Weekly newspaper Savana - out every Friday - has a rumour column on its back page, called 'Diz-se... Diz-se' - taking a sideways and often cryptic look at current events in Mozambique. It's well worth reading but can be hard to decipher. Here we translate this week's edition - and provide an explanation, where we are able, of the cryptic elements.
Note to subscribers: Thank you so much for your patience over the last year, when this translation hardly appeared at all. This week's appearance may or may not signal a regular return. If we do manage to do it regularly, you will all be owed a free year's subscription. More info on that to come. For now, enjoy this week's Diz-Se:
Another tuskless elephant was inaugurated this week, this time in the province which became world news due to its eccentric statistics. This is a gift from the Chinese friends, apparently. It would be great if in real life there were free lunches.
Reference to the airport in Gaza province, southern Mozambique, inaugurated by (and named after) Filipe Nyusi this week. A tuskless elephant is a white elephant, but even more so. It was paid for by a grant, not a loan, from China; but can the ‘gift’ really be taken at face value?
The company landed with this project, in addition to the heavy bills from Nacala and the airports in Maputo, continues, like many others, to be benchmarked to the dollar, although it accepts local currency. And to make life even harder for the infrastructure users, those who ship cargo on the national carrier pay twice. To the carrier and the airport. Sometimes on entry and on exit, as in Beira. To each their daily Kudumba…
The state-owned Aeroportos de Moçambique will struggle to make the new Gaza airport break even, in addition to the losses it is making at Nacala and, it seems, even in Maputo (where South African Airlines recently stopped flying). Kudumba is a Mozambican company strongly linked to the ruling Frelimo party. It has been given several concessions to operate scanners checking cargo at Mozambique's ports of entry, including airports. Kudumba has attracted criticism for charging exorbitant fees — which it can do with the monopoly granted it by the state.
What is also causing a stir, in this project worthy of the Guinness Book of White Elephants, is the name given to the airport. The decision has received strong criticism, even within the ruling party. One can only guess why…
Reference to the general outcry at the news that the airport would be named after President Filipe Nyusi — something he claimed he personally opposed.
Regarding the airport name, the mayor of Xai-Xai said that there had been a broad public consultation in Gaza, but he failed to present a single name from the said list. Some people think that, as Gaza is already in 2040, the consultation was more sophisticated. The usual commentators squirmed as best as they could to please the boss (Nyusi), but came out badly in the picture.
’Gaza is already in 2040’ is another reference to the electoral registration that would only have been possible had Gaza already had the population that it is predicted to have in 2040 — but did not have in 2019. Perhaps as well as ghost voters, the province also has ghost poll participants who expressed their support for naming the new airport after Nyusi. Something even the President’s regular propagandists apparently had trouble justifying.
At a time when people struggle to pay their bills, there were quite a few who managed to pay the highly inflated tickets for the inaugural flight. Crisis, what crisis?
The unwary believe that Mozambique's biggest problem is the hidden debts case now on trial in the BO [Machava Maximum Security Prison – Brigada Operativa – B.O]. Wait until one day the true story of digital migration and of so many other infrastructure projects, financed with loans granted by the eastern power which is always in the hearts of the red activists.
The eastern power here is China — but ‘always in the hearts’ seems to be a jocular reference to the diplomatic storm in a teacup this week when the Japanese ambassador complained that his flag was not being flown at a ceremony connected to major Japanese investments and donations. Trying to defuse the row, Nyusi said the Japanese flag is always in Mozambique’s hearts. But the Chinese are probably closer to the hearts of Frelimistas with a lust for money with few strings attached in the way of transparency.
On the economic front there is some bad news for Mozambique. Savannah Resources, a mineral exploration and mining company, will abandon its operations in Mozambique to focus on the exploration of lithium in Portugal. It is also exiting the consortium with Rio Tinto.
A straightforward news story. The head of Savannah Resources told the editor of this translation that the decision is because capital markets prefer pure-play commodities companies, and it makes more sense for his company to focus on its lithium project in Portugal. Time will tell if the Mozambican concessions, which are now fully held by Rio Tinto, ever come to anything.
Judge Efigenio announced this week a new schedule, a move that results from Madame Leao's illness. The court had been interrogating the defendants linked to the real estate projects and once the defendant began to feel unwell, the court was forced to revise the calendar. But the name of the most anticipated defendant does not feature in the new list of defendants, raising speculation about an imminent "legal/political agreement" behind the scenes, to keep him away from the BO. This is the second time his name has disappeared from the list. The first time around, it was said to be at the request of a venerable member of the Supreme Court.
The missing name is that of former President Armando Guebuza, supposed to be the final witness to be questioned in the trial. This is the second time his name has disappeared from the list; the first time, it was replaced when legal obstacles to his being called were overcome. It is now expected that he will be reinstated, according to unnamed sources cited by regime mouthpiece Notícias newspaper — who say he will still be the last to testify, scheduled for 28 December.
Last year, at the height of the first covid-19 crisis, public opinion, led by an uninformed and often chauvinistic elite, stood behind the closure of airports t international airlines, and the closure of schools. It was the others who were bringing in the infections. Now, with short memories, they turn up their nose at the international panic over a variant whose consequences no one yet knows. There are headless chickens at all latitudes…
There has been widespread condemnation in southern Africa and further afield of the western world’s shutting down of flights from the area. Savana is saying that Mozambique was just as rash in closing its borders when the covid panic first started. Fair enough, but we are all older and wiser by now…
Half the world is in awe at the performance of the Efigenio and Sheila double act. There's just no ‘A’ grade for the hardworking clerk who would do well to do an apprenticeship in the Brooklyn court. There, the minutes came out on time, as soon as the session was over. An anachronism which would save endless evenings in the company of the mosquitoes in the BO.
Efigenio is the judge and Sheila the chief prosecutor in the hidden debts trials. Perhaps if transcripts were made available of proceedings in the BO as they were in the trial of Jean Boustany in New York, journalists wouldn’t have to spend their days physically attending the trial (though they can also watch it streamed on YouTube).
If it doesn't hurt to ask, is it true that in the defence bench we only have the third class, because the good ones prefer oil and gas contracts?
Oil and gas may well have snaffled Mozambique’s best lawyers, but some of the defendants in the hidden debts trials can probably afford decent counsel — particularly if, as is widely suspected, they are also in league with Privinvest.