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Kathryn Cave (Mozambique) - Coal, Beaches and a 47-Story Business Tower

Picture 2,700 km of beautiful coastline, lined with dazzling white beaches, mangroves and coral reefs. Imagine a capital city situated on the Indian Ocean featuring streets lined with flame trees, bustling with local markets and restaurants which are happy to cook-up the freshly caught fish you bring from the harbour. This is Mozambique, one of the poorest countries in Africa, decimated by civil war until 1992, with an average life expectancy of 52 years. However, economically things are starting to look up... and not surprisingly, foreign nationals are scrambling to move in.

The promise is that recent gas and coal finds should propel this country to untold riches. The gas alone is thought to be worth $350bn, nine times the current value of the economy. And the coal mining, which should hit full capacity by 2015, ought to catapult Mozambique into becoming one of the top ten coal producers in the world. Yesterday the Mozambican government also approved a draft of a new petrol law that will finally see local communities get a piece the country's oil revenues.

Things are changing quickly. Five years ago Tete, the mine's nearest town had a twice weekly plane service from the capital, Maputo. Now planes run nearly twice daily. This region has been dubbed by some as the "New Johannesburg" and is expected to attract over 3,000 foreign works. The rush is already starting. Mozambique is the ideal location for the next fuel source for the insatiable Chinese market; this paid for the revamped airport, and locals are now clamouring to attend the surge of Chinese classes now taught in the capital. Indians are emigrating, and the Brazilian influx can be felt in full force. This is little wonder - the first mine was established by Brazilian giant, Vale, in 2004, and as a former Portuguese colony too, there are strong cultural ties. In fact, Mozambicans are completely hooked on Brazilian soap operas.

Yet the really interesting expat invasion is from former ‘oppressor' Portugal itself. In 1974 when Portuguese rule came to an end, around quarter of a million white ethnic Portuguese citizens fled from Mozambique as refugees, leaving catastrophic acts of sabotage trailing in their wake. Although Portugal left a poor legacy, after nearly 500 years of rule, its influence is still very strong. The buildings hold a decidedly colonial flavour, Piri-Piri is a staple national seasoning and Portuguese is still one of the official languages... you won't get very far without it.

Now, with an estimated 17% joblessness in Portugal, the Portuguese are returning. Henrique Banze, Mozambique's deputy foreign minister, told the BBC that about 200 tourist and working visas are being granted every day, marking a "huge increase" on recent years. And although there are no firm figures, thousands are coming each year, the majority of which base themselves in Maputo. The real change though, is that these are middle class European looking for new opportunities, and on the whole, it seems likely that it will be this group which will galvanise progress from the ground up.

Businessman Paulo Dias, who has lived in Maputo for two years, told the BBC that "a few years ago, the thought of moving to one of Africa's poorest countries in search of work would have seemed unthinkable for most Portuguese, particularly given the bitter legacy of the colonial period. But Mozambique is changing and times are hard in Portugal."

Like the rest of the African continent, any true boom is likely to take place in the arena of tech, and whilst it may begin with expats, it will be the locals that will drive innovation. Take into account that 46% of the population is under 14-years old and 66% of the population is under 24 (life expectancy 52 remember) and it seems almost certain that this massive group people will be looking to build better a future. Just like in Kenya, promoting technology will most likely be the answer.

Last September the Southern African ICT Summit took place in Maputo. Sean Moroney, Chairman of AITEC Africa set the challenge, "Mozambique's ICT sector needs to rise to the rapidly escalating management demands of its dramatically expanding economy." Held to coincide with the first phase of the National Science and Technology Park, Moroney added, "The Park provides the world-class infrastructure on which world-class innovation, product development, entrepreneurship and training can be built - provided local and international investors seize the abundant opportunities that this facility presents."

This will be no mean feat; statistics from Budde show estimates for 2013 suggest 49% mobile penetration rate, but only 7.4% internet penetration rate due to "inadequate fixed-line infrastructure and the high cost of international bandwidth, but this market sector is now accelerating." However, last year, Maputo did manage to make it into tenth place for the fastest internet speeds in Africa, while sitting at 140th on the global index.

Perhaps the business opportunities in this region are best summed up by the current Maputo Business Tower development. Work began four years ago, and on completion next year, it is set to be the tallest building in Mozambique, boasting 32 floors of offices, five storeys of car parks, space for shopping centres, and crowned by a heliport. When the building works were announced, the Mayor of Maputo, David Simango, said it was the largest construction in the capital since independence in 1975. Whilst in 2010, Transport and Communications Minister Paulo Zucula declared "We can be proud of a 47 storey building. It shows that we are on the right path, and symbolizes the development of infrastructures that is happening throughout the country".

32 floors of office space does certainly does seem a lot to fill... but the potential in Mozambique is astonishing and the discovery of natural resources seems only the tip of the iceberg. It is people that really drive development; people from the inside and of course, people with a vested interest from the outside. The Portuguese may have been hated over five centuries of rule, but many founded a life in Mozambique, and by moving back they are coming home. And with the tropical climate, endless beaches and seemingly limitless potential, who can blame them...

 

By Kathryn Cave Editor at IDG Connect

 

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