By Linda Bordoni
Mozambique, in the southeast of the African continent, is struggling to begin a recovery and reconstruction process after the devastating Cyclone Idai and ensuing floods in March that killed more than 800 people and displaced at least one and a half million.
Despite the nation’s abundance of natural resources and fertile land, it remains one of the poorest countries in Africa with at least 65 % of its population living below the poverty line.
Corruption, poor governance, and political and religious strife continue to impoverish the country and create division.
These are realties that Pope Francis is well aware of, as demonstrated by his gift to President Filipe Nyusi when he visited the Vatican in September 2017: a split medallion held together by an olive tree and engraved with the words “Look for what unites, overcome what divides”.
Sheila Pires, who was born in Mozambique but works as a journalist and radio presenter at South Africa’s Radio Veritas, told Linda Bordoni that the people of Mozambique are in urgent need of the Pope’s message of love and unity.
She also revealed that Francis’ friendship and solidarity have already made a big difference to the country.
Sheila Pires explained that when Mozambique was struck by flooding in the year 2000, Jorge Bergoglio was the Archbishop of Buenos Aires in Argentina.
“He is a close friend of our Cardinal Emeritus, Julio Langa, who at the time was Archbishop of Xai-Xai” she said. Thanks to this great friendship “he was able to fundraise enough money to restore the city of Xai-Xai; he was able to help that city rebuild because it was under water and everything was lost”.
Pope Francis, she continued, has always done a lot for Mozambique: “recently, again, he has made a huge donation to the countries affected by the cyclone”.
So, she said, for Mozambique his visit is a blessing; it will also “help with the tensions”.
A divided nation
Pires explained that the country is divided and in the throes of political instability, pointing out that the ruling FRELIMO Party has always clashed with opposition RENAMO militants, both over charges of state corruption and the disputed results of the 2014 General Election.
She recalled Pope St. John Paul II’s visit to Mozambique in 1988 shortly after the peace agreement where he witnessed, first-hand, the devastation wrought by the country's long civil war.
“Now, Pope Francis is the second Pope to visit the country, and people are looking towards him that he will bring this sense of unity,” she said.
Pires noted that Cyclone Idai destroyed the bridge that joins the South and the North of the country.
Emblematically, she said, “the conflicts and divisions in the country are between the South and the North. The collapse of that bridge is a sign that it is time for people to stop looking at all the divisions and actually be one, be united, be together again to rebuild the country and love one another, putting an end to all these divisions and conflicts”.
Marginalization and Corruption
For many years, she said, the North has felt marginalized by political leaders, and this fact, together with widespread allegations of corruption, results in divisions.
Pires said that the fact that the North is rich in mineral resources has ended up creating more division because, “all of a sudden, the government has its eyes on the North”.
“But who is it benefiting? Is it benefiting the people of the North or just a handful of elite?” she observed.
Hopefully, Pires said, Pope Francis will instill the thought of “let’s do the right thing, if we are going to invest in the North, let it benefit the people of Mozambique not just a handful of elite people.”
She also noted that with the arrival of large amounts of funds to sustain the country as it faces the humanitarian crisis caused by Cyclone Idai, “again corruption is coming to the fore!”
“Certain individuals are taking this money into their pockets,” she said.
So, Pires concluded, there’s a lot to be done: “Hopefully Pope Francis will be able to sit down with our government, with the people of Mozambique, and help us come back to that sense of ‘common sense’, let us do the right thing for the country.”