Mozambique: fighting a pandemic within multiple endemic crises
How is Mozambique facing the COVID-19 outbreak? What is to be expected from the country’s strategy to mitigate the effects of this global pandemic and of multiple economic and political crises already affecting it?
Figures and facts
To this date (15th April 2020), according to the Government of Mozambique there are 28 confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in Mozambique. So far, only 1058 suspected cases have been tested in the country with a total population of 29.5 million (2018 data). Like many African countries, Mozambique reacted drastically despite low numbers compared to countries of the Global North at the time. On the 1st of April 2020 the President of Mozambique, Filipe Nyusi, promulgated the law which established a 30-day state of emergency in the country. Since then Mozambique has been in a partial shutdown.
Some of Mozambique’s emergency measures to try to reduce the advance of the COVID-19 pandemic, include a mandatory quarantine for all people who have recently traveled overseas; for all people who have had direct contact with positive cases of COVID-19; the closure of schools and universities for 30 days (23.3.2020 to 23.4.2020), and the prohibition of holding of public and private events for more than 50 people, such as religious cults, cultural or recreational activities, sportive, political, associative or touristic activities. However, the government has granted an exception for activities considered as urgent state matters and transport of essential goods.
Shutdown measures also include closure of leisure commercial establishments or similar ones, or, when applicable, reduce their activity during the day; introduction of job rotation or other work modalities, depending on the specificities of the public and private sector; and to ensure the implementation of prevention measures established by the Ministry of Health in all public and private institutions. At the fiscal level, Mozambique allocated more financial resources to the health sector, from 2.2. billion meticais (Euro 29.7 million) to 3.3 billion meticais (Euro 45.5 million/0.3 percent of the GDP).
In order to reduce the social impact of those measures, the government of Mozambique has also suspended any water cuts due to lack of payment or any other reason. The bad news for the working class, however, is the announcement that the annual salary adjustments might not take place this year due to the impacts of the pandemic on the economy.
Assessment of actions
In view of the still low figures, it must be asked whether the measures are justified. From the perspective of temporarily “flattening the curve” while the world waits for a potential vaccine, learns more about the virus, and the health system gets ready for severe patients, the answer is certainly “yes”. A study from the British Imperial College has concluded that the COVID-19 could kill up to 65,000 people in Mozambique if no measures (such as those taken) were taken. But these figures must be taken with skepticism given the slow infection rate currently observed in Africa and Mozambique as well as considering the fact that 80 percent of Mozambicans live in rural areas in a very low density environment. In addition, Mozambique’s population, like most of the African continent is predominantly young.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Mozambican parliament decided on a “state of emergency” for the period 1 to 30 April – a further two extensions can be enacted. The opposition fears that FRELIMO could take advantage of the state of emergency to severely restrict the freedom and rights of the population. State violation of human rights is a common phenomenon in the country. Kidnapping of activists, journalists, opposition members, and political commentators not in line with the ruling party’s views and arbitrary arrest of people, and other forms of violation of human rights are recurring in the country. It is highly probable that in order to enforce a potential full lockdown, the country’s police will rely on excessive use of force.
Mozambique has requested a budget grant of USD 700 million from donor countries for assistance against the virus. This is a step in the right direction from the point of view of necessity, but is also another step towards increasing dependence. And with the knowledge of the recent debt scandal that has brought the country to the brink of insolvency, a more than simple procedure. In fact, in response to the country’s request, it has recently emerged that donor countries have decided to procure and to purchase the health products the country need directly. Coupled with this, the IMF has again reiterated its decision not to provide direct budget support to the country. These two decisions are show clearly how corrupt the government of Mozambique is perceived globally.
Mozambique’s state of emergency measures must be placed under a very challenging health system battling with scarce human and material resources. For COVID-19 serious cases, for example, the country is expecting spend USD 3.2 million to purchase 300 ventilators for a total population of 29.5 million people. According to the WHO the context in Mozambique is conducive for high levels of infection and transmission of diseases. The country is a classical profile of poverty related diseases. It has significant levels of pediatric malnutrition and a very high predominance of infectious diseases such as malaria, tuberculosis, as well as HIV/AIDS.
One, two… multiple crises
The COVID-19 pandemic is yet another crisis facing Mozambique. Cyclones Idai and Kenneth hit Mozambique last year. The Towns of Beira and Pemba were devastated from the two climate change related cyclones. Agricultural land and food security was severely impacted. Thus 1.3 million people are still receiving food aid. Even though Mozambique has long been confronted with the realities of the human induced climate crisis, Idai and Kenneth were of significant historical dimension. The resulting flooding and disaster led to emergency humanitarian aid, international relief agencies and private organizations taking over the supply of food, tents, and basic infrastructure. This is seen as a sign of a lack of governmental capacity to deal with disasters and leads one to expect the worst in the event of a major corona outbreak.
Unfortunately, Mozambique’s challenges are not limited to its extremely weak health system. Since its independence from Portugal in 1975, political and military instability, high and low intensity civil wars, poverty and corruption have become endemic. To make things worse, since 2017 Mozambique has been facing terrorist attacks in the gas-rich province of Cabo Delgado which have so far claimed more than 500 lives and produced a growing number of internal refugees. The Maputo government has so far proved incapable of effectively dealing with recurring conflicts in the country even with the support of Russian mercenaries who are reported to have already abandoned the conflict due to losses on the battlefield. Due to a dangerous mixture of religion, access to resources, and distribution conflicts, Mozambique finds itself at the crossroads of escalation – and possibly widespread civil war – in the north of the country.
While the country fights this pandemic it’s very important not to ignore its other crises, especially the military conflicts it is facing both in the north and in the central part of the country which are expanding daily. With the support of its African counterparts and the international community, long term peace building and political stability strategies need to be put in place and constantly monitored. The current COVID-19 pandemic should not lead to a complete ignorance of the political endemics which Mozambique is already faced with.
Fredson Guilengue is Deputy Regional Director at
the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung Southern Africa office.
Photo provided by Thandi Pinto.