Musings from Mozambique, Africa

By Drew Tulchin

February 24, 2008

This blog is featured by the Catalyst Fund on Social Enterprise.  Catalyst Fund is a U.K. institution providing fund management, advisory services, industry information and market research. 

Dear Family and Friends,
Many of you have expressed interest in consulting work and travel related information. I'm in Mozambique for 6 weeks on fun project - to support the development of an association of microfinance institutions. It is funded by GTZ (the German version of USAID) and implemented by GFA (a German consulting company). I was brought in as 'the expert' from SEEP Network, a U.S. NGO that is an association of associations.

Travel to Get There
Mozambique is an interesting country and my first week has gone well. Getting here is a long haul, however. I started in Santa Fe, NM early one Monday morning. After falling asleep, eating some yummy airport food, and losing my fleece jacket somewhere along the way, I got myself onto an international flight from Atlanta.

I was in the cattle section, in the back, next to the bulkhead. But, I had a window seat and no one next to me - luxury I tell you, basically business class. We fly for 8 hours. That has us land in Daccar, Senegal, at 4:30 AM. 20 people get off the plane; 5 get on. They service the airplane and a bunch of other stuff...that takes 2 hours. Then, we take off again, with the sun rising. Another 8 hours across Africa to South Africa. I've now watched every movie on offer, and had enough snacks to make me feel a wee bit bloated. J'burg, South Africa. I have a few hours. It is a decent airport, like a small town mall. For some reason, the gate areas are incredibly uncomfortable with little seating, but you have to wait at your gate, because you can't trust the information on the departure screen and the announcements made are unintelligible. After coming this far, I'm not going to miss the last 1 hour flight.

My flight is late. 'Delayed', is what we are told, we aren?t told how long. The gate attendant mills about for 1 hour. Finally I ask if they know where the airplane is. They say they do. Oh? Where is it? It's on its way to Maputo? On its way? Yes? Did I miss it leaving here? No.... the conversation goes on. The flight is late due to weather (it is raining) and it is behind schedule. We leave, really only 4 hours late. On the take-off and landing, we have to turn off ALL inside lights (even your overhead reading light) due to safety. That one was new to me. Glad to know they are concerned with safety. I get to Maputo at midnight Tuesday, 36 hours after the start. History.

Mozambique is off the American radar (as is most of Africa, mind you) but particularly this former Portuguese outpost and socialist state. The place hasn't been a country for very long - having only achieved independence in 1975, followed by a civil war where they only stopped killing each other in 1993. The diversity in history and culture is quite something.

Portuguese treatment, although dating back to the 17th century, was severe with a focus on extraction and trade, followed by a slash and burn exit. The civil war has parallels with Nicaragua
in that many white foreign governments were meddling to fund a group against the government to the seeming detriment of all its people and infrastructure. The government, with apparent populist support, wasn't able to get things going and the few initiatives it did launch brought mixed results --at best.

The bottom line is that the country hasn't had anything to build upon to develop from. For example, there are train tracks, but they don't run where people want them to go. They were for agricultural and mineral transfers from countries further interior to Africa to reach water ports. The country is near the bottom of all statistics. A potential benefit of this is that, now that there is peace and relative economic stability, many donors are heavily involved here, so there are lots of resources.

This and That:


  • Language. Portuguese. It is pretty clearly spoken here, and for Portuguese that is saying something. With my Spanish and French and Catalan from my time in Barcelona, I find I can  understand most things. There are some people, however, who I don't understand at all, no matter how many times they repeat what they are saying. I do pretty well getting myself understood. Again, there are a few who don't understand me. Unluckily, 1/2 of them appear to be at the hotel I am staying. The wait staff must be terrified of me by this point.
  • Great Food. Seafood and Portuguese style meat. Huge shrimp, feijoada, what they call pumpkin leaves, chicken. Lots of chicken. Okay, too much meat, too many french fries.
  • It was the 120th anniversary of the founding of Maputo, the capital city (Do you know its former name?) There was a concert by the capital building. What a party; lots of ladies offering beverages. Leave early, so as not to participate in the inevitable drunken later night repercussions.
  • I went running along the beach, which was very active on a Sunday afternoon. Folks are hanging out listening to music from their car, drinking a beer ? beers, many beers. Passed a 'harbor'. The local boats are called dhow, with a very cool single sail. Tide was out, which provided a soccer field. Barefoot soccer ? ouch says my coddled toes. There are wakeboarders, surfing with a parachute
  • I wanna do that. I was safe and wasn't carrying anything, but had been warned to be careful. The city is safe, certainly by international big city standards - think Lagos, Pretoria. It is necessary to be prudent and careful, but sucks to be paranoid. It is an interesting feeling to look up and down the beach and feel like you are the only one or your type ? you stand out quite a bit.
    Hotel is comfortable and modern with breakfast included. I'm living the int'l consultant lifestyle, I tell you. I can have bacon every morning. It is yummy. It loses its appeal after five days.
  • I wanted to check the toilets to see if the water runs the opposite direction south of the equator, but most just splash as they flush, can anyone confirm this?


For extra credit, can you name the colors on the Mozambique flag? Next installment, microfinance and social enterprise in Mozambique.
Drew Tulchin

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