In Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, international hotels are booked to 95% capacity during the week. Photograph: Carlos Litulo for the Guardian Carlos Litulo/Guardian
Parts of the capital reflect the lives of the super-rich, corruption is a big concern, and 55% of people live below the poverty line
Thembi Mutch for IPS, part of the Guardian development network
Saturday 15 June 2013 08.00 BST
Last modified on Friday 20 June 2014 04.20 BST
Lined up along the streets of central Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, are expensive, European-style bars and restaurants with sophisticated names like Cafe Continental, Nautilus, 1908 and Mundos.
And the residential houses and flats in the capital of this southern African nation are a flabbergasting and bewildering array of 1960s modernist and art deco icons, mixed with new-money skyscrapers.
Further away in the new, Chinese-built airport in Maputo, which was completed in February, aftershave lotions sell for $230, and bottles of Dom Pérignon cost $320.
That is three months’ salary for the average worker, who lives on 3,000 metacals ($100) a month.
Faustus Cavelelo is a tuk tuk driver who has worked as a private bodyguard for international investors and as a bouncer. He is now saving to support his young family. “The big investors need bodyguards because yes, they are so rich and they will get robbed. But for the rest of us, it’s completely safe. For me, it’s hard to make money – people are jealous, and selfish, and don’t help each other. I am determined to improve myself. I work 10-hour days, every day, and work out twice a day, just to deal with the stress, the uncertainty.”
No figures exist on the wealth disparity here. Mozambique is a jumble of statistical contradictions. It has one of the highest real GDP growth rates in the world, at 7.5%. Yet it ranks 185th out of 187 countries on the 2013 UN Human Development Index by the UN Development Programme. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than 55% of its 23.9 million people officially living below the poverty line.
In central Maputo the latest Toyota Pradas, Hiluxs and Land Rovers drive down avenues named Julius Nyerere, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Sung. These former socialist leaders might be turning in their graves at the wealth disparities to be found here.
But who are these new super-rich? They are government ministers; they are friends and relatives of the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (Frelimo), the ruling party; they are people working with and for the UN; and a handful are oil and gas investors and associated traders.
The international hotels in Maputo are booked to 95% capacity during the week with businesspeople converging here from across the globe: Australia, the US, United Arab Emirates, Norway, Brazil and China. The majority are here for the country’s oil and natural gas – in 2011 Mozambique discovered offshore gas fields.
“It certainly is boom time for the Mozambican economy,” Markus Weimer, a senior analyst at Control Risks, an independent global risk consultancy based in London and Maputo, tells IPS. “The country is performing strongly in a gloomy global context, and GDP growth rates are predicted to be high [above 7%] for the coming years. The question is whether strong GDP growth can satisfy the raised expectations of a large part of Mozambique’s young and growing population.”
Feling Capella, a journalist and poet, echoes these sentiments. “There is a growing divide here: between old and young, between rich and poor. We are the new generation, born in the war. We are educated, we want jobs, but we can’t get them. We live in areas where the roads are awful and there is no public lighting, no sewage system,” he tells IPS.
The Mozambican civil war began in 1977 and ended in 1992. But corruption has become a major issue in the country.
Sebastien Marlier, an analyst at the Economist Intelligence Unit who tracks developments in Mozambique, was quoted in the Economist as saying: “Corruption has become a major concern in Mozambique. A small elite associated with the ruling party and with strong business interests dominates the economy.”
The director of the Mozambique Human Rights League and the national winner of the Secretary’s International Women of Courage Award for 2010, Dr Alice Mabota, is candid about corruption. “People are very angry about corruption,” she tells IPS. “They want the right decisions taken by the right people. Frelimo knows they have a problem. I hope the next generation is able to address these problems. Please, I implore our citizens, go ahead, don’t wait for another person to make change, be that person yourself.”
But something else that is so obviously missing in Maputo are the middle classes. Dentists and doctors here do not own the newest cars and their sunglasses are not international brands such as Gucci or Prada. Analysts say Mozambique is a glaring example that the “trickle down” effect of development capitalism does not work.
Natalie Tenzer Silva runs Dana Tours, the country’s biggest tour company. She thinks the big divide between the country’s rich and poor is “unhealthy”. “We need to cater for the middle market, for mid-range tourists, and we do this by investing in hotels, airports and cheaper travel. At the moment, the big hurdle is the cost of travelling inside Mozambique – it’s so huge, but there’s so much here. Extraordinary beaches, countryside, game parks and a thriving cultural scene.
“We can cater for the existing south and east African market … and stimulate growth in the country, and create a new, mobile, middle class,” she tells IPS.
Weimer agrees. “One factor for the large wealth divide is the high level of poverty on the one hand, as well as a rapidly emerging business class on the other,” he says. “The speed of developments is important as it means that many opportunities bypass ‘normal’ citizens. Another factor is that the business environment is particularly difficult for entrepreneurs and SMEs (small and medium enterprises).”