The UN General Assembly is in session, and with it come the world’s leaders. Columbia University capitalizes on the big show with its World Leaders Forum, coaxing some of the top brass to come up from the stuffiness of midtown to the leafy collegiate walkways of Morningside Heights. Yesterday morning, President of Mozambique, Armando Emilio Guebeza, was center stage. The topic of his address was “poverty and inclusive development in Mozambique: The 7 Million as a new paradigm for socio-economic development.”
The title of his speech was promising enough. What was “the 7 million”? Was that the number of people out of the population’s 25 million that would be pulled out of poverty with some new programme harnessing the country’s coal and LNG resources? Was this key to “inclusive development” building a middle class of 7 million? 7 million more Mozambicans connected to the electricity grid (only 12% of the population has access to date). Nope. 7 million metical — the Mozambican currency (about 230,000 USD) — for decentralized development programming. Kind of a let down.
President Guebeza methodically went through the process of how the 7 million (per Local Council) is distributed and spent. It’s inclusive. It’s participatory. It’s a distraction from the large elephant(s) in the room, like how the government plans to manage its revenues coming in from LNG, or how it plans to translate that money into meaningful development outcomes through prudent public spending.
The audience waited patiently for their turn to ask questions. The President fielded four from the audience, three quarters of which concerned the resource curse, meeting the challenge of natural resource development, and making plans for the future. While the President tried to tell one story, it was clear the audience was interested in quite another. His response had the usual buzzwords, heralding his country’s involvement in EITI, their engagement with civil society, and their “participatory” pathway to development. It all sounded very nice, but increased instances of violence in the country and a clamping down on the limited free press that does exist are worrying signs that all might not be as bright and cheery as the 7 million metical projects lead us to believe. All in all, it is always an honor to hear a world leader speak in person, but the awe of their presence should not be reason to accept wholesale what they’re sharing.
For every story put on the table for public scrutiny, there are bigger stories left off of it – Guebeza’s speech, with its pregnant omission of the larger issues facing Mozambique, was a missed opportunity to discuss the realities of the governance challenges he faces with a room of clever, solution-oriented, people. I am under no illusion that this would have at all been something he would’ve liked to do, but it was something he should’ve been pushed to do.