21 September 2010
Jeremy Astill-Brown
Former Associate Fellow, Africa Programme


The recent riots in Mozambique following government imposed increases in the price of bread and fuel have been blamed, in part, on global food prices and the actions of speculators. Whilst these are important factors, there are other, deeper issues which also need to be understood.

Mozambique is often cited as a donor success story. And there is no doubt that in terms of basic poverty reduction, the country - and its government - has performed well in recent years. Millenium Development Goals related to reduced child mortality and improved maternal health look likely to be achieved and the goal of eradicating extreme poverty and hunger is possible with some policy changes.

However, these successes are probably the 'easy wins' of a country emerging from years of damaging conflict. The harder task of sustainably lifting people out of poverty requires much harder work. But the political culture of Mozambique has allowed an elite to prioritise their political and economic interests above those of the people or the country. As a result, the institutions of state responsible for service delivery and the rule of law have been eroded from the inside. They are no longer fit for the purpose for which they were originally designed.

As a consequence, trans-national criminal interests, including people traffickers, car ringers and narcotic smugglers, have taken hold in Mozambique, further weakening the state's capacity to protect the population from poverty or insecurity.

A new Chatham House report says:

'... there is a clear demand for improved service delivery from a population for whom poverty (characterised by pervasive social, economic and political exclusion) is both a day to day reality and a potential source of extreme frustration. High levels of rural to urban drift (in search of both employment and service provision) leaves a high concentration of poor, unemployed, young and aspiring people struggling to survive. Their peri-urban setting means that their livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to shocks.'

The solutions to these challenges lie in a much more holistic understanding of the Mozambican context. Poor people require jobs and basic services. But they also need security and access to justice. They require opportunities to share in the national wealth equitably. A comprehensive threat analysis, which locates all these issues in a single analytical framework, would quickly lead government and donors alike to see the value of more integrated working.

There is an urgent need to acknowledge the importance of politics in the dialogue between donors and the ruling party, FRELIMO (the Liberation Front of Mozambique). For Mozambican politicians, poverty reduction is political; and access to the country's future wealth is a matter of personal survival. For Mozambique's international partners, tackling the security threat posed by the country's weak governance structures could be an investment in both poverty reduction and in their own national security.

Existing donor funded programmes in basic service delivery should be complemented by work to make the country's security and justice systems people centred first and state centred second. Only through the prioritisation of human security (freedom from want; freedom from fear; freedom for future generations to inherit a healthy environment) can Mozambique hope to achieve the resilience that would allow the population to absorb future price rise shocks.

Security is a development issue. Donors and government alike need to embrace it as part of Mozambique's national development.


Further resources

This is based on the report Mozambique - Balancing Development, Politics and Security.

The report will be launched on Thursday 23 September in Maputo.
Launch details >>