Mozambique's President Answers Citizens’ Questions Online, but Avoids Difficult Ones

A screenshot of one of the “Ask the President” videos on Facebook.

The president of Mozambique, a country where less than 5% of the population has internet access, has adopted a new method of communicating with citizens online, named “Ask the President”.

Filipe Nyusi has held the top office since 2015, coming to power at a time when the country faced a political crisis characterized by a military conflict between the government and opposition party RENAMO.

Nyusi’s government also faces serious economic woes, sparked after the discovery of a billion dollars of hidden debt contracted by the previous president, Armando Guebuza. These debts led to donor countries suspending financial assistance on which Mozambique depends heavily.

On Facebook, Nyusi has been recording videos inviting Mozambicans to ask him what they want to know. So far, he has answered three people's questions, replying to Meque Levi, Lara Chicha, and Daudo Saide. Two were complimentary of his performance and the third, asking that the president come see poor local living conditions, was met with the president's vague promise that “someone would be there.”

‘When can clarification of the public debt be expected'?

But although the videos were positive, the questions posed in comments below contained numerous criticisms. Marcos Miony wanted to know about the scandal over the hidden debts:

Até quando se espera o esclarecimento da dívida pública, que até no olhar dos cidadãos suspeita-se que a lentidão deriva do facto de uma das siglas ABCD possa pertencer a sua excelência!

When can clarification of the public debt be expected, as even in the citizens’ eyes it is suspected that the slowness comes from the fact that one of letters ABCD [an acronym which refers to the initials of those suspected of being involved in the fraud] may belong to his excellency!

Fatima Mimbire, from the Centre for Public Integrity, a local research institute which investigates corruption, asked:

Senhor presidente, quando é que vamos ter uma auditoria aos projectos de exploração de recursos minerais no país, para assegurar que as empresas estão a pagar o que devem pagar ao Estado? Neste momento de crise há que apertar o cinto e isso implica que temos assegurar que todos pagam o que devem pagar ao Estado, em termos de impostos.

Mr. President, when is it that we will have an audit of the projects involving mineral resource exploitation in the country, to ensure that the companies are paying what they should pay to the state? At this time of crisis it is necessary to tighten our belts and this implies that we have to ensure that everyone pays what they should pay to the state, in terms of taxes.

‘Why is Mr. President letting his people die rapidly like this?’

Lucas Chave questioned the president about the high cost of living:

Excelência Sr. Presidente da República, espero ser a sua conta oficial da rede social, tenho uma preocupação muito pontual a colocar que merece uma atenção especial, falo sobre o custo de vida que levamos, ate quando o povo moçambicano vai se sentir aliviado? Preço dos produtos alimentares tende cada dia que passa a subir, para não falar dos impostos e serviços.

Your Excellency Mr. President of the Republic, I hope I am at your official social media account, I have a very pressing concern to raise that deserves special attention, I’m talking about the cost of living that we face, when will Mozambique’s people feel relief? The price of food products tends to increase every passing day, not to mention taxes and services.

Similarly, Cris Smart Ebenezer Malate asked:

A minha pergunta é simples: porquê é o Sr Presidente deixa o seu povo morrer a passos galopantes assim? o povo que o elegeu, a qual o Sr apelidou de patrão está a sofrer e muito. O preço de pão subiu, os produtos alimentares de primeira necessidade subiram, a EDM agravou as tarifas de energia, o chapa está prestes a subir. Será que o Sr Presidente se alegra pelo sofrimento do seu povo?

My question is simple: Why is Mr. President letting his people die rapidly like this? The people who elected him, for whom he is the leader, are suffering, and a lot. The price of bread rose, [prices of] food products of basic necessity have risen, EDM [Electricidade de Moçambique, an energy company] has worsened energy prices, the [price of] transport is about to rise. Is Mr. President pleased by the suffering of his people?

‘Questions and criticism…are better than compliments, because they oblige us to reflect.’

Valentim Victor, a resident of Zambézia province in the centre of the country, was concerned by the quality of the roads:

Parabéns Excia, Moçambique já merecia um Presidente com esta humildade, interractividade com com o povo, mas gostaria de saber se existe um plano de reabilitar a estrada N1 em especial no troço Gorongosa-Caia? E se existe também um plano asfaltar o estrada Morrumbala-Zero?

Congratulations, Excellency, Mozambique finally deserved a president with this humility, interactivity with the people, but I would like to know if there is a plan to renovate the road N1 especially in the Gorongosa-Caia section? And if there is a plan to asphalt the Morrumbala-Zero road?

And some, such as Julião João Cumbane, defended the notion of criticism in and of itself:

As perguntas e a crítica, ainda que sejam mal feitas e nos causem alguma irritação à primeira, são melhores que os elogios, porque nos obrigam a reflectir. Os elogios têm o seu valor, quando são genuínos, porque nos informam de que trilhamos um bom caminho. Mas nem sempre é possível distinguir um elogio genuíno de uma adulação. Já a crítica, mesmo que motivada por inveja, encerra sempre algo de bom. Eu valorizo mais a crítica e os questionamentos do que os elogios, porque com eles aprendo mais.

Questions and criticism, although they may be badly formed and cause us some irritation at first, are better than compliments, because they oblige us to reflect. Compliments have their value, when they are genuine, because they tell us we are taking a good path. But it is not always possible to distinguish a genuine compliment from flattery. Criticism, even that motivated by envy, always contains something good. I value criticism and questions more than compliments, because with them I learn more.

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