Views and news on peace, justice and reconciliation in Africa




Up for grabs?

By Boanaventura K. Lemana (1,439 Words)

Foreigners are moving into Mozambique in droves-attracted by cheap and fertile land - and the fuzzy regulations surrounding its acquisition. Ordinary Mozambicans complain that the land-grabbing craze has left them despondent strangers in their own country - but are too timid to act. They accuse the government of letting the wolves loose on them.

To go through the international media's coverage of Mozambique is to come head on with despondency and ridicule. Sample the following headlines from British, American and Canadian publications: "Mozambique for sale ; Thieves steal Maputo Airport's lights; Boar farmers stream into Mozambique".

The respected London-based publication, New African recently carried a letter to the editor by a Welshman who worked in Mozambique bemoaning the death of democracy in the country under Frelimo and Renamo chieftains.

To be sure, the current Mozambican government has forgotten the electorate and largely serves the interests of Frelimo, the ruling party, and , in equal measure, those of latter-day fortune-hunters insearch of loot and booty.

The thousands upon thousands of foreigners who are settting base in Mozambique are driven by the instinct of acquisistion that largely stems from the belief that Mozambique's leadership is corrupt and therefore the country is up for grabs.

For them, Mozambique is a new frontier to be looted and, like American frontiersmen in the 1800s, they are rewarded with large tracts of fertile land - snapped up from the very noses of native Mozambicans.

To take away land from the natives and sell it to foreigners is to deny the poor in Mozambique their first right to a livelihood. Land has been a communal resource in this country and the move towards making it a private resource is turning Mozambicans strangers in their own country.

The white farmers - Mozambique's new "frontiersmen" from South Africa - are flocking into the country, especially the northern province of Niassa, as a result of an agreement reached between the government of Mozambique and South Africa.

Some people are worried that the white settlers in Mozambique are running away from the Mandela-led government in South Africa. Such talk as "lions and sheep are not meant to live together" -attributed the settlers - lends credence to the belief that the whites have not shed their supremacist jingoism yet.

Does Mozambique really need such "investors" who are cloaked in racial bigotry from head to toe? And is it far-fetched to imagine that such people could one day start demanding a white homeland in Mozambique? Already, some Mozambicans are murmuring that some privatised companies give preference to white employees. Indeed, such signs as, "Private beach, natives not allowed" are not uncommon. in Mozambique's 2,500-mile coastline. When Mozambicans ask for some explanation, property owners wave their land titles deeds.

Even after the peaceful transition in South Africa to a multi-racial society, lots of Afrikaners still clamour for a separate white state in South Africa. Could this be the reason the Mandela government is trying to export them to Mozambique? It behoves the government of Joachim Chissano to weigh carefully the advantages of bringing in droves of Afrikaner farmers to the country against the long-term damage this will do the country.

Another disquieting issue concerns police brutality. A pity that the government seems unmoved by prevalent misuse of police powers - an issue that could easily blow out of hand and re-ignite civil strife. Mozambican police, far from protecting people and property, have become torturers, maiming and even killing at the slightest excuse.

Police stations and prisons have become torture and/or death chambers. Little wonder, Mozambicans prefer to give the police such a wideberth! At a soccer match at Manava Stadium in Maputo last July, for instance, police clubbed an excited spectator to death.

Despite the picture of a country wallowing in desperation, there is some hope yet for Mozambique. Not all is lost. But that light at the end of the tunnels needs to be taken good care of lest it flickers out. This will require that the current leadership must commit itself to placing the interest of the country before that of the party and the individual.

Foreign investments are, to be sure crucial to the country's development. But foreign investors must not be allowed to ride roughshod over the native Mozambican's rights as is happening at present.

A free market economy must not be equated with the sort of Wild West laissez-faire that is being witnessed in the country. Free market economics must also ensure there are real freedoms for the Mozambicans particularly the right to ownership and compensation if they agree to sell what they own.

As for the policeforce, there are far too many unqualified officers whose only training seems to be knowing how to fire an AK-47 assault rifle aimlessly. A good starting point would be to train the police officers and remove the bad apples from their midst.

There is a lesson to be learnt from the African proverb that, "It takes a village to raise a child". It will take Mozambicans of all backgrounds - Frelimo and opposition; white and black - to develop a plan of action to stem the problem of land grabbing in Mozambique by foreigners.


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