, (known as Frelimo), implemented a strong socialist policy, and it was the social programs that they put in place, such as distribution of medicine, that were helping this country to get back on its feet again by the late 70's.

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Our friend Devorah shows us one of the old, nice buildings in Maputo
The apartheid government of South Africa was strongly opposed both to the socialist and non-racial nature of the Frelimo government, and started a program to destabilize it with the help of Zimbabwe. This program involved arming and supporting mercenary guerrillas and causing famine by diverting the food pipeline. Although the Carter administration in the U.S. had originally supported Mozambique, the elections of the more conservative President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of England marked a new era of isolation and war for Mozambique. The CIA became heavily involved with the destabilization program, training and arming soldiers in Mozambique. Within ten days of the election of Ronald Reagan a mercenary force from South Africa came to Mozambique and assassinated 13 members of the African National Congress. The civil war and famine would eventually be blamed for over one-million dead, and millions injured and starving.

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People actually live in these old tombs
Eventually, this war-battered country had to turn somewhere for help, and by 1990 the World Bank had labeled it the poorest, hungriest, most indebted and dependent country in the world. While organizations like the World Bank were pouring financial aid into Mozambique, this aid came with strict stipulations that have only continued to cripple the economy and oppress the people. For instance, they required the privatization of the cashew industry, and then lowered the existing tariff protection of the industry that had guaranteed a certain level of income for people. Because of international competition, this has led to near bankruptcy of the cashew industry here, with thousands out of work and more factories and farms closing every day.

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The money going into these cars and buildings may not ever help the average Mozambican
Although there is money pouring into Mozambique, it is almost entirely foreign investments which may benefit in the short term, by creating some jobs, but the real profits will be made by foreign investors. The burden of international debt is so high the government cannot afford to make improvements in the infrastructure or create the sorely needed social welfare programs such as health care and education. Over 50% of the population here is still considered illiterate and does not have access to clean drinking water. A few people are getting rich on the rapidly expanding tourist industry while the majority of the people here are working for virtually nothing.

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A night at this hotel in Maputo costs more than the average person in Mozambique makes in a
Mozambique is said to have some of the nicest beaches in Africa and it is becoming a favorite spot for South African, European and American tourists. This expanding tourism will certainly be good for many people here, but unless Mozambique can get on it's own feet, and get domestic businesses going there will never be any real wealth in their economy. Although the World Bank has pledged to lower the Mozambican debt by 1.4 billion dollars , it will make little difference since the government simply cannot afford to pay the rest. Unless most of the debt is forgone by the World Bank, the economy of this country will never be able to restart itself. (Check out Kavitha's article about a movement to relieve many countries of their debt.)

Walking along the street here in Maputo, the divisions and poverty of this society are apparent. BMW's and Sports Utility Vehicles crowd the roads in the nicer part of town. Tourists pour in and the class divisions become more apparent. The Polana hotel, where a night's stay costs twice the per capita annual income, is only a few blocks from a run down neighborhood. As we walked by, I was struck by the idea that its large iron fence symbolizes the stark separation of society here, on one side a small oasis of white decadence, on the other a hungry black nation.


Abeja - Poor, But Rich in Spirit in Mozambique
Kavitha - Serious Answers to Serious Questions: A youth group dealing with AIDS
Team - Rhodesia Speaks: What Life Was Really Like Under White Rule
Team - Mao Donald's and Mc Eggrolls? What IF China Ruled the World?
Making A Difference - Paint a Perfect Picture

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