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Democracy and economic inclusion in Mozambique was the subject of a one day conference held in London on Wednesday at the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs (otherwise known as Chatham House), which also served as the international book launch of Malyn Newitt’s “A Short History of Mozambique” .
Newitt, considered as one of the foremost historians writing on Mozambique, argued that Mozambique’s history since the sixteenth century was shaped by interaction with Indians, Arabs, and the Portuguese, and that these exchanges led to the creolisation of the country’s culture.
He stressed that African agency “was always fundamental to this exchange”. Continuing this theme, Newitt argued the colonial period in Mozambique was a relatively short period in its history, and furthermore that outside forces have always been instrumentalised by African elites.
During the question and answer session, various contributors challenged Professor Newitt on his thesis. Some pointed out that the Portuguese colonialists used armed force to impose their rule, whilst others dismissed making generalised statements about the African continent.
In the section on international relations, Antonio Matonse, a former diplomat and presidential press advisor, argued that Mozambique has benefitted from Frelimo’s diversification of relations with the world. He pointed out that “in the 1960’s, FRELIMO was the only liberation movement in Africa to receive support simultaneously from the United States, the Soviet Union and China”. He added that the government’s current motto is “make more friends, promote more partnerships”.
Matonse went on to explain how in the late 1970s this strategy of partnership played an important role in opening “the road to complex negotiations at Lancaster House, a prelude to Zimbabwe independence”.
The theme of international cooperation was continued with a paper delivered by Tanja Muller on the history of Mozambican children sent to study in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in the late 1980’s with the specific aim of becoming “o homem novo”, the new man, new socialist citizens. Just under 900 Mozambican children received six years of secondary schooling and vocational training between 1982 and 1988 at the School of Friendship (SdF) near Magdeburg. However, Muller lamented that “this cohort was educated to become citizens of a socialist country that ceased to exist”.
Muller recalled that at a packed audience at the Mozambique-German Cultural Institute (ICMA) these graduates “spoke vividly about how they came from poor urban or rural backgrounds in Mozambique to a country with first-class railways, high rise buildings, paved roads, and unfamiliar but tasty food”.
Muller concluded that the graduates “have prospered in a way that would not have been possible at the time without socialism and its interpretation of solidarity”.
In a session on emerging security threats, Zenaida Machado, of Human Rights Watch, argued that the situation in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, which has seen Islamic terrorism strike in several districts, has been exaggerated. However, she warned that a humanitarian crisis is looming as thousands of people have fled some areas in panic and hundreds of houses have been destroyed by the attackers.
Machado has recently returned from a fact-finding mission to the province. She received testimony that the terrorists are not strong enough to defeat the army and police and so have resorted to guerrilla tactics of hit and run.
Eric Morier Genoud from Queens University Belfast examined three competing narratives in the current analysis of the development of the jihadist group known as “Al Shabaab”. Firstly, that this is an international conspiracy of jihadis merging with local issues around poaching, illicit rubies, and the illegal timber trade. Secondly that the problem stems from grievances linked to poverty and marginalised youth. Lastly, that the conflict emanates from a religious sect developed by youngsters who have rejected the established Muslim leadership and have created their own version of Islam.
This was the first ever conference exclusively on Mozambique held at Chatham House. However, many of the country’s leading politicians have delivered speeches to the institute including the founder and first president of Frelimo, Eduardo Mondlane. In April President Filipe Nyusi delivered a keynote lecture coinciding with his attendance at the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)Source: AIM
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