Mozambique: Maputo on alert with unrest

Yesterday rumors spread in Mozambique about a general strike via word of mouth, SMS, and even Twitter. The motive: the “unjust” cost of living – rises in the price of bread, water and electricity. Readers may recall that an increase the price of minibuses sparked riots and protest in February 2008. So the city went to sleep on edge.

While the mainstream media is just starting to report this, this morning bloggers and twitters have already been reporting on events. Eduardo Castro of Elefante News writes [pt]

Ouvi na Antena Nacional e li nO País (primeiro pública, segundo privado) que a polícia não “recebeu nenhum pedido de manifestação popular” para hoje aqui em Maputo.

Mas a cidade está visivelmente mais policiada. E já teve bloqueio em Benfica, Xiquelene e Chopal.

Tem pouco chapa (vans) circulando por Mahotas. Já recebi telefonema de gente que voltou pra casa depois de esperar por transporte desde cedo, sem sucesso.

A preocupação é que se reedite 2008: os chapas fizeram uma manifestação que convulsionou a cidade.

Na manchete dO País, o motivo da agitação: Água e luz com novos preços a partir de hoje em todo país”.

I heard on the National Radio and read in O País (the former public and the latter private) that the police did “not receive any request for a popular demonstration” for today in Maputo.

But the city is visibly more policed. There was a roadblock in Benfica, Xiquelene and Chopal.

There are few chapas [minibuses] circulating around Mahotas. I received a call from people who returned home after waiting for transport since early in the morning, with no success.

The worry is that 2008 happens again: the chapas made a protest that threw the city into convulsions.

The front page headline of O País, the motive for the nerves: Water and electricity with new prices from today in all of the country”.

Sociologist Carlos Serra, who was an important source of information in 2008, writes [pt]

Com voz calma, um representante do Governo esforçou-se no programa “Café da manhã” da Rádio Moçambique (7:30/8:00) por mostrar que o governo tudo tem feito para evitar que o preço do pão (mais caro a partir do dia 6, estável desde 2008) fique mais oneroso… Ouvintes do programa enviaram mensagens queixando-se da carestia de vida e lamentando a subida do preço do pão, “alimento do pobre”, escreveu um deles. O representante apelou aos ouvintes para procurarem substituir o pão por outros produtos, por exemplo pela batata doce.

pelos relatos que me vão chegando de vários pontos da cidade (Avenida de Moçambique, por exemplo), penso que esta é uma situação que vai exigir muito bom senso e grande prudência na gestão.

With a calm voice, a representative of the Government made an effort on the program “Breakfast” on Radio Mozambique (7:30/8:00) to show that the government had done everything to prevent the price of bread (more expensive as of the 6th, stable since 2008) from becoming more of a burden… Listeners of the program sent messages complaining of the high cost of living and lamenting the rise in the price of bread, “poor people's food”, wrote one of them. The representative appealed to listeners to look to substitute bread with other products, for example sweet potato.

Judging by the reports that are arriving to me from various parts of the city (Mozambique Avenue for example), I think this is a situation that will require much good sense and a great prudence in managing.

Twitter user BarataJorge reported

Linhas de telefonia móvel congestionadas, na cidade de Maputo.

The mobile network is congested, in the city of Maputo.

Another called TeknikNineMilli said

#Greve em maputo. É o q dá abusar das pessoas. A parte má, é q há gente a pilhar, vandalizar e etc.

#Strike in maputo. That was happens when you abuse people. The bad part, there are people who will loot, vandalize, etc.

Prolific twitter user Katembe is relaying reports of shooting, rock throwing and vandalism in the poor outlying neighborhoods of the city, like this one

Na EN4, carros e autocarros a ser atacados com pedras” / “isto está mal, nem dá pra pôr um pé fora de casa (Chamanculo)”

“On the EN4, cars and buses are being attacked with rocks” / “this is bad, one can't even take a step out of the house (Chamanculo)”

Freelance reporter Nastasya Tay tweeted

Rioting in township areas. Rubber bullets fired. Burning tyres on the roads, and a smoke haze rising up over Maputo from the fires.

Update – 12:15 pm Maputo time:

A citizen media Ushahidi platform has been launched by Jornal A Verdade (@verdademz). As of now, there are over 50 incidents among which reports of deaths, including of two children shot at Av. Acordos de Lusaka.

Update – 18:44 pm Maputo time:

A Verdade [The Truth, pt] released a statement from the Government of Mozambique, appealing to citizens for calm, as the night fell.

Updates by Paula Góes and Sara Moreira


  • Kathryn Payne Olson

    I’m locked up safely at home with 2 little boys who were evacuated from school because of this unrest over what, the price of bread?? Fortunately, the boys are glued to a blaring Cartoon Network and don’t hear the gun shots outside. I honestly do wonder if Mozambicans were educated better about health and wellness maybe pao wouldn’t be “the poor man’s food.” Bread has such little food value and you can eat beans for a week for the same price as one loaf of bread. I’ve been told I don’t understand, maybe I don’t but after this is all over, I plan to try to help at least my household staff of 5 people understand this little nutritional fact. I realize this is just representative of much larger issues and I’m just sad the average Mozambican isn’t offered the same safety assurance of the average expat………..

    • Janet Mackie

      Bread is already cooked and ready to eat, beans need to be soaked and boiled – water and fuel are also in short supply and on the rise. You are right – you (as in the expat community) don’t understand.

      • Kathryn Payne Olson

        As an vegetarian, I’m actually a master at cooking beans for my guards, my staff of 5 that I don’t even need and their extended families…………….but thanks for the tip. It is much easier to pass judgement than seek understand…………I’ll be sure to keep my ignorant comments to myself. All the best you and your endeavors.

  • This is very concerning. It reminds me of what happened in Chile after the February 2010 earthquake when people looted unnecessarily and rioting and arson ensued. I tend to think that when people so clearly “go overboard” with a protest, it is because there are underlying injustices and unattainable political conditions that find a way to be expressed in seemingly unrelated protests. Naturally, I’m not an expert on Mozambique and I don’t claim to know what is causing this. Regardless, it should make us reflect on whether there are deeper reasons to this.

  • Hi Felipe, Thank you for the comment. There are many underlying causes here. Some immediate and some less immediate. But as is appropriate, we’ll leave those for Mozambican commentators. As blogger Carlos Serra wrote before he retired for the night, “Each and every one of us is called upon to be a ‘social doctor’, taking an xray of the problem and searching to find causes and solutions.” He writes that one often diagnoses the problem as something outside of oneself, as something with its own life. But he concludes that the xray-ers need to xray themselves… We await more from him and others…

  • Thanks for posting all this news and info. This is grim and tragic news. I’ve a dreadful sense that we are seeing the first of what could be more such outbreaks of food-related violent civic action. The news from the major cereals growing countries in the last three months has been pessimistic. The price of wheat in international grain markets has been steadily rising. Bad weather in China, Russia, central Asia, of course Pakistan, prolonged drought conditions in parts of Australia and USA have meant that wheat is in short supply. So what happens to the poorer and more vulnerable populations, especially the urban poor. This is grim news from Mozambique, and it needs a firm and quick response from the government, African neighbours and international food and agriculture agencies.

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