Jul 24, 2012
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Shots in Maputo

It doesn't look dangerous, does it?

This past week I had a coffee with some other expats and interns living in Maputo, including one Brazilian reporter who had just arrived in Mozambique. I spent a few minutes talking to her about what I like about the city and some common sense safety precautions, such as not walking alone after dark. In general, I said, I felt pretty happy and safe here. About 40 minutes after that speech, the table the expats were at was shot at by robbers armed with AK-47s.

I had left about half an hour before the shooting happened. None of my friends got seriously hurt, but two security guards at the restaurant were shot at close range and last I heard were still in critical condition at the hospital. The perpetrators robbed the place and some of its clients in between random bouts of shooting at tables. Everyone I knew basically ran for their lives and either hid in a nearby garden or in streets of the affluent neighborhood where we were. A couple girls twisted their ankles; another bruised a knee and a hand during a fall. There were all pretty shaken. The police got there too late.

The State Department classifies Mozambique’s crime rate as “critical”, the highest possible category. I would say Maputo’s crime rate is not higher than cities like Sao Paulo or even large American cities, but there is a general feeling that violence is increasing. One popular theory links the perceived rise to the patterns of development the country has experienced in recent years: a lot of foreign investment and high growth rates that generate a wealth concentrated in the hands of a few which leaves the vast majority even poorer as it pushes the cost of living up. And even though the IMF congratulates Mozambique for keeping the inflation under control, it is getting undeniably more and more expensive to live here. An American friend, for example, rents a nice, but by no means luxurious, one bedroom apartment for US$ 2,700 a month (way, way more than a regular Mozambican would dream of being able to pay). It’s the old story – giant foreign projects arrive, they bring their money and their workers, demand for services and infrastructure is unmet and prices escalate.

It has been said that historically the factors that contribute to crime rates in Mozambique are related to the legacy of the civil war and the reconstruction efforts after its end in 1992. A couple such factors are 1) the level of violence that communities were exposed to during the war, which make the occurrences seem less extraordinary; 2) the difficulties in reintegrating former combatants; 3) the huge number of firearms that are still available in the country; 4) the destruction and poverty that has resulted from the conflict; 5) the absence of a tradition of legally punitive boundaries; and others. As I have said numerous times, the country is almost at the bottom of the UN’s Human Development Index. The unemployment rate is high and formal employment is not more than a third of the total occupied labor force. I am far from explaining violence and crime in Mozambique –those are way too complicated and involve too many factors for one with a brief experience or research to speak about with any propriety. Nevertheless, it is possible to say that these are some elements that can help contextualize violence and crime here.

Along the same lines, and according to a paper by the think tank Idasa, based in Pretoria, “a study prepared for the WHO and the WHO Small Arms Survey reveals a prevailing perception that unemployment and poverty are the key determinants driving Mozambican crime”. One particularly vulnerable group is the youth, which experiences an unemployment rate estimated at being over 70%. “This has resulted in theft, prostitution, smuggling, and violent crime becoming necessary features of self-preservation among them”, continues the same paper.

It is also worth noticing the spike and prevalence of organized criminal syndicates in Mozambique, facilitated partly by the fact that “the country’s long coastline creates logistical problems for border control, especially when there is a lack of trained personnel. (…) Organized crime has reached such an extent in Mozambique that it can almost be viewed as a ‘parallel power base’ challenging the authority of the state. (…) Also, because drug trafficking and money laundering have become so pervasive, it is likely that illegal drug sales represent a substantial portion of Mozambique’s economy. In fact, drug sales may have been a strong contributor to the growth in the country’s economy since the end of the civil war in 1992 (Gastrow and Mosse, 2002)”.

And let’s not forget the problems with the police force and the culture of corruption that abounds state institutions.

There are several national and international programs trying to deal with the situation in Mozambique. I recently came across one that is in place right now, created by the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. In fact, the first of their initiatives, an assessment of crime and violence in the country, is due to be published today. Other components include: a) working with the Mozambican Ministry of Justice, which is formulating its crime combating policy, in order to try to shift the focus from fighting crime after it was committed to crime prevention; b) community safety audits and plans; and c) crime prevention courses, developed in partnership with the local public university Eduardo Mondlane.

More on this program to be discussed soon. Hopefully, without the threat of AK-47 bullets flying over the heads of my friends.







  • Andrea, it does not appear that one of the biggest causes of crime, unemployment,is part of the current donor-supplied responses to the problem. Trying to reduce the supply of crime by better policing, without efforts to reduce the demand for it – lack of jobs – seems like the wrong way to go about the issue. Maybe I am missing something.

  • Barak
    Either you are not missing anything or we both are. I don’t assume that unemployment is always a direct cause of crime in every society, but it does seem like it is so in Mozambique, and I have to check how much investment (from donors) there currently is in addressing it. I do see that in the OS program one of the intentions is to shift the government’s efforts to curb crime from response to prevention, but I cannot tell you if that in prevention factor tackling unemployment is the largest component. I have asked OS about it and they said I would get some more info about their program. Of course, that is just one example. But I will keep you posted on what I find out.

  • I’ll be interested to hear what you find. If crime is largely an economic issue, cracking down on security seems like a punitive and probably ineffective solution. I don’t like the idea of making it a crime to be poor.

  • I will be coming to Maputo to teach for a year at Eduardo Mondlane University in 2013. In addition to my own security/housing concerns (I couldn’t even touch your friend’s nice apartment at that price!), I’m curious about local-level organizing and mobilizing in and around the city. I have a history of researching such urban organizations and their interactions with local government in Brazil. Any tips?

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