by Joséphine Hébert
In the International Development world, “youth” constitutes a critical variable to look at in any given country. Policy makers believe that more educated generations with better health and economic conditions than their parents are the absolute precondition for achieving long-term economic and social development. They are also aware that a frustrated youth is a serious threat to political stability and economic growth.
However, “youth” is a very broad subject that could be tackled from numerous angles. In this opinion piece I am sharing my understanding of what makes Mozambican youth so promising. I certainly do not have a full and comprehensive knowledge of the conditions and expectations of all young Mozambicans. My point of view mainly embraces the stories of young urbanites, some of them being friends, colleagues, people from the civil society, young entrepreneurs, or simply strangers I observed during my stay in Maputo. Still, I think that all of them have significant stories to share that can say a lot about this country’s future.
In Mozambique, young people between 15 and 24 years of age represent around 20 percent of the country’s population. Together, they form a new generation, the first that was not confronted with colonisation or the 16-years-long civil war that devastated Mozambique until 1992. Statistics show that they enjoyed better access to education and health services than previous generations. As anywhere else in the world, they are also more connected and master the use of new media and social networks (this is mostly true in urban areas where about 35 percent of the total population currently resides; projections point to a share of 50 percent by 2040).
This generation has been significantly shaped by Mozambique’s economic boom at the beginning of the 21st century: they are full of hope for their future, better skilled than previous generations and importantly, more prone to self-critique than their parents regarding their relation with Mozambique’s history, politics and traditions. An interesting case in point of this evolution is the success of the film “Virgin Margarida” in 2012. Showing the dark sides of the construction of Mozambique as a nation, the film constitutes one of the first alternative narrative about the country’s recent history and therefore mainly thematises the youngest generations now questioning the FRELIMO’s official version of the story2.
New relations with traditions and with Mozambique’s recent past also impact gender inequalities. Indeed, colonial times and FRELIMO’s ideal of “the good Mozambican Woman” shaped very conservative roles for women and left few spaces for proper education and independence. Today, the relationship between traditional structures and the empowerment of women and girls is still challenging, but young women are studying and are eager to be independent and to succeed in their career. Of course, gendered violence, child marriage, teenage pregnancy and all kinds of gender-based prejudices exist and are a strong preoccupation. For women, formal access to land and employment is much more limited than for men. Even though the big changes are happening in the capital Maputo, and are mostly limited to privileged middle-class girls, things are also slowly changing in terms of legal reforms, sociocultural change and improved economic prospects for families in the rest of the country4.
However, in contrast to the expectations of rapid development and the significantly higher standards of living created during the last decade, this promising generation is now facing massive unemployment against the backdrop of latent military conflict between the FRELIMO and the main opposition party, political scandals of corruption and nepotism and sharp economic crisis with high unemployment and inflation rates. This somewhat undermines the promise of a better future5. Indeed, a hidden-debt scandal became public during the summer of 2016, involving high state and FRELIMO officials and impacting foreign investors and international organisations’ trust. The government contracted several loans illegally (i.e. without the approval of the Parliament) to finance newly created stated-owned companies, such as the fishing company EMATUM. Investigation revealed that boats bought for fishing activities never left Maputo’s port and the opposition suspects that it covers unofficial military interventions of the FRELIMO against its rival party, the RENAMO. Due to a sharp decrease in international gas’ prices, the State was not able to reimburse, which the government had to recognise publicly. The World Bank estimates that the scandal has halved economic growth in the country in 20166. The local currency (“Metical”) lost almost half of its value, change reserves decreased dramatically and inflation exploded, strongly impacting Mozambicans’ living standard.