Mozambique: Managing a windfall


Unless the new mineral wealth is distributed fairly, social tension will rise.

Human rights campaigner Graca Machel has warned that Mozambique’s newly found mineral wealth could be a source of conflict if it does not filter down to the majority of the poverty-stricken people.

Mozambique is fast rising from being one of the world’s most impoverished countries to one of the fastest growing economies, thanks to the recently discovered vast quantities of natural gas and coal reserves.

“This is a source of political upheaval and … can lead to tensions that will be extremely difficult to manage,” Machel, who is also the country’s former first lady, said at an African Development Bank (AfDB) meeting discussing ways to better manage hydrocarbon resources.

Most of the population of  23.4m still live on as little as $1 a day. Five years ago, Machel said Mozambique was considered “the poorest of the poor”.

“Suddenly we moved from the poorest of the poor to become potentially the third producer of gas in the world and the outlook of the country changed completely overnight.”

Mozambique has recently discovered a huge reserve of gas, as much as 100 trn cubic feet, making it a major energy player and offering hope of prosperity to come.

If the wealth is not fairly distributed, “we are sowing seeds not even of suspicion, we are already sowing the seeds of hate,” she warned.

The bulk of the natural gas deposits are found in the northern Rovuma basin, off the country’s poorest Cabo Delgado province.

Machel said she believed there was a high potential for social tension especially among youths because they have been excluded from national debates on handling natural resources.

“It will not be long before we begin to see people marching on streets of Maputo. It is simple – they are hungry,” she warned.

Mozambique could potentially earn tens of billions of dollars from its gas revenue alone in 2013, delegates to the meeting in Maputo heard.