High hopes for Maputo and Mozambique.

High hopes for Maputo and Mozambique.

A staff writer details another installment of the World Leaders Forum: His Excellency Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, President of Mozambique, on addressing development through the lens of the new UN sustainable development goals.

Monday, as part of this year’s World Leaders Forum, His Excellency Filipe Jacinto Nyusi, the President of the Republic of Mozambique, discussed his efforts to address the challenges of human capital development. This topic is incredibly significant considering Mozambique’s continuous socioeconomic and infrastructural instability, as well as its massive political upheaval, since the 1970s.

President Nyusi arrived over half an hour late to his own speech, for reasons unexplained to the audience in attendance. Regardless of this delay, Jeffrey Sachs gave an exceedingly warm and welcoming introduction for Nyusi, saying the recently announced United Nations 17 objectives for global sustainable development presented a “big boost for countries like Mozambique. . . which have a tremendous opportunity to develop.” In his opening comments, Nyusi assured the audience of his dedication to sustainable development in Mozambique, expressing that his goal in speaking was to prompt listeners to critically consider the progress of Mozambique’s development and the challenges the country faces so that people could ask questions “without fear.”

At this point, perhaps some context is needed.

Following its bid for independence from Portugal in 1975, Mozambique was embroiled in a civil war stretching from 1977 to 1992 arguably provoked by the president at the time, Samora Machel, and his party’s application of Marxist principles. The conflict pitted Machel’s ruling party, the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) against the anti-Communist Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO). Devastating the country’s infrastructure and stability, the truly crippling fighting only died down in 1986 when Machel’s replacement, Joaquim Chissano, introduced reforms shifting the focus from Marxist policy to capitalism and began opening dialogue and negotiations with RENAMO. October 1992 marked the end of the civil war with the United Nations overseeing the Rome General Peace Accords.

Beginning in the 1990s and moving into the contemporary political era, Mozambique, though struggling, has been widely heralded as taking solid steps to find political stability, primarily through the apparent adoption of democracy. It should be noted however, that since becoming more democratic (in that it has at least started to hold elections), the country has never had a president who was not part of FRELIMO, effectively creating a one-party system.

President Nyusi’s own political career has followed a trajectory strictly within that party; Nyusi was appointed to the position of Minister of Defense in FRELIMO in 2008 and was later elected to the Central Committee of FRELIMO in 2012. After being selected by the Committee in March 2014 to serve as the party’s presidential candidate, Nyusi was essentially assured to be elected as the fourth president of Mozambique in the 2014 elections.

Over the course of Monday’s speech, President Nyusi addressed a number of ways that Mozambique is attempting to address its own development and promote the rebuilding of its internal infrastructure. A great deal of time was devoted to the issue of education in the country, specifically the ways in which education can serve to build upon the human capital of Mozambique and act as a reinvestment in the future of Mozambique’s industry. Recalling the push for independence in 1975, Nyusi explained that illiteracy at the time was at 97%, and through efforts to improve education, literacy has increased (now approximately 59%, according to the CIA World Factbook). Elaborating on this explanation for the cycle of improvement, Nyusi spoke on how focusing on education could lead to improved living conditions and a reduction in the infant mortality rate by increasing access to better medical care. He also stressed how enabling access to education for women could improve the country’s economic prospects as well as social status for women in what still is an incredibly patriarchal society. Nyusi’s view was that any development plan that aims to be sustainable “should focus on women empowerment.”

Despite President Nyusi’s forthcoming demeanor and grand ideas expressed in his speech, there are some definite concerns with how Nyusi and FRELIMO are conducting themselves with regard to the development of Mozambique. Whether purposefully or incidentally, Nyusi steered clear of offering concrete examples or outlining any plans for creating opportunities for sustainable development, instead only offering platitudes and generalities. Even when addressing a specific issue such as education, Nyusi seemed tentative when it came to presenting anything more than statements of confidence in his party’s plan to improve, neglecting the specifics of how that improvement would be achieved. When addressing questions at the Q&A session immediately following the speech, Nyusi jumped from topic to topic, covering the superficial elements and neglecting specifics before moving to the next, despite confidently stating beforehand that they were easy questions and he was overly prepared to answer them.

There is also the issue of education in Mozambique and how it’s being approached by the government. Written back in the 1970s, this article offers a description of early ‘FRELIMO schools,’ the education system created by the political party to encourage literacy and the dissemination of party-specific political material back during the civil war. Nyusi himself attended a FRELIMO primary school, and looking at the trajectory of his political career, it’s clear that his education had a large impact on his political leaning. While information about the current education system outside of pure statistics is unavailable, there is concern that FRELIMO is perpetuating its own political ideology by structuring education in way that encourages participation in the one-party system rather than truly critical and democratic engagement.

As a country just bouncing back from extreme political unrest, Mozambique has come a long way in its push for socioeconomic stability, but listening to the president’s speech yesterday didn’t exactly inspire confidence with regard to how the democratic process or the progression of development is being conducted. Even Jeffrey Sachs’ closing remark in thanking President Nyusi following the speech for “such clear and thorough answers” sounded hesitant, and while President Nyusi was undoubtedly well-intentioned in his speech, the thick political rhetoric and heavy-handed back-patting overshadowed any clear message of a specific plan of improvement.

Maputo views via Shuttershock