Mozambique is one of Africa’s last frontiers. While it can be quite difficult and very time consuming to make your way up the 1,500 miles of coastline, it is well worth it if one has the patience and the perseverance to travel through this long and undeveloped country.
I started in Maputo, the country’s capital city, and headed north, spending several days in an old, 12-person mini-bus that was turned into a 22 passenger vehicle. Fellow passengers also included live chickens, bags of raw fish, suitcases and random household supplies. To add to the inconvenience, each bus’s departure time was “when it’s full” – which the drivers took to a much higher level than I thought was physically possible. I often had to wait 2-3 hours for the bus to “fill.” After participating in multiple circus-like scenarios each time a bus unloaded and just before I admitted defeat to the transportation system, I was able to live “the dream.” My office for the week became a hammock on a nearly abandoned, three mile stretch of picturesque beachfront equipped with crystal clear water, soft white sand and warm weather. If that doesn’t sound amazing enough, most of my meals consisted of fresh barracuda and crab that I had watched be pulled out of the water just moments before by a local fisherman and I was able to partake in world class diving and boat trips to nearby islands throughout the week. And to top it off, this lifestyle cost next to nothing according to developed world standards.
After 10 years of fighting Portugal for independence, the Portuguese left Mozambique in 1975 – destroying as much as they could on their way out. This exodus left Mozambique’s economy in disarray and the country quickly fell into a 15-year civil war. In order to combat the lack of resources, the country turned to the Soviet Union and established a one-party Socialist state and received substantial amounts of foreign aid from Cuba and other Eastern Bloc nations. Though Mozambique has been considered a democratic republic since its first elections in 1994, one can still see the remnants of the socialist era in the major streets named after Karl Marx, Mao Tse Tung and Vladimir Lenin.
While the country remains one of the poorest in the world with average annual incomes of approximately $1,000 (compared to about $50,000 per person in the U.S.) and most economic activity remains in the “informal economy” (e.g., selling oranges on the side of the street), 2011-2012 may be long remembered as the turning point for Mozambique. The country’s first overseas export of coal was in 2011 and vast amounts of natural gas reserves were discovered in 2012. These developments have transitioned Mozambique into an export-based economy and energy hotspot, accelerated economic growth, inspired a construction boom and triggered an influx of foreign investment. Its currency, the metical, even became the world’s best performing currency against the dollar. The country is tired of fighting and its people – at least in the larger cities – felt optimistic and excited to become a contributing member of the global economy.
And after 30 years of fighting, what does one do with all the guns? Well, besides putting an AK-47 on the nation’s flag, there is an inspiring studio in Maputo that welds them into pieces of art.