*I’ve drawn the following information mostly from previous posts, augmenting or reducing here and there, as needed.
I first arrived in Maputo during the last week of September 2014 as a part of Peace Corps Mozambique 23 – the 23rd group of volunteers to serve in the Austral African country. Maputo is the capital of Mozambique, a long, angular country that extends up the eastern coast of the African continent to form a “Y” around Lake Malawi. The country is twice the length of California and borders six countries: South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania (from South to North).
Before 1975, the official name of Maputo was Lourenço Marques. Mozambique, for that matter, was only recognized in the world system as a colony of Portugal. However, in 1964 the Frente de Libertação Mozambicana (Frelimo) began waging a guerilla war against the Portuguese state. When the Salazar regime in Portugal was overthrown by a coup d’etat in 1974, Mozambique and other Portuguese colonies gained independence. The Mozambican government turned to Marxism, the only viable philosophy that permitted an adoption of a Western political system without giving credit to their former overlords. Portuguese remained the official language out of convenience – it was one of the only factors that united the vast country. Unfortunately, all of the trained professionals in the land fled at the inauguration of a new government. Mozambique was left with only a handful of college graduates. A new guerilla force – Resistencia Nacional Mozambicana (Renamo)– rose up through backing by the white regimes in, first, Rhodesia (which later became independent Zimbabwe) and then the Apartheid government of South Africa. An intense civil war and a crippled state structure combined to create one of the poorest nations in the world in the 1980’s.
In the late 1980’s the government of Mozambique began to change it’s rhetoric. It entered into agreements with the IMF and the World Bank. It liberalized its economy. The Apartheid regime fell. The Cold War – cold in the northern hemisphere, but hot in Africa – ended. In 1992 Frelimo and Renamo signed a peace agreement, still celebrated every fourth of October as Dia de Paz. In 2014 Filipe Jacinto Nyusi was elected as the new president (this was the last question on the eighth grade provincial history exam). He is only the third president to enter office since the peace agreement, all three of which belong to the Frelimo political party. Renamo, which converted from a guerrilla movement into a political party, consistently contends the results of elections and threatens to resume warfare. Peace talks between Renamo and Frelimo have been ongoing, with little success, since I arrived in Mozambique until the present moment of writing (August 2017). Most recently, the international community discovered over $2 billion of hidden government debt, largely the result of corruption and greed in high government offices, that has stunted the economic growth of the country.
The name of my Peace Corps site was Nomba, one of the four main bairros of the city of Lichinga, capital of the province of Niassa. Niassa sits in the far northwest of Mozambique, hugging the shores Lake Malawi. The first sentence of the chapter on Niassa in an earlier version of the Bradt travel guide reads as follows: “Niassa is Mozambique’s driest, most remote, poorest, and least densely populated province.” In his travel memoir of Mozambique, Nick Middleton writes, “One aid worker I spoke to called it the ‘Siberia of Mozambique.’ A Western diplomat in Maputo told me there’s a saying that ‘If Lichinga isn’t the edge of the world, you can certainly see it from there.’” Indeed, I moved to the province with the largest territory and the smallest number of human beings. However, my site – Nomba – hovered just on the periphery of Lichinga, a city with a population estimated at 165,000. The Portuguese founded Lichinga in 1931 under the name Vila Cabral. It rests at an altitude of 1350 meters (4,430 feet) on the escarpment of the Great Rift Valley, permitting forestry companies to cultivate large pine forests that crop up in the view from my porch. Hills undulate in all directions, green like you imagine Africa would be. Mountains decorate the horizon. During the rainy season, thunderstorms decorate the afternoons. And nights call for jackets. The view from the end of the world is beautiful.
For those of you who would like to learn more about Mozambique, I’ve included several links below. Anyone looking for a deeper (and very well-written) read on the country might consider A Complicated War by William Finnegan.