Mozambican Youth: Apathetic or Aware?
November 23, 2010 1 Comment
Nyeleti Honwana, Columnist
While in the developed world the internet has become the main vehicle of social networking, in developing countries, texting is the thing. In Mozambique for example, having Facebook or Twitter is not nearly as useful as having free SMS (texts).
With Mozambique as, arguably, one of the most stable African countries today, one might ask, why wouldn’t the youth be apathetic, I mean why even ask the question? Well it comes down to history. Mozambique, independent for 35 years, has seen three generations of young people during its independence, each making a substantial contribution to its history. The first, Generation of the Liberation Struggle (1963), fought for the freedom of the then colony. The second, Generation of the 8th of March (1977) were communist comrades, anti-tribalism and fought for the continued unity of the country during the civil war. The third (and current) has been dubbed the Generation of Turn Over/ Change by the President. They are supposed to bring the new wave of development in the country–getting involved in politics and social issues and promoting health (HIV/ AIDS is a major problem in Mozambique).
But this generation has been the most socially and politically uninvolved generation in the history of the country. The name Generation of Change is more a running joke than anything else because it is largely believed that Mozambican youth are politically disengaged and apathetic. However, on Wednesday, September 1st of this year, Mozambican youth in the capital city of Maputo showed, in big numbers, their profound disappointment with the economic policies of the government organized through the extensive use of texting.
Mozambicans have seen the rise in prices of basic services and commodities in the past months, as the value of the national currency dropped tremendously. On August 27th, the national public news channel announced that on September 6th the price of bread would rise by one metical, the equivalent of 0.03 dollars. With 70 percent of the population living below the poverty line, this increase seemed to many the final straw.
In the days leading up to September 1st, a number of texts were sent out anonymously telling people to protest against the high cost of living (including rising bread, fuel and milk prices) and as a demonstration against the President, who is largely perceived as having done shockingly little to improve the standard of living of poor people. The texts varied from rallying cries, spoofs of the national anthem and radical denunciation of the President himself.
On Wednesday morning, Maputo was a ghost town. Shops remained closed, gas stations were abandoned and the infamous “chapas” (mini-buses that serve as the city’s number one form of public transportation) were nowhere to be seen. It was evident that the protest had begun. At 9:00 AM reports started coming out describing hundreds of people, led largely by young men, marching on the outskirts of the city, making their way to the city center. What they found waiting for them were police forces armed and ready to open fire. From 10:00 in the morning to passed midday, distant gunfire could be heard throughout the city. The protest lasted three days, and each day brought with it a new wave of texts rallying supporters and urging them to continue the struggle. When the dust cleared, thirteen people had been killed, 300 injured and 224 arrested, according to the Health Minister.
The protest was reminiscent of 2008, when rioters and armed forces clashed on the streets of Maputo, resulting in four deaths and over 100 people injured. After these riots, the government abandoned its plans to raise fuel prices. This time around, the government insisted that the price hikes were irreversible. However, just a week after the protest, they went back and reversed the decision. In other words, the youth protests once again forced the government to reverse an important policy decision.
In view, the riots showed two key things: first, that the President, Armando Guebuza, who won a land slide victory in 2009 with 79 percent of the vote, is not as popular as he believed; and second, and most importantly, that the youth have the power to effect change, be it in a positive or negative way.
After the riots, it became evident that purely through text messaging Mozambique’s capital had been held at a standstill for the better part of three days. Because of the looting and vandalism of shops and cars, the government was quick to pin the riots on troublemakers and marginalized youth. As a consequence, days after the riots, all text messages sent to and/or from pre-paid SIM cards were banned. On September 15th the government issued a decree announcing that all users of pre- paid mobile phones must register their sim cards, “in order to prevent criminal abuse of mobile communications.”
Today, mCel and Vodacom, the only two mobile network providers have little over a month to register all their pre paid customers. With 2.8 million pre paid customers alone, Vodacom’s Managing Director has dubbed this task “mission impossible.” The government may be doing what it thinks is the best way to deal with the discontent in the country, but registering their SIM cards is not going to stop young people from texting! So I put this to you: Is Mozambique’s youth apathetic or aware?