Politics and policy

Mozambique cuts food prices as public turns to violent riots

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Food protests in Maputo. The government has blamed high food and fuel prices on the financial crisis. Photo/FILE

Food protests in Maputo. The government has blamed high food and fuel prices on the financial crisis. Photo/FILE 

By IRIN

Posted  Tuesday, October 5  2010 at  00:00

The Mozambican government has cut the prices of food and introduced subsidies in response to riots that gripped the country early last month and has promised to do some belt tightening of its own, but observers say the measures are unaffordable and incapable of addressing the deeper issues.

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“When you have riots you need to do some damage control,” Fernando Lima, a prominent Mozambican publisher and journalist, told IRIN.

“This is a short-term solution as an emergency measure.”Residents in Maputo, and the nearby town of Matola, took to the streets after the government announced higher prices for bread and other basic goods, pointing to external factors such as drought and wildfires in Russia –one of the world’s major wheat suppliers.

The violent protests, which were marked by widespread looting, left hundreds injured and at least 10 dead.

Trade minister Antonio Fernando said on state-run television that global oil prices had increased, while climate change and “other factors” had brought about a worldwide slump in wheat production.

“We have to understand that the financial crisis has still not passed and will take time ... we are still suffering the impact [of it].”

A day later president Armando Guebuza told Mozambicans that his government understood the hardship of the poor, “which is aggravated by external factors, such as the financial crisis and the rising price of food and fuel.”

Security forces cracked down hard on what they called a group of raiding “bandits.”

Lima suggested that while external factors might have added to the growing discontent in the capital, other issues closer to home – like poverty and unemployment - were also to blame.

“The very poor are very angry, and they have the sympathy of most of the country,” he said.

The unrest subsided only when on September 7, the government announced a u-turn on measures it had previously called “irreversible”.

Fernando told Mozambique’s official news agency, AIM, that the bread subsidy would require “a major financial effort from the government,” but no exact figures were given.

On September 21, two weeks after the first riots, AIM reported that registered bakers would receive a subsidy of 200 meticais ($5.6) for every 50 kg bag of wheat flour — costing 1,050 meticais ($28) — they purchased.

Other relief measures include halving water connection fees for low-consumption homes, considerably reducing the cost of piped water to the poor, and giving free electricity to households consuming 100 kwh or less; prepaid electricity consumers will no longer pay for trash collection.

Generalised fuel price subsidies would be converted into a direct subsidy for urban public transport and not to the rich who have their own vehicles.

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