After the Floods in Mozambique
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LINDSEY HILSUM: The water may be going down, but no one’s able to cultivate again yet. We found the people who tilled this land sheltering in the local agricultural cooperative — more than 1,000 of them, their houses swept away, their fields still underwater, a displaced community like hundreds of others, wondering if the benefits of Mozambique’s hard-won peace are going to be swept away, too. The last time I was here in Mozambique, 15 years ago, the people were suffering because of drought and war– the most vicious civil war– but it’s extraordinary the change there’s been in recent years. There’s been two general elections, and Renamo– the rebels in the bush– are now accepted as an opposition political party. But can the country withstand this disaster, or will all the aid that’s coming in disrupt the political process? These supplies were brought by the church, but most aid goes through the government. In the cities, people grumble that corruption is increasing and vast amounts of aid could make it worse, but few rural people in this area challenge the leadership.
MAN: (speaking through interpreter) I don’t know about that. When a donation comes in, it goes to the government first and then to us. But whatever comes to us is always welcome. We haven’t seen anything yet.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Before the floods, Mozambique’s economy was doing well. As the country abandoned Marxism for the market, the idea was that democracy and development should go hand-in-hand. Those who are trying to help Mozambique in the long term worry about the impact of certain huge amounts of aid on democratization.
MARK STIRLING, UNICEF: It could be greatly threatened if we don’t provide this assistance in the right way. If there’s a tendency to fly over the authority of local leaders and national non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations, then there is a risk of destabilizing these development efforts. This next reconstruction phase, it’s going to be absolutely critical to work with and through provincial government, local government authorities, to try and strengthen the capacities of those organizations– Mozambican organizations– which are here to take the support for the long term.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Southern Mozambique has been worst hit by the flooding. This is the stronghold of the Frelimo, the governing party, but the center was also affected, and this is Renamo land. The Frelimo government will be tempted to plow new money into rebuilding the South, but the man once reviled as a rebel leader says the north and center are less developed and very needy.
AFONSO DHLAKAMA, Renamo Leader: This government, since independence in 1975, for their own party, was trying to divide this country.
LINDSEY HILSUM: Trying to divide the country?
AFONSO DHLAKAMA: Yeah. Center and the north is terrible. No school, no road, no hospital, no anything.
LINDSEY HILSUM: But despite standing for elections, Frelimo still sees themselves as the embodiment of Mozambique’s identity. Even to mention division, as I did, is sacrilege.
President Joaquim Chissano, Mozambique: This word is condemned in our country. The words which you referred are bad words for anyone to hear in our country. We don’t have government and non-government areas in Mozambique. We have Mozambique and Mozambican people in unity.
LINDSEY HILSUM: At the moment, people are desperate for help, and there is a sense of everyone in the country pulling together. The political squabble will come with aid for reconstruction. That will be the real test for Mozambique’s leaders.
MARGARET WARNER: Gwen Ifill takes it from there.
GWEN IFILL: For more on Mozambique, we are joined by Jeanne Penvenne, associate professor of history at Tufts University; Charles Lyons, President of the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, who returned last week from Mozambique; and Deogratias Symba, correspondent for “Le Potentiel,” a daily newspaper in the democratic republic of Congo. Mr. Lyons, you just got back from Mozambique. Tell us, what does it look like right now?
CHARLES LYONS, U.S. Fund for UNICEF: Well, the people are waiting for the water to recede further. It’s certainly down from the high water mark, but it’s still very much a flooded area. I had the opportunity to tour Gaza Province, the Limpopo Valley, by helicopter, and what was probably three weeks ago a sea of water as far as you could see, it’s now more like an everglades with corn fields, corn husks breaking the water’s surface. The water is still too high for people to leave the camps that they have taken refuge in. Certainly the damage to key roads and bridges has not been repaired. People are staying in those camps, including I think in part in many of them because services are being provided. There is clean water there. There is sanitation facilities. There are… there’s access to basic health care. UNICEF, so many NGO’s, the provincial district authorities have worked very hard to get basic services in place until such time as people can go back and get back into their homes and their farms.
GWEN IFILL: Because of the roads, the bridges, the railroads are all washed out, how difficult is it to get the aid to the people in need? Is it reaching the people who need it?
CHARLES LYONS: It is reaching in many of the areas. I don’t think anyone would claim that everyone affected by these floods has been reached. I don’t think that has been possible. But I know a number of people saw dramatic footage over the last number of weeks, principally showing helicopters and helicopter rescues. That was essential not just for the rescuing, but for the moving of supplies into provincial capitals and other areas like Shishi and other areas. Fixed-wing aircraft was able to fly things in. So supplies have been sent into provincial capitals and trucked on secondary roads to camps and other places so supplies could get in.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Symba, Mozambique survived 16 years of civil war, was rebounding economically only for this to happen. How drastic a setback is it?
DEOGRATIAS SYMBA, Le Potentiel Newspaper: Yes, I think it is a setback, especially in the economic front, but politically, you can also see the weight of the opposition leader. He is claiming that in fact the North, which was not affected by this floods, most of the floods were in the South, southern provinces, which is the bastion of the ruling party, the Frelimo Party, which is the bastion of mostly… That’s where he gets most of his party. So I think this debate will come back if they have to start helping, they have to start first rebuilding their infrastructure in the area which was affected by the floods. So for that reason, I think this matter will come into the political arena.
GWEN IFILL: Even though there were just democratically held elections last fall, you think this is going to have a political impact?
DEOGRATIAS SYMBA: I think it will have a political impact in that sense, but one thing we have to acknowledge is that the Mozambican democracy is being solidified. This is the second election. And when you see the margin of the vote between… In parliament, there is only a difference of 16 seats in parliament between the ruling party, Frelimo, and the opposition party, Renamo. So it shows that their democracy is working. And when we talk about economic growth and all this, it’s because of the efforts of both Renamo and Frelimo. They work together. They were trying to get… They work in a bipartisan way in the national assembly to try to help the country. But I hope that Mozambicans will show again after this, what has happened, they are going to try to work again together to try to rebuild the country.
GWEN IFILL: Jeanne Penvenne, what is your thought on that? This is obviously a terrible natural disaster, but does it leave Mozambique where it was before, which is on the brink of political division, which make it impossible for it to rebound?
JEANNE PENVENNE, Tufts University: No, I don’t think so at all. We’re talking about capacity and coordination and perhaps some corruption, but this… these floods have been a moving target. They began in Maputo, they moved into the South. There has been flooding in the center. And there is now flooding in the north. So it’s a moving target. We have 140 agencies trying to coordinate relief. None of this is going to be easy, and because Renamo used the corruption issue in its earlier campaign, if people are frustrated, that may come to the front. But any accountable government, and the Frelimo government is in power, has to confront that kind of allegation when it comes.
GWEN IFILL: We heard a lot about the Mozambique success story, the fact that it had rebounded from being one of the poorest nations to maybe not so poor. Now this obvious setback….is this something which… Is it possible that maybe the success story was oversold, or they weren’t quite there yet?
JEANNE PENVENNE: This is a huge success story. In 1991/92, when the peace agreement was signed, Mozambique was the world’s poorest country, just everything that could conceivably have gone wrong did. The war… Your lead piece was absolutely correct. If the war had gone on, it would have in the words of the director of Caritas, would simply have been to kill the people, because there was nothing left to destroy. Mozambique has come back from that to consistent 10% per year growth rates. That’s impressive.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Lyons, can the international community afford to let Mozambique fail in its attempt to get itself back on its feet?
CHARLES LYONS: No, I don’t think they can. The international community worked very, very hard, provided enormous amounts of support after independence in 1975 and certainly throughout the 80′s to help Mozambique during this intensely difficult, violent period. And I think Mozambique, the government, Mozambicans, provincial authorities, NGO’s, a whole range of actors really followed a script from the late 80′s onward, or certainly since independence: Two elections, agreements working with the international financial institutions, investing in the country and infrastructure, growing the economy, restoring basic services, making sure that there was equitable development throughout the country. The slogan of the government is from the Ravuma to the Maputo – that’s the very north, bordering Tanzania, all the way down to Maputo. And I think for anybody, the international community cares about stability, peace, progress in Southern Africa, need to watch very carefully what’s happening in Mozambique and preempt any negative political use of this emergency. And I think the key way to do that is to make sure that there is an equitable restoration of basic services throughout the country or at least in all areas where people have been affected. So that there is a non-issue there.
GWEN IFILL: Mr. Symba, how important is it that international agencies, countries, forgive the debt? Right now Mozambique is paying more in debt repayments than it is for education and health care?
DEOGRATIAS SYMBA: That’s the debate which is going on. The Mozambican government is asking in fact forgiveness of the debt, but the international institutions are talking about rescheduling, renegotiation of the debt, which is different from forgiving.
GWEN IFILL: They want it wiped out entirely?
DEOGRATIAS SYMBA: Mozambique wants the debt to be entirely… In fact, most of the heads of states of region where the President of Mozambique is currently living, they’re meeting in Maputo. They’ve asked the international community to forgive the debt. But the news we’re getting from the West Bank is they are talking about rescheduling the debt, renegotiation of the debt, not canceling the debt all together; that is bad news if they don’t do that. I think Mozambique needs, if they want what’s happened, the success story of Mozambique to continue, they need to get the debt forgiveness.
GWEN IFILL: Jeanne Penvenne, what is the role of other Southern African nations, neighboring nations like Zimbabwe and South Africa in helping Mozambique get back on its feet?
JEANNE PENVENNE: All of the neighboring nations have pitched in on this. They all have upriver water crises themselves. South Africa was there right off the bat and did a tremendous job fishing people out of the water. They just figured out how much that cost them. It’s a big bill for them to pick up. So there is coordination around recovery, but let’s not diminish either… I mean, looking back at what the earlier war situation cost Mozambique, these floods are also immensely damaging, and it’s going to be a very long haul. And the local communities, the regional communities really don’t have those kinds of resources. I would really agree that we have to stress cancellation of the debt in order to allow Mozambique to garner the resources that it needs to push forward, not only to recover what it’s lost in these floods, but also to begin to invest in its poorer people, to put the longer term development issues on the road and not just stopgap.
DEOGRATIAS SYMBA: May I say something?
GWEN IFILL: Certainly, Mr. Symba.
DEOGRATIAS SYMBA: I think I need to add something about the help from neighboring countries, because in the western place, it was not mentioned. A country like Botswana, for example, spent about $15 million, which is about $23 million of their own currency. They provided mostly aviation fuel for the South African helicopters. They also gave in that money… they also gave the line of credit to Zimbabwe, because they also had a problem. They bought about ten million liters of diesel for Zimbabwe.
GWEN IFILL: Was that good? Was that the role they were supposed to be playing?
DEOGRATIAS SYMBA: It was not mentioned in the western press. We talk about mostly what comes from outside. But it is important to say that many of the neighboring countries did…
GWEN IFILL: They did step up to the plate.
DEOGRATIAS SYMBA: Malawi, for example. The very week which this operation started, the President went to Mozambique and brought two helicopters. They did…
GWEN IFILL: So there was effort. I’m sorry. I have to cut you off.
DEOGRATIAS SYMBA: Very much. There was some effort from Africa, as well.
GWEN IFILL: Okay. Thank you very much, everyone.