Maputo (in Mozambique) is a difficult city to sum up. After a day here, I’m not sure if the city is going forwards or backwards.
Certainly there are a lot of signs of progress – a brand new bridge spanning the Maputo River (built by the Chinese of course), new skyscrapers and shopping malls along the waterfront, and generally more traffic out on the streets. But, if you scratch below the surface, it doesn’t seem like much has got better for the majority of the people – judged by GDP per capita, this is the 7th poorest country in the world.
There was a real desperation to the street vendors that I hadn’t detected here before – they weren’t particularly pushy, but it looked like they weren’t far from despair. The country’s economic growth is clearly passing a lot of people by.
Our guide blamed (in no particular order), colonialism, corruption, and latterly the Chinese who he said were taking Mozambique’s resources and then using them to sell inferior products to the locals that they don’t need. To this catalogue of woes, I would add the rampant population growth that is holding the country back – you only had to be out on the streets to see that there were too many people, with too little to do. Groups of people just hanging around on the streets gave the city an unfulfilled air, rather than a particularly menacing one.
But, for a contrast, you only had to venture up to the upscale Polana district to see that some people were doing very well – all the international restaurants and sports bars seemed like they inhabited a different world from the ramshackle atmosphere of central Maputo, just 20 minutes’ walk away. The fact that all the larger houses had high walls, security cameras and electric fences around them was a sign of a terribly unequal society.
All this makes Maputo a fascinating place to visit, with its mix of rich and poor; of crumbling buildings and shiny modern developments; grand colonial set pieces and ugly concrete blocks; SUVs and tired old tuk tuks. I just hope that a more efficient government and a more equal society will help this country achieve its potential.