HEALTHY ECONOMY SET TO TAKE OFF
WITH A GOVERNMENT FIRMLY COMMITTED TO LIBERALIZATION, MOZAMBIQUE'S ECONOMIC POTENTIAL IS LOOKING UP. IN AGRICULTURE, TRANSPORT AND INDUSTRY, NEW REFORMS AND AN ACTIVE PRIVATE SECTOR ARE DRIVING MAJOR EXPANSION, WHILE THE NEWLY-CREATED TOURISM MINISTRY HAS THE ENVIABLE TASK OF PROMOTING ONE OF AFRICA'S MOST IDYLLIC AND LITTLE KNOWN DESTINATIONS
TODAY'S MOZAMBIQUE is characterized by a political stability that combined with swiftly advancing liberal economic reforms is bringing hopes of a prosperous future. Implemented by a government keen to cooperate with the private sector and woo foreign investment, those reforms have brought double-digit growth alongside single-digit inflation.
What makes all this highly remarkable is that little more than 8 years ago the country was putting an end to a 12-year civil war that came hot on the heels of the protracted independence war against Portuguese colonial rule. Back in 1992, Mozambique was leaving behind an unfortunate experiment with Communist- style central planning and was considered the poorest country in the world, with a per capita income of only around US$100.
The stunning turn-around was due to a number of factors, but the World Bank's resident representative in Mozambique, James H. Coates, has no doubts about giving much of the credit to "a large amount of very insightful and dynamic leader-ship on the part of the government. Mozambique has demonstrated that with dialogue, compromise and discussion, a country can move ahead." The strength of the economy was shown by the fact that the cyclone and storms that hit the country early this year, causing widespread flooding and immense damage to rail lines and other infrastructure, barely slowed the very healthy growth rate.
Mozambique's Prime Minister, Pascoal Mocumbi, sees the country, where almost 70% n of its 19 million inhabitants still live under the poverty line, as being poised for even more dramatic progress in the coming decade. "In 10 years I expect to see Mozambique free from extreme poverty and linked to the rest of Africa through an effective communication network," he says. "We should take advantage of our position to get on the communication highway and to be able to see a telephone in any village in Mozambique." Also within 10 years, Mr. Mocumbi expects that "Mozambique will be exporting more than we do today, not only raw materials but also products made locally."
The private sector, and especially foreign investment, will play a key role in the ongoing transformation of the country, believes Mr. Mocumbi. "You can feel that there is potential. Each year we will have something new to show to our regional partners and our own people," he claims. In order to build a better future, the government is especially keen on investing in education and health, and is also committed to the "empowerment of women."
Mr. Mocumbi takes understandable pride in his country's showing in the Sydney Olympics, where, with a team of just five athletes, it brought back a gold medal, its first ever. The gold medal "is very important for our national pride" and the fact that it was won by a woman-Maria Mutola in the 800 meters-is symbolic, he adds. "We think this country can change only if women are involved in the process.
The empowerment of women is one of the priorities of the five-year government program to combat poverty," says Mr. Mocumbi. It is perhaps fitting then, that the economy is in the hands of a woman, Finance and Planning Minister Luisa Diogo, a highly-trained professional who spent two years working for the World Bank. One of Ms. Diogo's priorities has been the privatization of state-owned enterprises, which she terms "a revolution and a success." The government privatized 1,200 companies, mostly small-and medium-sized enterprises, taking care to make the process as transparent as possible.