[DEBATE] : (Fwd) Moz soc mvt: enraged, frightened poors
pbond at mail.ngo.za
Sun Apr 26 18:42:39 BST 2009
(An article forthcoming in Rev of African Poli Econ)
Mozambique: The Panic and Rage of the Poor
Frightened, poor people in Mozambique have killed Red Cross volunteers,
a policemen, neighbours and strangers. In the first three months of
2009, at least 20 people were killed in urban lynchings, three were
killed for stealing rain, and 16 people died in violence related to cholera.
Key to all these incidents is desperate poverty and hunger. For a decade
Mozambique has been a donor darling for following the neoliberal free
market development model, reporting GDP growth rates of 6-7 per cent per
year, and claiming dramatic falls in poverty levels. But the claims of
reducing poverty have been contested, in part because child malnutrition
(Hanlon and Smart 2008, pp. 57-70).
'The distance between rich and poor is widening', admitted the
Mozambique self-evaluation submitted in February 2009 as part of the
African Peer Review Mechanism evaluation of Mozambique.
The statement is important, because until now the government and donors
have stressed claims for poverty reduction and tried to refute evidence
of deepening poverty. In an accompanying statement, Lourenc¸o do
Rosario, president of the National Peer Review Forum, warned that
'social exclusion and maldistribution of wealth could constitute a space
for conflict'. In fact, this conflict is already happening.
In poor urban areas, people live in flimsy houses with no electricity or
street lighting, and complain of increasing nighttime crime, often by
people armed with knives or machetes: housebreaking, mugging, rape and
thefts of food from gardens. They claim that if they turn criminals in
to the police, they are quickly released in exchange for a small bribe,
so they have taken to dispensing justice Briefings: The Panic and Rage
of the Poor 125 DOI: 10.1080/03056240902919900 with their own hands. In
2008 at least 50 people were killed in lynching, but in the first 10
weeks of 2009 the rate had doubled to two a week (Not?´cias, 13 March
2009). The word 'linchar' has entered into Portuguese for executions by
mobs, based on 'lynch' in American English, used for mob killings,
particularly of black people in the US south in the nineteenth and
In Maputo, alleged criminals are killed by necklacing - putting a tyre
around their neck, filling it with petrol, and setting it alight - a
method used in South African townships in the 1980s against alleged
The government's own statistics show that urban poverty is increasing.
Under the present economic model, the number of formal sector jobs is
falling. Large demonstrations in Maputo on 5 February and then four
other towns against the high cost of living shocked Mozambique.
These demonstrations, organised through text messaging, were led by
young people from the informal sector, which blocked roads into the
capital, effectively closing Maputo. At least five people were killed
and more than 100 injured, many shot by the police.
Rogerio Sitoe, editor-in-chief of the government owned daily, Not?´cias,
responded with a remarkable column, arguing that the root cause was 'the
religious way we applaud and accept the prescriptions of the World Bank
and International Monetary Fund', when these are really 'poison
prescriptions'. They have destroyed jobs and failed to promote
agricultural development, and this has 'contributed greatly to the
impoverishment of the countryside and forced a migration to the cities,
particularly of the youth'. The government needs its own development
policy and needs to stop treating World Bank and IMF statements as if
they were 'bible verses'. A subsequent letter to the editor was
published saying the demonstrations were not vandalism, but a strike by
the people demanding their rights. A columnist said the demonstrations
were useful, because before the riots the elites simply did not
understand the economic crisis was not just of the poor, but of the
middle classes (Not?´cias, 15, 18, 19 February 2008).
In a tour of Maputo poor neighbourhoods in mid-March 2009, first lady
Maria da Luz Guebuza told young people they had to work harder to make
their way in the informal sector. She said that the state pays for
teachers and education, after that it is up to young people themselves.
But the young responded by saying that unless jobs were created or they
were given help to be self-employed, crime would continue to increase
Rural hunger and cholera
Meanwhile, the crisis is also growing in rural areas. In mid-March the
government announced it had a surplus of 75,000 tonnes of maize, but
admitted that marketing failures meant that it did not reach areas of
hunger. The poor do not have money to buy food, so private traders are
not interested in going to remote areas.
In Nicoadala district in Zambezia province, local people are accusing
the state of locking up the rain and only giving it to better off
farmers. In mid-February three people were killed and six injured,
accused of diverting the rain. One farmer was quoted by the Sunday
newspaper Domingo as saying: 'In the farm over there, something is
growing, but on mine, nothing. How is it that my neighbour can eat and I
can't?' Cholera is endemic in most of Mozambique, with 15,000 cases
notified between the start of the most recent outbreak in October 2007
and early 2009. Of those,
170 people died - a mortality rate of 1.1 per cent, which is considered
low, and results from an effective cholera identification and treatment
programme. But over the past decade, anti-cholera programmes have been a
source of much tension in coastal areas of northern Cabo Delgado and
On 6 January 2009 an angry mob burned down three cholera treatment tents
that had been set up on the beach in Pemba, Cabo Delgado. The mob also
attacked the houses of the neighbourhood secretary and his deputy, who
were forced to flee to the police station. They were accused of allowing
the tents, to spread the disease rather than treat it. Confusingly, in
subsequent meetings people from the community accused the municipal
authorities of doing nothing to stop the spread of cholera and of
refusing to come to their community. On 18 January in Mecu´ fi, on the
coast south of Pemba, an eight-person anti-cholera brigade was attacked
and beaten - again accused of spreading the disease.
Then in Quinga, on the coast of Mogincual district in Nampula, on 25
February 2009 two Red Cross volunteers who were part of a brigade
publicising anticholera messages, which include putting chlorine in
wells, were beaten to death, accused of poisoning the wells with
cholera. Then three days later, in Angoche district (just south of
Mogincual), protestors attacked health workers and accused them of
They were already being protected by the police, so the mob attacked the
police with knives and spears, disembowelling and killing a police
sergeant and seriously injuring two other policemen.
On the same day in Moma district (south of Angoche) a mob attacked a
community leader and accused him of putting cholera in the wells; two
policemen protecting him were hospitalised.
Protests against those accused of spreading cholera continued after the
murders noted above. In Quinga, three people were arrested but the crowd
blocked the road to prevent them being taken out of the village; 37 Red
Cross volunteers fled.
On 18 March police arrested a number of people in Quinga and took them
to Liupo, the Mogincual district capital.
Liupo has no court, so they had to be held until they could be taken to
Angoche to be tried and charged. The police were clearly frightened by
what had been done to their colleagues in Moma and Angoche, so they
pushed 48 people into the tiny single cell in Liupo police station.
Thirteen people died of suffocation over night (three senior police
officers from Liupo have been arrested).
Driven by fear
Coastal Nampula province is one of the poorest areas of Mozambique. In
1992-93, Mogincual was the centre of an outbreak of konzo (tropical
ataxic neuropathy), an irreversible paralysis of the legs, and cases
have been reported regularly since then (Ernesto et al. 2002). Cassava
roots contain cyanogenic glucosides which can cause paralysis if eaten
in quantity when the roots are not adequately processed; this occurs
only in periods of severe hunger when there is little other food. In
early 2009 it was reported that hunger was again sweeping the district
due to a poor harvest caused by drought and cyclone Jokwe in 2008. The
Mogincual district Director of Health said the return of konzo was
'inevitable' (Noticias 27 February 2009). Fifteen schools in Quinga
closed in the early March 2009 after 10,000 of the 12,000 enrolled
primary school pupils abandoned classes, according to Mogincual
Education Director Agostinho Mendes. He said their families were fleeing
the area, mainly due to hunger, but also because of the cholera and
On 19 March, the Mozambican Red Cross (CVM) said that in Quinga people
attacked volunteers riding bicycles and wearing Red Cross T-shirts
'because they suspected they had money'. A house belonging to one of the
murdered volunteers was burnt down, and two others were destroyed, the
In addition, bicycles used by the volunteers were stolen, and some were
destroyed. In Angoche, 13 houses of Red Cross volunteers were destroyed.
This is a repeat of similar incidents. In September 2006 a mob of 70
people armed with knives and machetes attacked an anti-cholera brigade
of Save the Children, accusing them of putting cholera in the wells, in
Nacala-a-Velha, again in coastal Nampula province. In December
2001 angry mobs in Nacala-a-Velha and neighbouring Memba district
attacked anti-cholera teams, non-government organisations workers with
bicycles and motorcycles, and police. Particularly notable was that they
attacked traditional leaders (re´gulos, mape´we´) and local government
officials. More than 100 houses were destroyed and at least one person
Earlier protests in 2001 were studied by Carlos Serra (Serra 2003) in
ways that remain highly relevant to the present incidents.
Three obvious factors play a role.
First the words 'cholera' and 'chlorine' are very close, in Portuguese
as in English. For people who do not have a good understanding of
disease mechanisms and only know that cholera comes from the water, the
difference between putting cholera or chlorine in the water may not be
Second, when heath officials warn that cholera is coming, local people
ask: How do they know? The obvious answer is they must be bringing it.
Third, this is a area of high tension between the governing Frelimo
party and the opposition Renamo, which has some of its strongest support
in northern coastal areas. The incidents this year come after a
hard-fought local election in November in which the ruling Frelimo party
won the three coastal cities of Nampula province, ousting incumbent
But the most important and shocking finding of the study was that poor
people strongly believed that the rich and powerful wanted to kill them.
In a climate of distrust and disempowerment, the poor responded
violently against outsiders who they assumed were putting cholera in
their water to eliminate them.
In interviews in Memba, local people said that the two main NGOs there,
SNV and Save the Children, had not done anything practical to help the
people and had failed to carry out their promises. Similarly, local
chiefs and government officials were not seen to do anything useful for
the people - indeed, they were accused of accepting money from the
outsiders who brought the cholera. This whole picture was reinforced
when a health worker under attack took refuge in the local SNV office
(Serra 2003, pp. 38-40).
The Serra study notes that protests were often led by unemployed youths
who saw no future for themselves, and whose actions had the tacit
backing of their elders. It became a protest against authority figures -
re´gulos, government officials and NGO workers, who were seen as
distant, arrogant and, most importantly, not delivering. The red
motorcycles of SNV extension workers, driven dangerously and at high
speed though villages, became a strong symbol of arrogance and distance.
The events of 2001 have a number of more recent resonances. The 5
February 2008 riots in Maputo were led by semiemployed youths from the
informal sector who, as in Memba, had the implicit backing of their
elders. In their statement in March 2009 on Quinga, the Red Cross
highlighted the way the better off, senior figures or those with
bicycles, were targeted.
The local 'better off' in this area are still quite poor, but the hungry
see them in league with outsiderswho bring cholera.
In his blog, Carlos Serra (8 March 2009) recounts a story from Muidumbe
district in Cabo Delgado. Between June 2002 and May 2003, 18 people were
lynched - accused of magically commanding seven lions who ate 46 local
people. What he found interesting was that 'those accused of commanding
the lions were all important people - the district administrator,
chiefs, members of Frelimo, a local businessman, etc'.
Serra and his team concluded that the protests against chlorine in the
water revealed 'a profound disquiet and lack of confidence in the
state'. But the campaign against chlorine in the water was not a
campaign against the state or against modernising, but rather just the
opposite. It was a protest against a state that had become distanced
from the people, which only appeared before elections, and which
increasingly failed to provide services and a better standard of living.
It was not against modernity, but against the failure to provide the
fruits of development.
For Carlos Serra (10 March 2009), lynchings and the cholera and rain
riots in the north are all 'messages of protest' against insecurity and
especially against growing social inequality. He argues that 'these
protests and demonstrations are products of insecurity, uneasiness, and
social disequilibrium', being exercised in culturally ancient forms,
expressed in terms of magic and witchcraft. They may seem incoherent,
but that 'hides a terribly coherent logic based around want'. He
stresses that despite the attacks on authority and state figures, it is
really an appeal for help and for increased state support in these
commu- Q4 nities'. He also predicts that there will be more events like
the 5 February 2008 riots in Maputo against price rises.
Modesty called for
Finally, some modesty is called for on our part. We 'know' that chlorine
in water helps to prevent the spread of cholera, and thus will 'know'
that local people were wrong in their belief that putting chlorine in
the water was a cause of cholera. But how different is the cholera
debate in Nampula from the HIV/AIDS debate in South Africa, in which the
President himself, one of the world's most respected leaders, questioned
the wisdom and understanding of the some of the world's most eminent
scientists? Or consider the donors, IMF and World Bank who imposed the
neoliberal model and accused those of us who disagreed of being as
'stupid' as the peasants opposed to chlorine in water - only to discover
after 20 years that neoliberalism brought a world economic crisis
instead of development.
Objections to chlorine may be scientifically unfounded, but reflect a
wellfounded social and political understanding.
If a nurse or health post worker normally demands a bribe to provide
proper treatment, why should they be trusted when they say they are
giving chlorine free? If an arrogant NGO helps only a select few, why
should it suddenly be trusted to help the poorest on a key health issue?
If government actions have only led to increasing poverty and loss of
jobs, why trust the government now? If local chiefs and party
secretaries have used their links with the outside to collect taxes and
increase their own power, why should they be trusted to help now? The
poor have every reason to ask if the sincere priests and health workers
and NGO staff sent into rural areas are not just an attempt to build up
trust so that the poor can be better exploited. They have every reason
to distrust the local leaders who ally themselves with the new outside
In a time of hunger when people see no hope of improvement in their
lives, perhaps the passive and violent resistance to putting chlorine in
local water supplies should be seen as local people making a desperate
attempt to regain some power - as a disempowered group finally taking a
stand to defend its very survival.
Ernesto, M. et al. (2002), 'Persistent konzo and cyanogen toxicity from
cassava in northern Mozambique', Acta Tropica, 82, (3), pp. 357-363.
Fauvet, P. (2009), 'Youth urged to work hard to develop the country. AIM
Mozambique News Agency, Maputo. 17 March.
Hanlon, J. & T. Smart (2008), Do bicycles equal development in
Mozambique? Woodbridge, Suffolk: James Currey.
Serra, C. (2003), Co´lera e catarse, Maptuo: Imprensa Universita´ria,
Universidade Eduardo Mondlane, (The full book, in Portuguese, is posted
on: http://www.tinyurl.com/ mozamb. A preface, by Joseph Hanlon, in
English and Portuguese, is included.).
Websites for ongoing coverage of these events:.
Carlos Serra: http:www.oficinadesociologia. blogspot.com.
Joseph Hanlon: http://www.tinyurl.com/ mozamb.
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