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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: La colère couve après les émeutes de la faim

by Pierre Barbancey

Mozambique : Anger Still Smouldering After Last Week’s Hunger Riots

Translated Sunday 12 September 2010, by Isabelle Métral and reviewed by Henry Crapo

Maputo was calm yesterday, but the calm was precarious. The streets of Mozambique’s capital, which were the stage of violent clashes last week, were patrolled by the police, especially in the poorest suburbs, where the clashes (which killed 10 and wounded 450 in three days) had been the fiercest, following the news of a new increase in the price of bread.

159 arrested in Matola

Text messages were circulated all through the week-end that called for new demonstrations on Monday. That was precisely how last week’s mobilization had started, when anger in Maputo’s peripheral districts flared up and spread. “We’ve deployed our forces all over the town in order to gain control of the situation as fast as possible.” Arnaldo Chefo, the police spokesperson declared. In the single suburb of Matola, the capital’s largest poor suburb, 159 were arrested during the riots.

The week-end was calm enough. “There’ve been no incidents, despite rumours that people would turn out into the streets again on Monday,” Arnaldo Chefo was happy to say. Nevertheless, the tension was manifest. Besides the still visible traces of burnt tyres and garbage cans that had been set on fire, shops re-opened late on Monday. Many of the capital’s inhabitants took advantage of the respite to buy goods of first necessity, against a new spell of paralysis. Gas stations ran out of gas in no time and banks were soon short of banknotes.

Prices sky-rocketed over the last months, notably as a result of the increase in the price of cereals on world markets, but also of the depreciation of the national currency in a country that depends very much on imports: 65% of Mozambique’s 23 million inhabitants live below the poverty threshold, despite the country’s rate of growth since the end of the civil war (1976-1992) that followed the former Portuguese colony’s attainment of independence.

Samora Machel’s Frelimo (Mozambique’s Liberation Front), the party still in office, succeeded in defeating Renamo, the party supported by the Western powers and South Africa (under apartheid). In November 2009, Frelimo emerged triumphant in the general election, with 191 candidates elected out of 250, against 160 in the previous term, whereas Renamo got only 16,5% of the votes, against 31,7% in 2004.

The demonstrations sound a warning

Even though Frelimo remains extremely popular, especially thanks to its education and health policies, the recent demonstrations sound like a warning: “This is not a workers’ revolt,” observes Luis Cabaco, from the Teachers’ Training College. “They have no trade unions, no collective organization whatsoever.”

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