London — Mozambican President Armando Guebuza on Wednesday told an audience at the prestigious Royal Institute of International Affairs in London that the priority of his government is to make sure that wealth derived from the huge expansion of mining activities serves the people, and that in relations between the mining companies and the government "we are setting the rules".
The President admitted that the country has a lot to learn, in order to improve the conditions of people resettled to make way for mining projects and to protect the environment.
But he stated that with the help of experts, such as those working at the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, the government is learning and improving.
Over the last few years there has been criticism over resettlement, but Guebuza reminded the audience that before independence many people were forced by the Portuguese colonial authorities to move to make way for the Cahora Bassa dam on the Zambezi. These people were moved away from fertile land to areas where they had to seek paid employment - providing a source of cheap labour.
In contrast, those moving today are receiving better housing and services such as health and education. He conceded that things can still be improved, but argued that this is a learning process and the government is listening to the people.
He used the example of Cateme, in Tete province, where people have protested against the Brazilian mining giant Vale because the houses that they were given were too small and in a poor state of repair.
Following this, the provincial government has taken the step of requiring mining companies to provide two bedroom houses for those to be resettled. The provincial government has also demanded that these houses should have a bathroom, piped water and electricity, as well as a spacious yard.
This was made possible because the central government has devolved to provincial level more powers to make companies abide by social responsibility programmes.
Guebuza warned that despite all the current focus on the development of coal and gas, the government must not lose sight of the need to develop other sectors. He reminded the audience that over the last decade the country has maintained a growth rate of over seven per cent a year.
Mozambique has huge coal reserves, and could be exporting a hundred million tonnes per year within the near future - subject to the building of new rail routes and ports. It also is on the road to launching gas production in the Rovuma basin in the far north.
Guebuza stressed that in order to avoid problems with fluctuations in commodity prices it is necessary to use some of these resources internally to diversify the national economy.
Guebuza said it is possible that within 10 to 15 years Mozambique will become a middle income country. He added that "the right not to be poor is an inalienable right". The government's main concern is therefore that the people should benefit from growth through the expansion of services and jobs.
He concluded by stating that following the 16 year war of destabilisation, with over a million dying and 4.5 million people being displaced, nobody can accept violence as a solution to the country's problems.