Maputo has all the charm of a former Portuguese colonial city with its contrasting architecture, avenues lined with jacarandas and flame trees, and busy market places.
Tourists, before heading up north to Mozambique’s beach resorts, stop here first to enjoy fresh fish from the harbour and spicy Indian dishes.
But for most of the capital’s citizens living on the margins of the “cement city”, life is a daily struggle to make ends meet.
Water is in short supply and electricity is scarce – an injustice to many, given that Mozambique exports natural gas to neighbouring economic giant South Africa. Maputo also has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world.
World Bank experts warn that the recent finds in coal and natural gas in Mozambique will heighten expectations for better services and for a greater distribution of wealth. If this is not managed correctly it could lead to a repeat of the urban violence that rocked the country in 2010.
In a report entitled Generating Sustainable Wealth From Mozambique’s Natural Resource Boom, it warns that “popular dissatisfaction with the pace of expenditure growth or the allocation of expenditures could provoke social unrest, the likelihood of which is heightened in a post-conflict country such as Mozambique”.
Rising food prices led to rioting across Maputo, including the suburb of Matola, in September 2010, leaving seven people dead and about 300 injured.
The government stepped in and agreed to subsidise bread prices.
So far, the ruling Frelimo party has managed to hold on to power in the capital, with mayor David Simango winning 37 of 64 seats in the November 2013 elections.
The Mozambique Democratic Movement, which took the cities of Beira and Quelimani, put up an impressive show in the capital, cutting Frelimo’s majority from 86% to 58%.
In the past few years, the government has invested in a large number of projects to improve the lives of Maputo’s 1.3-million people, with the help of international donor institutions. A lot more, however, remains to be done.
The United Nations agency for urbanisation, UN-Habitat, says 70% of the inhabitants of Maputo live in slums. In 2010 only 4% of people were connected to a sewerage grid and a mere 10% of the capital’s sewerage was treated. UN-Habitat says 90% of the waste “flows directly into the sea”.
Last year the World Bank launched a $178-million project to increase access to clean water in the greater Maputo area. But aid workers, involved in a range of projects such as preschool education or helping residents to plant vegetable gardens in the city, say many of these projects fall apart as soon as assistance dries up.
“There is a great need for assistance in peri-urban areas where malnutrition is elevated and people don’t have access to land, as they would in rural areas,” says an aid worker who has been in the country for eight years.
“There has to be co-ordination with local NGOs [nongovernmental organisations] and with the government, but government assistance is often not forthcoming and local organisations lack capacity.”
While great strides have been made since the end of the civil war in 1992, figures show more than 50% of people in Mozambique are still living below the poverty line and the gap between rich and poor is increasing.
More sustainable than aid is the prospect of a real sharing of the wealth that could potentially be created across the country, thanks to the new natural resource finds. Mozambique’s economy grew by 7% on average in the past 10 years.
The Maputo Development Corridor, which links Maputo with South Africa’s prosperous Gauteng province, is one of the more successful of these corridors, the buzz word in regional development a few years ago.
One of the key developments in this corridor is the Mozal aluminium smelter, one of the largest such smelters in Africa, which contributes about 30% of Mozambique’s exports. Around it, industrial zones have been built up with the aim of creating secondary industries and jobs.
The expectation is that, although the big extraction projects getting underway are not going to create a large number of jobs, secondary industries could create more opportunities for locals.
The government’s 2010-2014 development plan states that increasing employment and “fostering human development” is one of its key objectives.
The citizens of Maputo, for the most part, have not yet seen those objectives being met.