Blog: Hungry Mozambicans victim of donor policy

Donor countries, including the Netherlands, suspended their payments to Mozambique in anger last week when an unprecedented corruption case came to the light. Leaders of the governing Frelimo party borrowed $ 2 billion, unknown to IMF and its own parliament, for personal gain. In doing so, they plunged the vulnerable country into a deep debt crisis. The millions of Mozambicans, who have hardly any food left due to an extreme drought caused by El Niño, are under threat of having to pay the price. This must not happen. Donor countries are accessories to this fraud, as they have unilaterally focused on business deals in Mozambique out of their own interest, while losing sight of the conditions for good governance. It is now time for them to accept their responsibility.

When I was travelling through Mozambique last week I saw how an increasing number of people are becoming dependent on food aid. At the same time, a political crisis is tearing the country apart, with violence breaking out between the old rival parties, Frelimo and Renamo. The loan crisis is added to the already existing economic crisis, which is increasingly bringing the country’s development to a standstill. This leads to a toxic cocktail, which the Mozambican citizens somehow have to survive.

The drought is a natural disaster, to which large-scale emergency aid is the unavoidable answer. But the leaders and donor countries can be held responsible for the corruption and political chaos. After the discovery of enormous natural gas supplies some six years ago, the leaders in Mozambique as well as donor countries fell under the spell of the billions of dollars that could be made. The Netherlands also joined the queue of trade missions, chasing attractive contracts, entirely in the spirit of the Rutte-Samson government: trade and investments.

This does not mean to say that trade and investment can't help poor countries progress. However, this only works when a number of crucial conditions are met: good governance and guarantees that good contracts are signed, so that the population benefits from the natural resources in the country. In addition, businesses have to pay tax and respect human rights and sustainability. These conditions have been neglected in Mozambique. The donor countries are therefore mainly weeping crocodile tears. They now have to put the interest of developing countries first again instead of their own business interest, and in the negotiations about resuming payments to Mozambique they will have to demand solid guarantees for good governance.

It is tragic that the Netherlands, which once led the promotion of good governance, has lost sight of these conditions and unilaterally puts the emphasis on investments over and over again. Other donor countries also mainly pursue their own interest, with dramatic consequences like the ones we now see in Mozambique. Ironically, the € 2 billion fraud was partly made possible by a Dutch trust company and two London-based banks.

Without good governance and a responsible attitude of the rich countries, the presence of natural resources in poor countries is still mainly a curse for the population. In Africa it is an exception that the local population gets the profits from mineral resources. Mining companies hardly ever pay taxes, which means there is no money for education, care and the improvement of the infrastructure in order to promote economic growth.

To turn the tide, we will have to enable the citizens in these countries to check up on their government and keep it under control if necessary. We have to support local groups which carry out investigations, set up alternative audit offices, support the media, etc. And the government has to acquire the knowledge that enables it to understand in detail in which business deals the country gets involved. That is the kind of development cooperation for which increasingly less money is available. This is a mistake for which the poor population in Mozambique now looks set to pay the price.

This must not happen. We must make sure that the € 2 billion fraud is not paid for by Mozambican women like Graça, whom I met along the road in Mozambique. She was an 18-year-old woman, who returned with her sister from the arid land with a bucket of rotting tubers.  They had dug them up from a pool of mud. They had never eaten them before, and did not know what they were called. "We're going to prepare them for tonight," she said. "We've got nothing else left to eat."

It is a hungry winter in Mozambique. Until March, nearly two million Mozambicans will depend on food aid. This aid must not be hampered by a corrupt government and a tragic miscalculation by donor countries.

Donor countries must ensure now that those who have committed the fraud are punished for their own crimes. The theft in poor countries, by both local leaders and businesses that are interested only in maximum profit, must end. And donor countries must finally prioritize good governance, rather than self-interest.

Author: Farah Karimi, General Director, Oxfam Novib.


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