Now in his second term, Frelimo candidate Armando Guebuza won the 2009 presidential election by a landslide. Guebuza joined Frelimo in 1963, at the age of 20 and distinguished himself a general in the battle for independence against Portugal. After independence, he served in various high-level positions during both the Samora Machel and Joachim Chissano administrations. He became a successful businessman before winning the Presidential election for the first time in 2004. African Business editor Anver Versi interviewed President Guebuza during his recent visit to London.
African Business: Mozambique’s journey as an independent country has been a long and difficult one. Can you describe the journey to us?
Armando Guebuza: Yes indeed, our journey has been long and hard. As we approached independence in the 1970s, many, if not most, of the Portuguese who had ruled us were not prepared to accept the change.
After independence, most of them would not accept the new government. They left for South Africa, then an apartheid state, and Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). They also destroyed infrastructure, factories, farms, machinery – everything productive was destroyed. This was a very difficult, dangerous and tense period.
In fact, just six days after we had signed an independence agreement with the Portuguese government, settlers swore they would not live under a Frelimo government. They seized some strategic sites and were plotting to retake the country. But we managed to subdue them.
Q: And you also had to deal with the apartheid states of Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) and South Africa, both your close neighbours.
A: While Frelimo was engaged in its own struggle against the Portuguese, we supported our brothers in Rhodesia (Zanu and Zapu) and the ANC and PAC in South Africa in their freedom struggles. We continued this support after independence. This unleashed the full wrath of these militarily powerful countries on us.
(Rhodesia mounted several damaging raids into Mozambique territory, trained, funded and armed a rebel force called MNR to disrupt economic activity and social and political life in one of Africa’s most devastating civil wars.
Following the independence of Zimbabwe, MNR moved its headquarters to apartheid South Africa. The regime in South Africa imposed severe sanctions against Mozambique and staged military attacks in conjunction with MNR, now renamed Renamo who destroyed schools, hospitals, farms, factories and planted millions of land mines.
The attacks were so severe that millions of Mozambicans escaped to neighbouring states such as Malawi and millions more were internally displaced. The country’s first President, Samora Machel, and South African academic Ruth First were assassinated. – Editor).
Our stand against apartheid cost us a great deal. The economic sanctions imposed by South Africa were very severe and many people lost their jobs and livelihoods. Some of them joined Renamo. But throughout the war years (1976–92), third parties, Rhodesia first then South Africa, imposed themselves between the rebels and us. They did not allow us to talk to each other, African to African. Eventually we managed to discuss issues with Renamo without interference and in 1992, the civil war was over.
Now we were in a position to start rebuilding our country but, as you said, we had huge problems – the infrastructure was in a very bad shape, millions of refugees began returning home, land mines were a constant threat to farmers and their families.
Q: What were your priorities at this point?
A: After the peace agreement, we had a million dead, the economy shattered, families scattered – we had to reconstruct completely.
Between 1992–94, we began bringing back refugees from neighbouring countries. There were also 1.5m internally displaced people. The total number of refugees is estimated at around 4.5m people.
With the help of our international community friends, we began rebuilding schools, hospitals, clinics, roads, railways and so on.
Q: Nevertheless you have done remarkably well, despite droughts and the terrible floods of 2000. What do you attribute this success to?
A: Externally, the malign influence of Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa are no longer there and the Cold War has come to an end. (The US’s Ronald Reagan and Britain’s Margaret Thatcher supported Renamo as part of their anti-Soviet stance – Editor)
Internally, peace now prevails. The fact that we could talk directly with Renamo, Mozambican to Mozambican, and discuss what is in the interest of Mozambique, rather than in the interest of foreign powers, has helped. We are now working together to build the country.
It has not been easy. For 16 years during the war, different people lived in different places, followed different systems and adopted different ways of thinking; and there was no dialogue between us. But through talk and discussions, we have come to accept our differences and find more things that unite us than separate us. Now we are united in fighting our common, and real enemy, poverty.
Our greatest asset is the people’s deep desire to do anything possible to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
Q: What is your broad-brush economic policy?
A: We have posted impressive growth figures over the decade – except in 2000 because of the floods. The projection is for growth to continue expanding at around 7-10% over the next five years.
Revenue collection has been good and this will allow us to build more schools and clinics – which we need.
We have privatised over 1,000 state-owned enterprises and there are several large-scale projects – in gas, coal, infrastructure, etc, that will keep us on the growth path.
We involve a broad cross section of Mozambican society in the planning stages and we are very active in the rural areas.
There has been a quantitative increase in agricultural production but not a corresponding logistical expansion, so there is work to do.
Manufacturing, aside from aluminium, is still underdeveloped although we are processing an increasing volume of agricultural products such as sugar cane, cashews and cotton.
The broad-brush economic strategy is to go beyond poverty reduction and ensure decent and fulfilling lives for our people.
Q: What are your major economic obstacles?
A: Perhaps the biggest hurdle at the moment is in terms of human capacity. Because of the disruption caused by the war, we have a shortage of skilled, educated labour.
We cannot develop if we are not able to assimilate knowledge. We need more scientific training, more training in law and the social sciences.
We need to produce more food and import less, the infrastructure, including housing, has to increase, productivity must improve but above all, we must overcome the skills deficit.
Q: What sort of investment will be most welcome?
A: There is considerable investment in gas, coal, timber and sugar cane. We welcome more investment in agriculture – a British company is growing rice – and that is very welcome.
We would also like to see more investment in the production and distribution of consumer goods as our middle-classes are expanding.
Real estate offers good opportunities. In fact, since we are growing from a fairly low base, the investment opportunities are almost endless.