Unverified apocryphal observations overheard at the Sports Bar of the Pemba Beach Hotel, and Restaurant 556, inter alia:
"In the good old colonial days" the caju nuts of Mozambique stocked the grocery stores of the world. The cajus that you buy now in the grocery stores of the world come from India and cost less than the factory price in Pemba. Well intended, but misguided, attempts by the Frelimo Government to centralise the marketing of cajus collapsed, leaving the peasant farmers without access to the markets. More recently "carpetbagger" foreigners are travelling the countryside buying up what remains of production at giveaway prices and selling it on at huge profits to themselves. The same has happened with other crops such as sorghum, rice, and corn. The colonial hegemony has been replaced by an equally foreign band of opportunists. The Portuguese may be gone but the antiquated Portuguese ways of administration have survived, dominated by a new Portuguese-educated elite who know no other way. 'Plus ca change, plus le meme chose", as the French say. The minimum wage is roughly US$960 per year compared to US$1850 per year in nearby South Africa. But the prices of goods in the Pakistani owned stores stand higher than in South Africa. The wages in the Mozambique Government service are not much better: a senior civil servant earns about US$4000 per year.
The best road from Johannesburg to Mozambique passes through South eastern Zimbabwe, through Masvinga and Mutare. The scenery is awesome. More recently we travelled by air to Harare's splendid squeaky new modern airport in order to be bussed north to Kariba past abandoned farms, but also some singularly well healed successful looking farms. The food and beer (labelled "made in Zimbabwe") are superior quality. The toilets all flush and are clean. Hotel bed linen may be approaching its use-by-date, but it is well laundered. Ian Smith's UDI and the long years of isolation made viable numerous small businesses which may otherwise not have withstood the onslaught of cheap Chinese products and SA Breweries. Mr Mugabe seems to be intent on perpetuating Ian Smith's isolation tactics. He can risk squeezing the Zimbabwe economy because Zimbabwe businesses have the mental resilience to take hard knocks. We were surprised at the large number of new Mercedes Benz to be seen in Harare, with both black and white drivers. One wonders how many small businesses in Zimbabwe are quietly encouraging Mugabe, because it keeps out their competition. However, with Zimbabwe one is reminded of the horse that was trained to live on less and less food. Just when it was finally coached to live on nothing, it died.
My main point, however, is that, compared to Mozambique, Zimbabwe looks like boomtown. More recently the Zimbabwe dollar has been replaced by the US$ and SA rand as official currencies. Loans have been made. Petrol and diesel are once again available at the pumps and cellphone roaming has been re-activated. If the economic momentum can be sustained there are great things ahead. At one road block the officer arrived with a clip board and proceeded to cross examine us on our satisfaction with the quality of Zimbabwe roads. WOW!
The Mozambique authorities are rebuilding Mozambique with outside aid, either by way of charity organisations dishing it out to the have nots, or World Bank "loans" never to be repaid, or big money with connections taking over the prime tourist and mineral opportunities. The Lonely Planet guide to Mozambique reports that the official attitude of the Mozambique government is to discourage backpackers (but facilities for them nonetheless exist around Inhambane and Vilanculos, and at Russell's camp and Pieters Place at Pemba). Only well healed $300 per day hotel addicts are officially welcome. There are cheaper hotels, but the bed linen is changed only once a week, the toilets do not work, and the shower is a dribble (try Chimoio where in a not-so-cheap establishment we were told by the proprietor that our disgusting use of toilet paper was the cause of the blocked toilet, and thus not his problem). Outside Maputo accommodation for the traveller by road is virtually non-existent. What does exist is usually dirty and without water, or exorbitantly priced. Southern Mozambique has an accommodation certification system, but this has not arrived yet in the north. One gets the impression that proprietors do not check the state of their rooms and plumbing from one year's end to the next. A complaint is usually met with a look of surprised indignation. But then the truck drivers just sleep under their trucks.
If you want to do business in Mozambique you need to have a very very deep pocket. Consider Mozwood at Pemba. They got approval in Maputo for the duty free import of woodworking equipment worth some $300000 in terms of the $50000 minimum investment incentive scheme. However, when the equipment arrived at Pemba the local customs were not prepared to acknowledge the concession. Mozwood had to pay full duty in order to get their equipment out of customs storage (for which they were paying a wicked rate per day). 3 years later Maputo finally got around to paying them back.
The plan to develop a massive golf estate and marina at the North end of Pemba Bay was shelved not long after the world stock market crash in 2003. The costs of getting the necessary official approval had become uneconomic. The same happened with an attempt to develop Londo point directly across the bay from Pemba town. Subsequent attempts to attract smaller developments have produced the exclusive Londo Lodge, and a fishing charter base, but little else, mostly due to the prohibitive costs of building.
Did you know that in order to get a work permit for a non-Mozambican employee there must already be 10 Mozambicans employed by the business? This requirement has the assinine consequence that the non-Mozambican owner of a business may not work in his or her own business and places a huge restraint on the employment of foreigners with special skills. The rule has lately been applied with rigour and many businesses have been closed down. At least one small business owner has been arrested and put in gaol. Even welfare NGO's staffed 100% by non-Mozambican volunteers have been subjected to this absurd rule. And how do you run a 15 meter dive charter boat if you have to have 10 Mozambicans on board? The boat can only safely carry 10 persons, never mind customers and dive guides.
There was a massive investment in a prawn farm on the South end of the bay. This venture has now collapsed putting 600 Pemba breadwinners out of work. Tales of management's woes include one middle manager openly confessing (after the event) that he took out a half-ton truck load of prawns each week and sold these to the local restaurants for his own account. The gate guards were silenced by his manager status. Labourers, it is said, placed small groupers in the prawn tanks, and several weeks later carried large groupers out past the gate guards. No ban on removing fish! The final straw was when the first freezer container, loaded with fine prawns, was moved to the harbour for shipping. No bribe, so the shipping of the container was delayed for unspecified reasons. Attempts by management to connect a generator were blocked on the grounds that the harbour premises were a high security area. The shipment became unshippable and the prawn farm closed its doors. Fortunately, from other natural sources, copious prawns can still be had in Pemba for the same price as fresh fish.
South African businessmen seeking to do business in Mozambique have complained about the failure of the Mozambique courts to enforce contracts against Mozambique citizens. An alien who seeks to do business in Mozambique needs to tread with extreme care. In one instance the Mozambique partner insisted that his half share was half of gross takings, not half of net profit. He succeeded in court. In another instance a wood cutting subcontractor was sued for removing timber that had been cut by a previous concession holder but not removed. It may or may not be true that once a concession has expired the unremoved timber is forfeit to the next concession holder. The subcontractor, a South African, was landed with a hefty judgment against him. Significantly the complainant did not sue the big-money-good-contacts man who actually held the concession at the time of the infringement. In another instance a land occupation right was purchased from the Government (outright purchase is against the Mozambique constitution). The "purchase price" was paid but the money was pocketed by the Government official. The land right was cancelled because the money had never been received by Maputo. This one did have a happy ending, but not until after many months of complaints and visits to Maputo (1500 kms away).
Timber is big business in northern Mozambique, but the timber resource is rapidly being destroyed. The hardwood timber being cut is ancient, many trees being several 100 years old. This is not a renewable resource. There are strict laws governing the cutting, transport, and export of the timber, but no laws compelling the planting of new trees. Law enforcement is inadequate. Pemba and Mocimboa da Priaia remain the free-trade smuggling ports of Mozambique. South African television recently ran a programme describing the transport of drugs from Tanzania to Pemba by sea, and then by road to South Africa. We hear it said that unlicensed timber is shipped out, particularly through Mocimboa da Praia. The locals also cut timber which is unabashedly displayed for sale along the main road (but these quantities are very small, and a poor man must do what he can to live). One concession holder reported to us that he found a truck illegally loading HIS timber which he had just cut. He rushed to fetch the chief of police who refused to come until paid a bribe. On visiting the site the chief of police instructed the driver to report to him the next day. That was the last that was seen of the timber or heard of the matter. The police refused to open a docket.
The good news is that the road system to the North is improving rapidly and, apart from 50 kilometers of horrendous dirt road between Mocuba and Alto Molocue, one may now travel on good tar all the way from Cape Town to Pemba. In June 2009 the great road bridge across the Zambesi at Caia was opened to traffic and the ferries have ceased to ride.
It is said that an international class airport is soon to be constructed at the port of Nacala. The Nacala to Nampula road is excellent. Reports on the railway line to Malawi are less rosy, but, judging by the absence of road trucks on the way to Malawi, the railway must be getting through with some regularity. Further South the Inhambane small gauge railway is overgrown, but, I am told, the rolling stock is still kept serviceable by forgotten and dedicated civil servants (whose salaries are still being paid). What a tourism opportunity if that one could be got up and running again.
February 2005 it was announced by the Mozambique Government that tenders have been called for to prospect for oil near the Ravuma river, the border with Tanzania. In 2007 a survey vessel was doing seismic bangs right at Pemba town.
Sadly the World Bank does not always get it right. Their attempt to rescue the superbly posisioned Nautilus Hotel at Pemba has been a dismal failure. The owner of the new Pemba Beach Hotel originally considered buying the Nautilus only to find that he would be required to repay all past World Bank loans advanced to keep the Nautilus running. It was cheaper to build a new hotel on a new site. In the result there is no profit motive at the Nautilus and no discernible management. It really does not require much skill to keep telephone and internet connections running, and yet even these are non-operative for long periods. One gets the impression that the Nautilus staff tend to run it their way. Mozambique labour laws make it extremely difficult to employ new staff or replace marginal performers. The present owner of Nautilus lives in Maputo, smiles at all when he is in Pemba, and dines elsewhere. There is a view of life that to be in debt is not a problem, it is the lender who has the sleepless nights.
The World Bank requires that civil service salary increases be kept within modest limits. This is politically tough to enforce when inflation is running at 20% and more. The Mozambique solution was, so I am told, to reduce working hours to offset the small salary increases. The devastating economic consequences of this decision can only be appreciated if you have experienced the slow rate of progress when the working day was 8 hours. Now it is true that use of manpower in many Mozambique Government offices is spectacularly inefficient. A few hours less time in the office may make little difference to what is done during the day, provided the few hours in the office are spent productively. However, there are many services which require customer contact and shorter hours mean fewer customers serviced. This must be understood against the background that Mozambique is plagued by the need for permits for everything: for instance a permit is needed to paint your house; the process of verification a copy of a document that is so efficiently done in 5 minutes by one policeman at a police station in South Africa, can take several persons and several days in Mozambique (particularly if you are fussy about having names and numbers recorded correctly). And the spirit of accommodation is not there: we watched an old lady sent away after she had travelled from a remote village, but had failed to bring all documentation that was needed.
Landline telephones in Mozambique are quite good, but do have their downtime. Vodacom is now active in Mozambique. Mcell has responded with notable improvements to the performance of their cellphone system, but still have a long way to go to match the quality of the Vodacom service. The prepaid contracts could be less profit gouging: first world rates for third world income customers. Even in the first world one gets 6 months with a number if not used, not the miserable 30 days you get in Mozambique. Such observations notwithstanding, it is reported that beer sales are sliding because the money is going to pay for cellphones. But monopoly pricing requires social responsibility. But who cares for the have nots. Pemba town does not provide public watering points for those who have not the means to obtain a municipal connection. But then the public toilets that were installed no longer function because the toilet bowls were stolen. How anyone is ever going to uplift this mindless begger-thy-neighbour community, one is really led to wonder.
A missionary lady on the airplane told me that they had been in Mozambique for 13 years. Once upon a time they had tried to teach the local ladies how to sew, only to be met with sullen resistance:" For one thing, a sewing machine is a mechanical device, and thus man's work. Secondly if a woman learns an economic skill then she will be expected to work for money. And that cannot be because the obligation to bring home money rests with the husband. However, the obligation to fetch water and firewood rests firmly on the heads of the women. This all fits with the apocryphal stories one hears of the superior sexual prowess of the Mozambique ladies from very young ages. The men of the Islamic north, for their part, resist education on the grounds that their calling is as "mercado" which requires negotiating and promotional skills, not learning. The Mozambique literacy rate is reported to be 70%. Those children who do attend school in the Pemba area usually attend on a shift basis, with 3 shifts per day each taking their turn in the classrooms.
Several years ago some 30 or more South African farmers took up offers of farmland inland from Montepuez. The same missionary lady reported to me that all were now gone. "Taxed off the lands" she said. How different from Zambia where immigrant farmers are being given cheap loans and other assistance with setting up. But then the road system beyond Montepuez has yet to be upgraded to facilitate getting produce out, so maybe there is more to the story than just taxation.
Many USA missionaries in Mozambique are something of a joke: They drive the latest land rovers and have private airplanes. The saga of the chicken feast in Mocuba reveals a great deal (see www.house2house.tv/index.pl/00037). There are reports of "adoption" by such persons of several local children who then continue to live in the traditional "aldeio", palm roof hut village, while their new "parent" occupies congenial expensive beach side accommodation.
Then there are the self-appointed welldoers who have provided local fishermen with nets. An unfortunate side effect is that these are dragged over coral reefs, pulling over coral heads and decimating reef fish populations. The worst offender though is a man, reportedly from USA, who travelled the coast of Mozambique teaching the locals to catch fish using rotenone poison prepared from plant roots. Pemba is badly fished out in the more accessible areas. But a poor man must feed his family. And who are we to judge the logic of desperation. One thing is certain. No one is getting rich on this aspect of tapping the fishing resource. There are no big deep sea trawlers or long liners to be seen, as off Cape Town. A recent attempt by a Cape fisherman to set up commercially at Pemba was blocked by customs refusal to allow entry for his vessel. The Pemba seaman are extremely skilled in the use of their small one-man canoes and regularly catch yellowfin tuna (10 kilogram size), and sometimes 35 kilogram sailfish, in the entrance to Pemba bay. Yellowfin tuna breed around the Comores and then migrate South reaching a substantial size by the time they reach the fishing grounds off Cape Point.
Not all welfare work is a failure: There is ample evidence along the roadsides of microbusinesses of many varieties: the informal village diesel suppliers and their grubby 20 liter cans have rescued many a traveller who underestimated the distance between pumps; there are food stalls galore; car and bicycle tyre vendors (with their goods displayed on tree branches); open air roadside motor car repairs; haircutters (most manual, but at least one with small portable generator); yellow 20 liter sunflower oil cans are sold in profusion for transport of water and diesel; chickens are transported upside down with legs tied to bicycle handle bars, or merely hand held (fortunately for such practices Mozambique has not graduated to having an SPCA); sewing is done on the palm-frond covered porches of houses by men using footpedal chinese "Butterfly" sewing machines that look just like the old western "Singers" that our grandmothers loved.
In Mozambique the bicycle is king. Grain sacks and tables and corrugated roofing sheets are transported by bicycle. One does see women out and about on bicycles, but 9 times out of 10 a gracious lady will sit side saddle while her husband pushes the peddles. In one instance the husband had provided his wife her own bicycle and then tied a rope between them so he could still peddle her along. There are few cars or motorbikes outside the big towns but numbers are increasing. In Thailand motorbikes are cheap and the main form of transport. In Thailand many motorbikes are fitted with sidecars built of building reinforcing steel, often containing the owners business equipment (clothing display, food cookers, etc).
The Mozambique towns and countryside are littered with the gutted burned remains of the gracious old colonial Portuguese establishments. Many of them are of architectural merit. Curiously very little has been done to re-occupy and rebuild these structures. One of the reasons seems to be a quaint respect for the rights of the original owners, now in Portugal or South Africa. In Mozambique one cannot, in theory, own land. All land belongs to the State. However, the right of ownership in respect of trees and houses is sacrosanct. There are several tales told by South Africans of property confiscations in the Inhambane area, but these, it seems, were technically alien owners who never really had proper title. From a Mozambican's point of view he does not want to take over a derelict property, fix it up, and then have the original owner arrive and take over or demand compensation. In Pemba there was for many years an ancient old vintage Mercedes parked in a garage. Everyone knows who is the owner, even though he has not been around Pemba for years. Another reason for the ruined houses is probably that the new entitled gentry are impoverished peasants whose lifestyles view the doors and window frames as firewood and the bathtubs at water troughs. It is common to see a straw hut alongside a derelict unoccupied concrete house.
Talking about cultural differences. Have you ever paused to consider that from a subsistence peasant's point of view the First World obsession with "environment" and game reserves has something of a colonial flavour? Preserving large sections of the country's resources for the benefit of the privileged well healed tourists who can afford to go there. Take SCUBA diving. I am informed that at a meeting with the conservation officials from Maputo the SCUBA operator from Pemba was told that white SCUBA divers were viewed as undesirable collectors of shells and raiders of wrecks. Needless to say they were informed of the incorrectness of their views insofar as one SCUBA operator was concerned. However, there are undoubtedly several less scrupulous white persons who are certainly responsible for illicit collecting and wreck raiding. I have a newspaper report of a container full of Mozambique sea shells (with rotting bodies still inside) being apprehended. A more apocryphal report was of a SCUBA diver's visit to a library in Amsterdam and the tearing of pages from an old Dutch diary which identified the position of a sunken wooden ship in Mozambique waters. A suspect Cape Town salvage yacht was recently seen in Mozambique waters.
Building at Pemba with masonry is financially prohibitive if you are thinking of using a local contractor ($900 per square meter has been quoted in one instance!). And the same probably applies to Nacala and other centres. The Pemba Beach Hotel was built using a South African contractor. And that seems to be the only way to go, other than self-build. But self-build has its limits: thus for a house of 200 square meters or more the law requires that a contractor be used. Checkmate by the permit system! Masonry building, it seems, is only for the mega-wealthy. Labour is cheap, but unreliable. Petty theft is a huge problem. Imported prefabrication is an option, but unlikely to be within budget once the import duties have been paid. Less costly are palm roof and coral stone wall structures. But these are viewed as temporary structures by the municipality and do not qualify as "buildings" in terms of a building licence. Building licences are good for 24 months and, for a fee, can be renewed. But long term entitlement to land use requires erection of a "permanent structure".
Floods in Mozambique are a blessing, not a curse. As one Mozambique girl told me, there have been floods and dryings out in Mozambique since time immemorial. How nice to have a baby born up a tree. The good press means more public welfare donations. Yes, floods are good for cash flows, even if they do mean road repairs.
Theft in Mozambique is a huge problem. One hardy traveller on a bicycle who had traversed Africa from Cairo to Cape Town reported goodwill and assistance all the way until he was locked up in Zimbabwe for several days on suspicion of being a spy. He then crossed into Mozambique and was promptly robbed of his passport and cash (probably in Chimoio). Justin Fox records comparable experiences by his group (see "With both Hands Waving"). One South African politician has recently been on record for saying that robbing whites is legal because they only have what they have from robbing the blacks in times gone by. The incidence of theft in Mozambique is so widespread that one suspects that when the comrades meet in their log seat meeting houses they are asked to report on what they have stolen from a white this week. Give a lift to a Mozambican, but beware of what will leave the car with him when he gets out: lipstick; one tin from a two-part paint set; a bright blue hat; a tin of mosquito repellent? As with all generalisations this is only a half truth. But just be robbed a few times and the fact that the dishonesty is only from a select few in the big centres tends to become clouded. For bigger items such as outboard motors the police smile sweetly and tell you that there is insufficient evidence to justify opening a file. We have heard it said that the traditional chiefs and the new Government do not see eye to eye because, it seems, the local party whips trespass on the traditional areas of authority of the chiefs. In the more rural chief-dominated areas the theft problem seems to be minimal. If you have a rural man in your employ and his work is below par, make the effort to visit his chief and you may be pleasantly surprised.
But what some Mozambicans do to their own people sometimes defies belief: At the Milanje border post the Mozambique peasant farmers need to take their grain (by bicycle) across into Malawi to the grinding mill. We watched the border guard taking an MTn20 green note off each loaded cyclist. He desisted once he saw we were watching. If we misunderstood what was happening, it sure did not look good. This border post also has their own home printed duty form on which they levy import duty on goods carried by travellers, even if such goods are temporary imports for personal use. No other border post does anything like it and we have been through Ressano Garcia, Machipanda, and Mwaza.