by Mark Whitaker
New Internationalist magazine, Jan / Feb 1997
I recently came to know Maputo Central Hospital all too well.
Not that I was ill: it was just that I kept coming across victims
of the violent crime that's leading Maputo - until recently one
of Africa's safer and more relaxed cities - to be mentioned in
the same breath as notoriously dangerous Nairobi. On my second
day there I was being driven to an appointment by the local journalist
who was translating for me. He was listening to the news on his
car radio when he suddenly pulled over and said we had to go to
the hospital. He'd just learned that a friend of his, a well-known
news photographer, had been shot and gravely wounded the previous
night. We found Armando Munguambe in a small, stiflingly hot room.
Though obviously in terrible pain from a bullet lodged in his
abdomen, he told us what had happened.
'I was going home from work about nine o'clock with my camera
bag over my shoulder. I noticed two men following me. They didn't
say anything to me. One of them just opened fire and hit me in
the shoulder. I fell over and saw the other one coming for me
with a knife. I grabbed him, and tried to use him as a shield.
He was shouting to his colleague to kill me. The man with the
gun shot me again, and got me in the stomach. Maybe they thought
I was dead. They picked up the cameras and ran off. No-one came
out of their houses to help... Two days later I was back in the
hospital this time to visit my translator. He hadn't been shot
but he was just as much a victim of violent crime. It's become
too risky to stop at a red light in Maputo after dark. He hadn't;
and a horrendous crash had left him with a fractured skull and
a punctured liver. When I left Mozambique 10 days later he was
still on the danger list.
Some blame Maputo's sudden crisis of violent crime on the
arrival of organized gangs from South Africa. Some blame a police
force that's too badly paid not to get in on the act. Others make
an obvious connection between the thousands of demobilized soldiers
from Mozambique's civil war who still have guns but don't have
But the country's Attorney-General looks deeper than this
and sees criminality as a consequence of a too-rapid transition
to a market economy; one that's corroded values as well as cost
'We need to see the increase in crime in the context of the
big changes that have taken place in our society,' says Dr. Sinai
Nhatitima. 'People are becoming more materialistic. The policy
of privatization has caused a big wave of unemployment and some
people are having to find alter native ways to survive.'
The privatization policy is one of many that have been imposed
on Mozambique by the IMF and the World Bank as 'conditions' the
country must fulfill if it is to; continue to receive loans. And
Dr. Nhatitima gets as close as is publicly possible to blaming
the international financial institutions for causing the new violence.
'The international community must help us achieve a balance,'
he says carefully, 'so our economy develops without people choosing
Most members of Mozambique's government don't find it easy
to answer questions about what's happening to their country two
years after remarkably successful multi-party elections. The problem
is that the trumpet they have to blow - about economic growth
and stabilizing inflation isn't their own. It's got a very prominent
'Made in Washington DC' stamp on it.
According to one of the country's leading economists, Carlos
Castel-Branco, the tragedy of present-day Mozambique is that a
freely elected government - in which so much hope had been invested
- has been reduced to a headless chicken, rushing around madly,
meeting one IMF or World Bank condition after another, with no
time to develop an economic strategy of its own.
That Mozambique did have its own economic strategy after independence
from Portugal in 1975 is obvious from the street names in Maputo.
Mao has an avenue named after him; so do Lenin, Marx, Engels and
Ho Chi Minh. Even Kim Il Sung isn't left out of this lexicon of
But from the early 1980s Mozambique's experiment in socialism
was systematically destabilized by a guerrilla army, Renamo, funded
by apartheid South Africa and feted in Ronald Reagan's White House.
It blew up bridges and mined roads; and it targeted the real successes
of socialism, the rural schools and clinics. The economy was brought
to its knees and, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Mozambican
Government decided it had no option but to make a sudden and complete
U-turn. It turned straight onto an economic highway of IMF construction
whose destination, the road signs clearly indicated, was Market
Economy via strict monetary control, free trade and privatization.
And what of the devastations of war, what of the children
without schools, the villages without clinics? They'll have to
wait, said the IMF. We can't rebuild: we can only correct the
mistakes of a state-controlled economy. The majority of the Mozambican
people are still waiting; and they're poorer now than they were
at the end of the war.
Conditionality is a relationship of power - and a country
that's as poor as post-war Mozambique, and as dependent on aid,
has had little choice but to do what it's told. The World Bank's
representative in Maputo, Roberto Chavez, has no problem with
'The conditions allow us to monitor whether we feel the Government
is moving in the right direction,' he says baldly. 'If it didn't
meet these conditions then we would reduce our program to a very
The Bank, which has over a billion dollars invested in Mozambique,
has no scruples about using its muscle to get its own way. It
insists, for example, that any government protection for the cashew-nut
industry in the form of an export tax be rapidly phased out. Last
year the Government, together with cashew producers and exporters,
came up with its own rather slower timetable for this. The Bank
vetoed it, threatening to r pull all its loans to small- and medium-scale
I visited a cashew-processing plant that's operating at a
fifth of its capacity: its owner, Kekobar Patel, thinks that liberalizing
trade before domestic industry has had a chance to recover and
rebuild is 'an absurd policy for Mozambique'. He believes the
cashew factories will simply have to close down and is amazed
that Western economists can get away with preaching liberalization
here while not insisting on the same in their own countries. The
entrepreneur's view backs up that of a Maputo journalist: that
this will go down in history as 'the first transition to capitalism
that the capitalists didn't want'.
Maybe such high-handedness would be acceptable if the Bank
and the IMF had a track record of getting things right. But they
don't, especially in Africa. And one policy that certainly does
not seem to be paying off is the rush to privatization in a Mozambique
that lacks domestic capital. It looks good on paper: 'Over 300
enterprises privatized!' shouts the Government publicity machine.
The reality is rather different. I saw one former factory
that now houses a Pentecostal congregation; another where the
eight remaining workers have nothing to do but clean the empty
building. Some 100,000 workers - 25 per cent of the industrial
workforce - have lost their jobs as a result of privatization.
'I think we could have done it better,' is all the World Bank
can say in its own defense. The IMF and the World Bank like to
present a joint front to the world: sibling organizations with
different routes to the same goal. Maybe; but Mozambique reveals
the tension between the IMF's program of monetary and fiscal 'stabilization'
and the Bank's commitment to 'development'.
The Bank, for example, is insisting on a less corrupt, more
efficient customs service. But that would mean customs officials
being paid a living wage and the IMF won't allow that, saying
it would be inflationary and a precedent for other public-sector
workers. Similarly the Bank wants to build new schools but insists
that the Government stumps up some of the cash. The IMF won't
allow the Government to release the funds...
Though he strongly denies it, rumor has it that the Bank's
Chavez was involved behind the scenes in an unprecedented protest
last year when leading donor countries - led by the Dutch - protested
to the IMF that it was strangling at birth any signs of new life
in Mozambique's economy.
More recently the donors have been protesting to the Mozambican
Government - about crime and safety after the murders in Maputo
of aid workers from Switzerland and Spain. But the protests lack
conviction. They can't say it publicly, but the private view of
many donor-country diplomats is that the rich world can't have
it both ways. They can't get up in arms about crime when they
know crime is itself a consequence of economic and monetary policies
that have failed to address people's real needs.
As Anglican vicar Father Matsinghe puts it: 'It was logical
for people to expect that life would get better after the peace
agreement and the elections, that people would be able to buy
food and eat. But that's not happening. The poor are just disillusioned.'
So maybe all the work and expense that the international community
put into bringing peace and democracy to the world's poorest country
is being undone by the same community's imposition of a profoundly
inappropriate economic strategy. There might be 'economic growth'
in Mozambique; but there certainly isn't much 'human development'
Mark Whitaker is a British journalist.
World Bank, Structural Adjustment