The very different fortunes of Rwanda and Mozambique


On an October 24-26 visit to Mozambique, Rwandan President Paul Kagame was praised for the progress his country has made since the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, in which an estimated 800,000 people were slaughtered in a 100-day bloodbath. After bilateral talks were held between Kagame and President Filipe Nyusi last week, Mozambique Minister of Foreign Affairs Oldemiro Marques Júlio Baloi lauded Rwanda as an example to fellow African countries, commending the small nation for maintaining a process of rapid development over the 20-plus years since the atrocity.

And not without good reason. Rwanda has barely looked back from the dark days of the early nineties. More than two decades on from one of the bloodiest genocides in recent history, the country’s economy is continuing to improve. Poverty has fallen rapidly, leaving many Rwandans living healthier and happier lives.

Although much of this has been down to a massive injection of foreign aid pumped into the country in the years after the genocide, the Rwandan government has manged the funds it has received extremely well, cutting child mortality rates, while boosting life expectancy, literacy and access to healthcare. At a time when many complain bitterly about money sent to impoverished African nations ending up in the pockets of corrupt local officials, Rwanda is a good example of how foreign aid can be successfully used to turn a country around when delivered and spent correctly.

In Mozambique, things are not looking quite so rosy despite having experienced similar upheavals in the past. In 2013, opposition movement Renamo launched a new armed insurgency against the Frelimo government after substantial gas reserves were discovered offshore. Since then, violence has flared up in fits and starts across the country between poorly-observed ceasefires, resulting in dozens of deaths and the displacement of thousands of refugees into Malawi. As well as bloodshed, the insurgency has worsened social divisions between supporters of the two sides and has increased political instability.

This is not the first time Mozambique is torn by violence. The ruling Frelimo party fought a protracted civil war against insurgent Renamo militants between 1977 and 1992, a conflict that left more than a million dead. Renamo forces were accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity as means of destabilizing the government. And while the conflict was solved in the early 1990s with the end of the Cold War, tensions bubbled up after Renamo refused to recognize the results of the 2014 general elections despite being considered free and fair by international observers. Only last week, the two sides failed to come to an agreement in the latest round of talks meant to end the insurgency. Negotiators have little confidence the result will be any different when discussions resume on November 7th. During the most recent round of discussions, the two sides did not even meet, with negotiators acting as go-betweens ferrying messages between each party.

The continued uncertainty created by the renewed Renamo insurgency has damaged the country’s economy, with foreign direct investment down by 24% last year, exports off 14%, and growth falling to 6.3%, its lowest level since 2009. To make matters worse, illegal fishing off the country’s coast is currently causing economic losses of around $67 million per year, which has led the government to purchase through the EMATUM agency patrol vessels from French shipyard CMN to protect national waters. The acquisition of patrol vessels, despite being invaluable to securing the country’s coastline and its massive offshore natural gas reserves, has pitted the country against international creditors who are unwilling to foot the bill and are threatening to stop lending to the country.

The differences between Rwanda and Mozambique could hardly be starker right now. Buoyed by large amounts of foreign aid from a guilt-ridden international community feeling culpable for the Hutu/Tutsi civil war, Rwanda has managed to prosper where many assumed it would fail. By contrast, Mozambique has been ignored by the international community for decades, rendering the country incapable of harnessing its considerable natural resources.

But despite the ongoing conflict and natural disasters that have plagued Mozambique for as long as most of its residents can remember, there is hope. Growth is expected to rebound there next year, and a chance remains that the country’s investment in patrols off its coastline could help save its fishing industry.

Perhaps most promising for Mozambique’s economy is a deal struck by BP and Italy’s Eni that will see the two energy giants buy liquefied natural gas from the massive gas field located just off the country’s coastline. The 20-year deal offers Mozambique the best chance it is likely to get to lift itself out of poverty and become a middle-income state.

In a few years’ time, if the country can manage its new-found wealth effectively, there’s a good chance that the performance of Rwanda’s economy won’t seem quite so remarkable to members of Mozambique’s government.