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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March, 2005, 13:14 GMT
Mozambique: Ten years of progress
By Peter Biles
BBC News, Mozambique

A journey down the Beira Corridor was a dice with death at the height of the war in Mozambique in the 1980s.

1991 famine victim in Mozambique
In the early 1990s Mozambique was wracked by famine
South African-backed Renamo rebels regularly mounted guerrilla attacks and ambushed convoys.

Eventually, thousands of Zimbabwean troops were deployed to guard this key road and rail link which extends from land-locked Zimbabwe to the port city of Beira.

These days, the Beira Corridor is just what it should be; a good, fast road, used by thousands of people every day, and part of an improving infrastructure, designed to generate prosperity.

Travelling along the road provides a snapshot of ordinary life in Mozambique, where peace has taken root.

'Fantastic' growth

"Mozambique has made huge progress and the changes are incredible," says Gregor Binkert, a senior World Bank economist in the capital, Maputo.

During the war everything was totally destroyed - now you can see them producing, and there is hope
Prof Jose Negaro, Eduardo Mondlane University
"These changes are visible in both the urban and rural areas. Roads have been rebuilt since the war, and provincial capitals now have electricity from the giant Cahora Bassa Dam."

Mozambique's economy has been growing at 8% a year since 1996, a performance which Mr Binkert describes as "fantastic".

Mozambique is still one of Africa's poorest countries, but poverty levels have fallen dramatically in the last eight years, from 69% to 54%.

Interestingly, the most noticeable difference has been in the countryside.

"During the war everything was totally destroyed. People had nothing. But now you can see them producing, and there is hope," says Professor Jose Negrao a rural development specialist at Eduardo Mondlane University in Maputo.

Huge challenge

Mozambique was totally dependent on foreign aid state when it emerged from the civil war in the early 1990s.

Joachim Chissano - former Mozambique president
Former President Chissano was popular with foreign donors
The country was politically divided, and the challenges for the government were enormous.

But under President Joaquim Chissano's leadership, the ruling Frelimo party followed sound economic policies, and the country became increasingly popular with international donors.

Mr Binkert says there was a time when the Mozambican government would wait for donors to come up with a project. "But now they have their policies and priorities, and the dialogue is really good."

President Chissano stepped down after the elections last December, and his successor, Armando Guebuza, has appointed a new government with more provincial experience.

"We have political stability, a democratic process, and no threat of war," says Elvino Tomo from the university Law Faculty in Maputo.

However, he believes there is an expectation that the president will fight corruption in a more effective way.

With 2,500 miles of Indian Ocean coastline, Mozambique is stunningly beautiful and its potential can often be best appreciated from the air.

Sugar push

Flying into the town of Marremeo on the banks of the Zambezi - 1,000 kilometres north of Maputo - it is possible to see the vast expanse of the Sena sugar estate, jointly owned by the government and a Mauritian consortium.

The country needs a 'fair trade' period to build up production
Mary Robinson, Oxfam International President
Mozambique is a low-cost sugar producer, but with the possibility of developing an internationally competitive sugar industry.

However, restricted access to the key European Union market, and the EU policy of dumping refined sugar on Africa markets is holding back Mozambique's growth in this important sector in which more than 26,000 workers are employed.

Only 16% of the country's total sugar exports are able to get on to the European market.

Mozambique's Prime Minister Luisa Diogo says the rehabilitation of the sugar industry is a priority in terms of employment, and she insists that her country needs short-term preferential treatment on the issue of trade barriers.

By 2012 however, once production has been built up, it is hoped Mozambique could compete internationally on equal terms.

'Fair trade' call

Downstream from Marremeo, another sugar mill, Luabo, has remained closed since the war. It will not be economically viable to re-open the mill unless Mozambique gets a better price for its sugar on world markets.

Mozambique president Armando Guebuza
President Guebuza has shifted policies to a more provincial focus
The former Irish president, Mary Robinson, who is now President of Oxfam International, sympathises with Mozambique's plight over sugar.

"The country needs a 'fair trade' period to build up production," she said during a visit last week.

So the clear message from Mozambique is that each country in Africa has specific needs in the fight against poverty, and conditions that must be met.

"You can't just come with a 'blueprint'," argues Jose Negrao. "If there was a single solution for this continent, we would not be where we are today."

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