It has been too long since I’ve been under an African sky. More than 25 years have passed since last I breathed in this amazing continent. I left her with South Africa still under apartheid, AIDS unheard of and the Mozambican civil war endlessly raging.Veronica with her youngest child in Boane.
Most of us think we know the narrative of Africa: corruption, poverty, starving children, dying mothers, AIDS epidemic, warlords and dictators. There is truth in each one of those words, but they paint only a portion of the story. It’s easy to forget that a continent made up of 53 unique countries and island states cannot be labeled in a singular fashion. Within each one of those nations are regional and tribal communities with their own rich sub-cultures, languages and traditions. In Mozambique alone there are 43 languages and dialects spoken. There is another set of words: resources, music, wildlife, faith, community, love, growth, democracy, booming, excitement and passion: each equally truthful. In Mozambique these past two weeks, I’ve seen evidence of them all.Two of Veronica’s five children in Boane.
The last time I was in this part of the world, Mozambican refugees were regularly crossing Kruger National Park, a massive game reserve in the north east of South Africa. The only way these families were making the news was when they were attacked and killed by lion. South Africans ignored the civil war between rivals Frelimo and Renamo, most ignorant to the fact that the South African government was supporting Renamo to destabilize the Mozambican ruling party. Frelimo had taken power in 1975 after the Portuguese left the country stripped bare in the name of independence.
Initially under a Marxist government, the country moved to a democratic multiparty system in 1989. Renamo became a political party and peace was finally negotiated in 1993. Frelimo still dominates and has won every election since independence. Streets named Lenin, Ho Chi Minh and Karl Marx are just some of the remnants of the country’s socialist past. Colonial architecture meshes with design from the early 70s and modern (mostly Chinese) shiny construction. Down the street from my hotel Chinese investors are building a massive stadium and casino complex. In sharp juxtaposition across the road, locals sell wooden carvings and fabrics.Mozambican batik fabrics
It’s a cliché to talk about the changes, and perhaps even more of a cliché to talk about all that hasn’t changed. Mozambique is still one of the world’s poorest countries. Recent mineral and natural gas discoveries, combined with the longest coastline of any single nation on the continent make this an enticing place for foreign investment, especially now that the government has shown some stability in recent years. Still, it’s estimated only 8% of the country’s budget goes to social services. 124,000 Mozambican children under 5 years are still dying each year and it is consistently towards the bottom of Save the Children’s list of worst places to be a mother.
I’ve been sharing the stories of mothers and their children in the developing world for three years now. But this is my first chance to be a witness. Mozambican families face a staggering range of problems. Malaria, HIV AIDS, tuberculosis, diarrhea, pneumonia and cervical cancer are just some of the big killers. Health services are generally free, but mostly funded by donors. There are service quality challenges, overwhelmed and grossly underpaid medical staff and still so many without health care at all.Felismina and her daughter at the Moamba Health Clinic. She walked three hours to get there.
In the almost two weeks I’ve been here, I’ve talked with countless mothers. They all work incredibly hard. I am in awe of their strength, of their patience, of their endurance. But burning through my mind is a pivotal question: when will the mothers of Mozabique get angry? I am waiting for the day when they loudly demand more of their government and society. This country has a big future, as long as government leaders remember they serve the people.
Africa is rising and it is a thrilling time to be here. I am convinced more each day that the voices of her mothers are the key in determining which direction she goes.
I am in Mozambique as an International Reporting Project (IRP) fellow, covering global health stories with a team of journalists from all over the world. Follow the whole conversation on Twitter and Instagram at #IRPfellows or see our collective reports here.
I am a communicator, an agitator and a mother. Subscribe via email. Or follow on Twitter or Facebook. What will you do today to wake up the world? Share your thoughts, your action and your heart right here.