By Eduardo Coles
All presidents make bold promises at the start of their terms and therefore the midway point through a president’s term of office is a good time to see whether they are making any difference, good or bad.
And while, as the saying goes, past performance is no guarantee of the future, it does indicate how things are going.
On 15 January Filipe Nyusi will be sworn in for his second stint of office as the President of the Republic of Mozambique. It’s also his final term assuming he doesn’t do a Biya, Dos Santos, Kagame, Mugabe, Museveni, Nguesso, Nujoma, Obiang-Nguema, or indeed a Putin, to name a few presidents who changed the constitution, allowing them to rule for longer.
So how has Filipe Nyusi done so far? Or more importantly, how has life changed for the ordinary people of Mozambique?
When President Nyusi was elected at the end of 2014 the world looked at Mozambique with considerable hope.
As a result of huge hydrocarbon finds, it was hailed as the potential “Qatar of Africa”. It was the darling of the international finance community, having been chosen by the IMF to host the “Africa Rising” conference earlier that year. International banks were falling over themselves to loan billions of dollars on grand infrastructure projects. The path ahead seemed certain, with a new president stepping up to deliver on ambitious promises. The question is, did he actually deliver?
Rather than focusing on isolated domestic incidents, I thought that it would be more objective to see how things have changed for Mozambique in comparison with a group of peers while trying to be as relevant and even-handed as possible.
I have examined how Mozambique has performed relative to a peer group since 2014, before President Nyusi assumed office. The peer group consists of our nearest neighbours, Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe and the two former Portuguese colonies, Angola and Guinea-Bissau, to allow for regional and cultural factors to be taken into account.
The categories chosen are infant mortality, external debt, productivity relative to the performance of human capital, and finally, wealth and corruption. The latter have the greatest impact to the population as a whole.
The statistics used have been taken, with the exception of one, from the World Bank’s World Development Indicators, on the grounds that they are probably the most unbiased, current and accurate figures available, and measured like-for-like.
Infant mortality in Mozambique has undoubtedly lessened over the past five years, with 12% improvement. However all the peer group’s infant mortality has also declined.
More worrying is that Mozambique’s rate of improvement is at an equal low with Zambia and Guinea-Bissau. The best performer was Malawi, with a 17% drop.
There is another stand out from these figures: Mozambique has the equal worst rate of infant survival. It shares this dubious honour with Guinea-Bissau at 54 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, just ahead of the other former Portuguese colony, Angola, on 51.6. The next worst in the group is Zambia at 40.4. South Africa leads with just 28.5. To give perspective on these figures and to see how far the region still has to go, the same figure for France in 2018 was 3.0 and the USA just 5.6, infant deaths per 1,000 live births.
Productivity vs HCI (Human Capital Idex)
The World Bank describes this statistical analysis as follows: “The Human Capital Index (HCI) database provides data at the country level for each of the components of the HCI as well as for the overall index, disaggregated by gender. This measures the amount of human capital that a child born today can expect to attain by age 18, given the risks of poor health and education that prevail in the country where he or she lives. It is designed to highlight how improvements in current health and education help the productivity of the next generation of workers, assuming that children born today experience over the next 18 years the educational opportunities and health risks that children in this age range currently face.”
Mozambique does not score well in either category, productivity or HCI. With a GDP per capita marginally ahead of the peer group’s laggard, Malawi, it shares the lowest HCI score of 0.36 (out of 1) with Angola. The best HCI score in the peer group is the deeply troubled country of Zimbabwe, perhaps showing that there is hope for that country. By way of global comparison, the worst HCI score is held by Chad, with 0.29 and the best is Singapore, with 0.88.
Mozambique’s debt has dominated the media in the last five years, with the so-called Tuna Bond scandal reaching a climax at the end of 2019 with the trial (and complete acquittal) in New York of the supposed mastermind, Jean Boustani. With three Credit Suisse bankers pleading guilty due to be sentenced in the coming weeks, and the continuing extraction battle with South Africa over former finance minister, Manuel Chang, as well as other legal actions between the Government of Mozambique and various other parties in Switzerland and London, it will stay in the headlines for a while.
But how has Mozambique fared in comparison with its peers?
As a per cent of external debt to GNI it is by far the most indebted nation, with a 2108 figure of nearly 108%. The next worst is Zambia with 74%, and the best is Botswana on less than 10%.
However Mozambique has improved from a high of over 130%, in 2016, when the full extent of the tuna loans were made public and the IMF pulled the plug on further assistance. The 2018 figure is still a third higher than the pre-Nyusi score of 77.87%. This rate of debt to GNI increase is worse than all our peers, with the exception of Zambia with a 110% jump over the period.
There are many ways of comparing a country’s wealth, from absolute numbers to local purchasing power. No way is perfect, but I have used the Atlas method. This was adopted by the World Bank in 1993 to estimate the size of economies in terms of gross national income (GNI) in US dollars.
Nyusi’s first term has been a great disappointment with regards to this metric. With GNI down 33% over the five years, Mozambique becomes equal bottom of the peer group. Angola had a similar decline, but from a much higher base – from US$5,010 to US$3,370 as opposed to Mozambique’s fall from US$690 to US$460.
Only Malawi has lower GNI per capita, at US$360, but they at least saw a decline of only 3% over the five years. Botswana comfortably leads the pack at US$7,750, almost 17 times better than Mozambique. Zimbabwe showed the greatest improvement, with a 42% increase over the period, but this was probably due to the euphoric reaction to the departure of Mugabe.
In an era when corruption is becoming an ever-more important factor in rating the success of a country, whether as an investment destination, or simply as a place to live, President Nyusi’s first term has been damaging to Mozambique.
Using the widely accepted Corruption Perception Index from Transparency International or TI, it is clear that Mozambique has gone backwards.
Over the five year period the country’s rank has declined 26%.
The reason, according to TI, was, “An increase in abductions and attacks on political analysts and investigative journalists creates a culture of fear, which is detrimental to fighting corruption” along with the so-called hidden loans scandal and indictments against former ministers.
Mozambique was the only country in the peer group to suffer anything like as big a drop in their rating, with the next worst being Zambia, with a mere 8%. By contrast, Guinea-Bissau saw a major jump of 47% to almost mirror the situation in Mozambique. The other former Portuguese colony in the group, Angola, level-pegged at no change in its rating. It was however the country with the lowest overall mark of 19, out of a possible 100.
From the five criteria examined it is hard to say that Filipe Nyusi’s first term has been anything but a disaster for Mozambique, when compared with its peers:
- It has the equal worst infant mortality rate, along with the lowest rate of improvement.
- On, the so-called Human Capital Index of health and education, Mozambique comes last.
- In terms of debt as a percentage of national income, there’s been a jump of 38% since the President took office.
- GNI is down 33% over the last five years, with Mozambique equal bottom of the peer group.
- The corruption index has slipped further than in any of the group.
The President won a strong mandate in the recent elections, even if some are disputing the fairness and transparency of the process. In the next five years he will need to step up a gear if Mozambique does not continue in a downward spiral, in both absolute and relative terms.
The country should see significant revenue from the vast offshore gas fields. It should also try to make use of the assets that were purchased as part of the hidden loans scandal, with significant revenues available from enforcement of its Exclusive Economic Zone. But will any of this filter down to the population?
The Mozambique people, and the world at large, will be watching to see if Nyusi can deliver a considerably better result over next five years than the last. But on past form, they probably shouldn’t hold their breathe. Let’s hope that we are proved wrong.
This article can be freely republished, but please mention “The Nyusi Report” as source.