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2000-03-06

Mozambique’s Twin Disasters: Floods and Debt

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Weather forecasters predicted renewed rain in the worst-hit areas of flooded Mozambique today, as a multinational relief operation battled to deliver aid to communities marooned by seas of mud. [includes rush transcript]

The prospect of more rain has been a major concern for aid workers as they race to ship essential supplies to communities weakened by hunger and disease. Helicopters have pulled more than 13,000 people from roofs and treetops just in the last week. The death toll is expected to soar into the thousands as water levels subside to reveal the drowned, and cases of malaria and cholera increase. Aid workers warn that many people may starve to death.

The West has been heavily criticized for its sluggish response to the disaster, with Secretary General Kofi Annan acknowledging last week that "the response could have been better."

Writer Joseph Hanlon outlines Mozambique’s political and economic challenges in his article "Strangling Mozambique: International Monetary Fund 'Stabilization' in the World’s Poorest Country." He says:

“Until 1992, Mozambique was a Cold War battlefield. A particularly brutal, decade-long war killed one million of Mozambique’s 15 million people and inflicted $20 billion in damages; it left Mozambique with a pitiful per capita GDP of less than $100. Renamo rebels, with the open backing of apartheid South Africa and right-wing U.S. businesspersons, and with covert U.S. government approval, destroyed 60 percent of the nation’s primary schools, half of all health posts and half of all rural shops. One of every three families was forced to flee their homes at least once during the decade-long war.

The cause of the ongoing suffering is IMF-imposed stabilization policies. As conditions for ending the civil war, the United States forced Mozambique to join the IMF and World Bank 1984 and then to impose a modified form of World Bank-mandated "structural adjustment" in 1987. That was not enough, however, and in 1990 Mozambique had to accept the much harsher IMF-controlled 'stabilization.' By then, Mozambique had also become the most aid-dependent country in the world; with the end of the Cold War and the end of East bloc assistance, virtually all foreign aid is 'conditional' on obedience to IMF and World Bank demands. So Mozambique must continue to toe the line.

The 1980 U.S. election of Ronald Reagan intensified the Cold War, and South Africa began to launch attacks on Mozambique in 1981. By 1984, the war had devastated the country."

Guest:

  • Joseph Hanlon, member of Jubilee 2000 in Britain and author of the book ??Peace Without Profit: How the IMF Blocks Rebuilding in Mozambique.
  • Mike Delaney, Director of Humanitarian Assistance, Oxfam International. Call 800.77.OXFAM.
  • Njoki Njehu, with 50 Years is Enough Network in Washington, D.C. Call: 202.544.9355.

Related links:

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

Weather forecasters predicted renewed rain in the worst hit areas of flooded Mozambique today, as a multinational relief operation battles to deliver aid to communities marooned by seas of mud. The prospect of more rain has been a major concern for aid workers as they race to ship essential supplies to communities weakened by hunger and disease. Helicopters have pulled more than 13,000 people from roofs and treetops just in the last week.

The death toll is expected to soar into the thousands, as water levels subside to reveal the drowned and cases of malaria and cholera increase. Aid workers warn that many people may starve to death. The West has been severely criticized for its sluggish response to the disaster, with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan saying last week that “the response could have been better.”

Joseph Hanlon joins us now. He has just returned from Mozambique, and we found him in London, England. In the last few years he has written several books on Mozambique. His latest is called Peace Without Profit: How the IMF Blocks Rebuilding in Mozambique. And in an article he did for the Multinational Monitor, giving us a little background, he wrote:

    “Until 1992, Mozambique was a Cold War battlefield. A particularly brutal, decade-long war killed one million of Mozambique’s fifteen million people and inflicted $20 billion in damages. Renamo rebels, with the open backing of apartheid South Africa and right-wing U.S. business people, and with covert U.S. government approval, destroyed 60% of the nation’s primary schools, half of all health posts and half of all rural shops. One of every three families was forced to flee their homes at least once during the decade-long war.

    "The cause of the ongoing suffering is IMF-imposed stabilization policies. As conditions for ending the civil war, the United States forced Mozambique to join the IMF and World Bank in 1984 and then to impose a modified form of World Bank-mandated ‘structural adjustment’ in ’87. That was not enough, however, and in 1990 Mozambique had to accept the much harsher IMF-controlled ‘stabilization.’ By then, Mozambique had also become the most aid-dependent country in the world.”

We are now joined by Joseph Hanlon. Welcome to Democracy Now!

JOSEPH HANLON: Good morning, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, you’ve just come from Mozambique. Can you describe the picture there today?

JOSEPH HANLON: Well, the water is beginning to go down slowly, and as the water goes down, it will reveal the amount of destruction that has taken place. Many miles of roads and railways have been destroyed or washed out. Factories have been destroyed. Fields have been destroyed. For the southern third of the country, this is going to be devastating for the economy, and it will take, I think, some time for this to be restored, some time for people to actually even to get back to their homes. Even now, people don’t know if anything is left of their own homes. And several hundred thousand people, at least, are surely homeless.

One of the things that, in a way, is most frightening is that these are many of the same people who were refugees during the war. And when the war ended seven years ago, they came back. They did their best to rebuild, and virtually all of that rebuilding work since the war has now been washed away, and they’re going to have to start again. And these are some of the poorest people in the world. Probably most of these refugees are living on less than a dollar a day and are subsistence farmers who have slowly, slowly rebuilt their lives. Now, they have to start again.

AMY GOODMAN: Joseph Hanlon, author of the book Peace Without Profit: How the IMF Blocks Rebuilding in Mozambique. That war, which devastated the country by ‘84, coming out of 1980 U.S. election of Ronald Reagan, which intensified the Cold War in South Africa, launching attacks on Mozambique in 1981.

We’re also joined on the telephone by Mike Delaney, who’s Director of Humanitarian Assistance for Oxfam International. He joins us from their headquarters in Boston. Mike Delaney, I’ve been seeing these ads you’ve been placing in the major newspapers for help for Mozambique. What has been the response, both of individuals, but also of governments?

MIKE DELANEY:

Yesterday we ran the first ad, in the New York Times Sunday edition, basically titled “Send a Lifeline to Mozambique,” and so far the American people have really responded quite impressively, and we’re again receiving a lot of calls of concern and support this morning.

AMY GOODMAN: What about countries?

MIKE DELANEY:

Well, so far, we’re looking at the response coming in from different countries. Most of that is done bilaterally, and that has escalated as the gravity of the situation has become apparent.

AMY GOODMAN: Joseph Hanlon, we talk about these “twin devastations” that are rocking Mozambique, one being the natural disaster — the floods, the cyclones, the rains — but the other being a more structural one, which has to do with how the West deals with Mozambique. Can you talk about that?

JOSEPH HANLON: Mozambique is really facing two structural crises. One is its debt, which is left over really from the apartheid era, and the second is conditionality, which is imposed by the IMF, which makes it very difficult to reconstruct.

Let’s start first with the debt problem. Mozambique is deeply in debt because of the apartheid onslaught. It borrowed money to defend its people against the apartheid state. Since the end of apartheid, Nelson Mandela has become president, he’s retired, he’s gone away, and yet the Mozambican people are still paying the costs of apartheid. Mozambique has had part of its debt cancelled; the IMF and the World Bank are now saying in April it will have a bit more of its debt cancelled. But even after the next debt cancellation, Mozambique will pay $1 million a week in debt service. This is paying off the debts that were taken to defend against apartheid. Now, it is crazy for Mozambique to be appealing for money to rebuild and to be paying $1 million a week in debt service payments. It makes no sense. And, in fact, one of the Nordic countries is, actually — instead of giving money to aid Mozambique, is actually giving money to Mozambique to help repay its debts.

So the first thing that Mozambique needs is debt cancellation. Britain has actually agreed now to cancel Mozambique’s debts. We think Italy is about to cancel Mozambique’s debts. But other countries have to do this, as well. It just doesn’t make sense.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the U.S.?

JOSEPH HANLON: The U.S. so far hasn’t promised to cancel Mozambique’s debt. And in a way, the problem is not national governments, because the debts to national governments are smaller than the debts to the World Bank and to the IMF. And the World Bank and the IMF are offering nothing so far.

What we saw with Hurricane Mitch in Latin America was that the World Bank and the IMF continued to collect money from those countries. Even as debt relief was — as flood relief was flowing in, they were still repaying the money. Now, what we need for Mozambique is that this debt should simply be written off. We should say that this is a Cold War debt. We should write it off. We should give Mozambique a chance to start again.

But what we’re saying is that we’ll write off a little bit of the debt, and then we’ll lend you some more money, because the other thing the IMF has said is: “Yes, we will rush in extra money to help you rebuild the roads.” But that’s not a grant. This is loans. The World Bank, with one voice, is saying, “We know you can’t repay your debts,” but the other voice is saying, “Well, our solution is to lend you more money, to get you deeper and deeper in debt.”

And all those new loans come with conditions. And the conditions are that Mozambique cannot control the development of its own economy, that the free market must rule. Now, what the free market ruling in Mozambique means is that all development is concentrated in the capital, which is not affected by these floods at all. The zones that are affected by the floods, the private sector is not interested in. There is no bank credit in those areas.

How are the small businesspeople of those areas going to restore shops, restore other businesses? Who is going to develop those areas? And yet, the IMF says, “Well, if the free market is not interested in developing those areas, then those areas simply shouldn’t be developed.” So what you’re getting is an incredibly distorted development in Mozambique where one-third of the country’s entire GDP is in the capital, two-thirds of proposed investment is in the capital, and the government is not allowed to try to redistribute that development to poorer areas.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to compare what the U.S. and other countries — how they’re responding right now to this crisis in Mozambique to how the countries were responding to Kosovo. Mike Delaney of Oxfam International?

MIKE DELANEY:

Well, it’s a very interesting comparison, because one of the things that we were looking at in these past weeks as seeing the gravity of the situation and not seeing the same response that we have seen in other places, so including Mitch or Kosovo or Timor. And that was part of the reason that we felt it important to get the word out this weekend and explain the story a bit in that ad. We feel that, especially as it relates to, I think, getting back to this point on the debt, there’s a real opportunity here for people in the United States to take this tragedy and move it into an opportunity by urging their Congress people, who are coincidentally looking at this debt issue this week in Congress, a debt relief that would unlock $250 million for Mozambique over the next twenty years. And if the people of the United States urge their Congress people to do this, we could both have emergency response, as well as having a response that would effect the long-term sustainability of the country.

AMY GOODMAN: In terms of responses, I wanted to bring in a third guest, Njoki Njehu, who is the head of the Fifty Years Is Enough campaign, who’s mobilizing for some major actions against the IMF and World Bank in Washington in April. Njoki Njehu, your response to the crisis in Mozambique right now?

NJOKI NJEHU:

The crisis in Mozambique, of course, is heartbreaking, and I think that my colleagues have really spoken to some of the issues that are underlying. We saw a similar crisis in Honduras and Nicaragua after Hurricane Mitch. And it was very clear — this was less than two years ago — it is very clear that one of the first actions that the international community can do after doing massive humanitarian response is debt cancellation, and it’s looking at how a country like Mozambique — or in the case of Mitch, Nicaragua and Honduras — pick up and move on after the crisis has ended.

AMY GOODMAN: Njoki Njehu, I’m going to break in for a second. We have to allow stations to identify themselves. But when we come back, we’ll ask what you’re doing in Washington, D.C. in these next few weeks. Njoki Njehu with Fifty Years Is Enough Network; also on the line with us Mike Delaney from Oxfam International and Joseph Hanlon, member of Jubilee 2000 in Britain, has just returned from Mozambique and is author of the book Peace Without Profit: How the IMF Blocks Rebuilding in Mozambique. You’re listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! After that discussion, we will go to California, to look at what could be one of the most draconian laws in the country, if passed tomorrow: Prop 21. And we’ll look at what it means for young people in California. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. I’m Amy Goodman. As we continue on the issue of Mozambique and the terrible crisis it’s facing, the water levels extremely high, death toll expected to soar into the thousands, cases of malaria and cholera increasing. Our guests are Joseph Hanlon of Jubilee 2000 in Britain, Mike Delaney of Oxfam International, and Njoki Njehu of the Fifty Years is Enough Network in Washington, D.C.

Njoki Njehu, your plans?

NJOKI NJEHU:

We plan to make sure that when the World Bank and the IMF meet in Washington, that people from around the United States and people from around the world are here to bear witness, if you will, and to talk about their concerns, their very grave concerns, about the policies and practices of these institutions. We are planning massive mass nonviolent direct action. We are planning teach-ins on the issues, structural adjustment programs, debt, environmental destruction of the World Bank. We are also planning teach-ins on nonviolence training, civil disobedience, media and legal work, all of —

AMY GOODMAN: Now, the event begins on April 9th, with a major rally for cancellation of the debt?

NJOKI NJEHU:

Yes. Jubilee 2000 USA has called for a national mobilization on April 9th on the Mall in Washington, and that marks the beginning of a week of events that will be happening that are related and unrelated to focus attention on the spring meetings of the World Bank and the IMF.

AMY GOODMAN: And then, when are the civil disobediences going to take place?

NJOKI NJEHU:

The main mass action is on April 16 and 17. But the week includes the “Economic Way of the Cross” by the Religious Working Group, includes a Latin America solidarity conference, includes an IFG International Forum on Globalization teach-in, and includes teach-ins by the Mobilization for Global Justice, which is the coalition that has come together to plan for April here in Washington, D.C.

AMY GOODMAN: I understand these planning meetings are getting more and more packed. Do you think we’re going to see something on the scale of Seattle?

NJOKI NJEHU:

Well, we will see definitely a lot more people. There’s no way of telling. We do know that there are people around the country who are planning. And if your listeners go to www.a16.org, they can see examples of where people are coming from: caravans and road shows from Florida all the way to Montreal; buses from Plattsburgh, New York and from Rochester, New York, from Asheville; and people riding the Greyhound from Austin, Texas.

There’s a lot of planning and a lot of commitment from people around the world and around United States in particular, which is significant, because these institutions don’t make policies in the U.S. Their policies are implemented by the U.S. government, but they do not impose policies the way that they do in the global South through structural adjustment programs and other austerity measures.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Njoki Njehu, I want to thank you for being with us. Again, that website, www.a16.org. Mike Delaney of Oxfam, what is your website or contact number?

MIKE DELANEY:

It’s www.oxfamamerica.org.

AMY GOODMAN: And phone number for people who want to call, who are concerned about the situation in Mozambique?

MIKE DELANEY:

1 (800) 77OXFAM. 1 (800) 77OXFAM.

AMY GOODMAN: Joseph Hanlon, final comment from Britain, having just returned from Mozambique?

JOSEPH HANLON: The thing that Mozambique needs most now is money. And money will come from debt cancellation, and money will come from additional help from the international community. But I would call on people in the United States to go farther than is even being proposed in Congress, because Congress does not want to cancel all of Mozambique’s debt yet. We have to cancel all of the debt and give Mozambique a chance to really start again.

AMY GOODMAN: Joseph Hanlon, author of Peace Without Profit: How the IMF Blocks Rebuilding in Mozambique.

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