Jun 9, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

China and Mozambique – a few questions

After I had been in Mozambique for no more than four days, I had already heard all sorts of stories about the Chinese presence here. Some sound like urban legends: I was told that the Chinese government demands thousands of residence visas in exchange for every project the country develops here. I didn’t find evidence of anything like that yet, although several newspaper articles mention that China prefers to bring their own workers, even for construction. True or not, though, the mere fact these stories go around is a signal that there is growing resentment against this eastern partner.

China has a long story of engagement with Mozambique. Even before the civil war broke out, the Communist Party was helping Frelimo (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique, the old guerrilla group and political party that has been formally in power since independence in 1975). Mozambique does not have that much to export to China, but it buys lots of goods (shocker), to the point that China is the third commercial partner of the country, behind South Africa and Portugal.

The two have been getting closer. Infrastructure projects are on the rise, and lately Mozambique’s industrial sector became the main target of Chinese investment.  According to an analysis by the local Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IESE),  “in 2010 the industrial sector had received the biggest slice of Chinese investment by number of projects proposed to the Centre for Investment Promotion (CPI), by capital to be invested (71 percent of the total) and by jobs created”.

In that same year, there was a rise of about 30% in the number of Chinese projects approved by the CPI, totaling US$38.6 million. After industry, the sector that received the most investment was construction.  The IESE analysis says that “it’s projected that the Chinese investment projects approved in 2010 will create 2,391 jobs, which corresponds to 3.5 percent of the 67,500 jobs that the Mozambican government projected would be created by the private sector this year.”

If the rumors are true, there is a question here: who is actually being employed? I will try to find out more.

There is one more thing to note. I’m far from being against the investment, but it seems that the ones I mentioned have a geographical concentration in the Maputo Province (77%), which works to maintain the deep cleavage that exists between the country’s areas.  Two Northern Provinces, Nampula and Niassa, are also receiving investments, mostly in industrial parks. It is still not much to rebalance the divisions, but it can be a start.

Ps. Right now I’m at a tiny town in the Inhambane Province. I have not seen any Chinese around, but was told that there are some living at the capital, about 30 minutes away. Another legend?

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Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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