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Mozambique: Riot organized via SMS is covered by bloggers

Three people died and more than 250 were injured in a riot yesterday in Maputo, which followed a protest against the increase in fares charged by the chapas (private minibus operators from the Mozambican capital). One of the first people to bring the news to the public was the blogger and sociologist Carlos Serra [pt], in a post just after 8:00 am, which was continuously followed up as he had fresh information to share.

He reported on barricades being improvised to prevent minibuses from operating and halting of all bus and mini-bus services soon after, as well as the police intervention, stranded commuters and the first person left dead. People started to contact the blogger directly to provide their first accounts of what they had heard and seen.

While most of the local TV stations were showing soap operas and the radios broadcasting football, people flocked to the Internet to get more information. Carlos Serra received dozen of comments on his report, with many readers thanking him for his minute-to-minute updates, the only source of virtually real time information available. Micas [pt] said in his comment:

Revoltante! A Rádio não deveria estar ao serviço da informação, ao serviço do povo? Não é um serviço público? Que me desculpem mas o futebol poderá ficar para depois.

Disgusting! Shouldn't the Radio be at the service of information, at the service of the people? Isn't it a public service? Excuse me, but football can be left for later.

Bayano Valy [pt] brought today an analysis of the poor participation of the mainstream media and its consequences:

O que me pareceu ter acontecido ontem foi que mais uma vez os órgãos de comunicação públicos furtaram-se de cumprir com uma das suas obrigações de informar o público sobre questões de interesse público. E me parece que as manifestações de ontem eram de interesse público. Ao furtarem-se do dever e obrigação de reportar sobre o que estava a acontecer não terão os nossos órgãos públicos contribuido para que mais pessoas se pusessem à rua com todas as consequências que daí podiam advir?

What seemed to have happened yesterday was that once again the public media avoided complying with one of its obligations: to inform the public on matters of public interest. And I think that yesterday's events were of public interest. On avoiding the duty and obligation to report on what was happening, wouldn't our public agencies have contributed to more people going to the street with all the consequences that could arise from this?

Other citizens were recording the events even closer. The short video below, by KaeDhee was shot from a roof terrace in one of the quietest areas, Coop, near OMM Square at around 14:30.

Such widespread demonstrations are unprecedented in Maputo and apparently the mobilization started soon after the Transport Ministry and the Federation of Road Transport Associations (FEMATRO) agreed that fares would increase up to 50% for the chapas (from 5 meticais to 7.5 – US$0,20 to US$0,30). People used SMS to send text messages inviting others to protest in the day the new fare would take effect, according to Orlando Castro [pt]:

Hoje o protesto registou uma inovação. Foi convocado por sms e incluía fortes críticas ao Governo da FRELIMO: “O povo está a sofrer, os filhos de ministros, deputados e outros dignitários não andam de chapa e os chapas estão caros. Vamos fazer greve e exigir justiça. Lutemos contra a pobreza”.

The protest today had an innovation. It was convened through sms and included strong criticism of the FRELIMO's government: “People are suffering; ministers, parliamentarians and other dignitaries’ children don't travel on chapas and they are expensive. Let's go on a strike and demand justice. Let's fight against poverty. “

The increases were justified by th latest rise in the price of fuel, which saw a 14% increase in the price of diesel and an 8.1% increase in the price of petrol. On the other hand, the official minimum wage is less than US$2 per day, and the poorest people would be the most affected by the new fares. Some bloggers, such as Ivone Soares [pt], were not happy satisfied with this justification:

O salário mínimo está aquém das necessidades básicas das populações, ademais que o índice de desemprego em Moçambique é vergonhoso para um Governo que se diz do Povo, mas que preocupado com os mega-empreendimentos.

The minimum wage is below people's basic needs, and in addition to this the unemployment rate in Mozambique is shameful for a government which is said to be [a government] of the people, but is concerned only about mega-ventures.

Manoel de Araújo [pt] writes an open letter to Mozambican president Armando Guebuza asking him to speak up about the unprecedented event in Maputo:

Pela primeira vez depois da independencia nacional a populacao de Maputo saiu a rua com um unico proposito- dizer de forma clara e inequivoca de que ja esta farto das instituicoes estatais e que pelo menos desta vez, iria resolver os seus problemas, usando as suas proprias maos!

For the first time after the national independence, the population of Maputo gained the streets with a single purpose – to say in a clear and unequivocal way that they are already tired of the state institutions and that at least this time, they would solve their problems themselves, with their own hands!

Leonardo Vieira [pt] says he is not surprised that people have run out of patience after so many price rises in less than one month: fuel, bread, and the chapas fare. He blames the government for its passivity, which leaves the population with no choice but the use of violence. In this case, the protesters achieved what they were fighting for:

E qual foi a consequência??? Na pessoa do ministro dos transportes, o Governo anuncia que já não mais irão subir os preços.

And what was the result? Through the minister of transport, the Government announced that it will no longer raise the prices.

In a comment to the above blog post, Nelson Livingston [pt] agrees with Leonardo's theory that people's patience is coming to an end, and makes a dark prediction [pt] for the future:

O que me intriga é como o governo subestima o povo. Como não lê os sinais de insatisfação. Será por estar demasiado desligado da situação popular ou por uma cruel insensibilidade que se “ignora” o resultado de algumas medidas tomadas lá no topo. Agora aprendeu o povo que “criança que não chora não mamã”. Aprendeu que “governo não gosta de barulho”. O povo aprendeu a “mexer o remoto control” o futuro é assustador.

What I have been intrigued by is how the government underestimates people. How it does not read the dissatisfaction signs. Is it because they are turned off to people's situation or is it a kind of cruel insensitivity which “ignores” the consequences of some decisions made up there. Now people have learned that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” They have learned that the “government is averse to noise.” People have learned how to “operate the remote control”. Future is frightening.

A phantom city

Today, Carlos Serra reports that after the protests continued in some places into the evening, this morning Maputo was like a phantom city. There was no public transport, most schools and shops remained closed. Rubbish was soon building up along remnants of the barricades thrown up the day before. Only in the afternoon the chapas started again to circulate.

However, there are still some tension in other parts of Mozambique. Carlos Serra has been, as usual, providing all the last updates, quicker than any other media in the country. In his 28th update today at 20:40, the latest at the time of publication of this piece, he reports:

Três mortos e 268 feridos – eis o rescaldo dos levante popular de ontem, segundo a estação televisiva TVM no seu noticiário das 20. Mas segundo o “O Paísonline”, calcula-se em 93 o número de feridos que deram entrada no Hospital central de Maputo, dos quais 25 continuam ainda internados.

Three dead and 268 injured – this is the aftermath of yesterday's popular uprising, according to the TV station TVM in their news at 8 pm. However, according to “The Paísonline”, it is estimated that there were 93 wounded brought to the Central Hospital of Maputo, of which 25 are still in hospital.

20 comments

  • J

    Excellent post, parabens. Thank you!!

  • […] Global Voices Online » Mozambique: Riot organized via SMS is covered by bloggers People used SMS to send text messages inviting others to protest in the day the new fare would take […]

  • It’s a shame that the sms has become such a tool for spreading hatred and violence. It happened here in Australia during the Cronulla riots and happened in Kenya during the election violence.

    That’s pretty much why I support intiatives like Ushahidi in Kenya where sms is used to prevent violence and spread peace and a feeling of community and togetherness.

    We have to be as militant about peace as people are about spreading violence and hate.

  • […] [pt] heard this phrase from a lady from Inhagóia and wrote an interesting analyses following up the incidents in Maputo, Mozambique, last Monday. “The popular revolt was not ultimately against the bread and transport prices, […]

  • […] Más información en Global Voices. […]

  • Mwangi (the Displaced African):

    I don’t think in this case sms “has become such a tool for spreading hatred and violence”. People wanted to protest and were in their right to do so and found a tool to mobilise it other, not to get any ‘chapa’ on that day, to stop the traffic. The police were ARMED and the reports are that 92 people were shot by guns and were in hospital. I mean, who started the violence?

  • Hey Paula,
    I do not doubt the conditions and the circumstances of the people who are protesting. Almost all of them are poor and a large proportion of them have no resources and are fighting against a well funded government machinery.

    That doesn’t change the fact that during this election season SMS has been used as a tool of spreading hate towards other tribes and organizing violent actions through out the country. Fortunately it has also been used as a tool, as you said, to organize protest and strengthen community support and solidarity.

  • […] [pt] on the protests against transport fares rise last Monday in Maputo, Mozambique: “People has exercised and will continue to exercise their right to […]

  • Ian

    To me there are more new questions than answers. I was trapped inside my office for 7 hours before we could be evacuated. From our windows, some broken from rocks, we saw terrible things and the situatiuon was clearly totally out of control. The first questions that come to mind are 1) What happened to the Mozambican Military during this chaos? They were nowhere to be seen. A systematic deployment of military personal at strategic points would have stabilised the situation in minimal time. 2) What happened to the media? There was no or virtually no coverage on the worlds major news networks including the SABC from South Africa until the riots were quelled. I understand from informed sources that the Mozambican media was muffled and instructed not to go and film in certain areas worst hit but surley the independant world media should have covered it and got the news out

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