Mozambique, the end of paradise

I travel through two books that have Mozambique at their epicenter: in Cabo Delgado the conflict for which reasons must be identified, on the island of Mozambique the reparative time that helps to reflect.

Among us, Mozambique is almost unknown, if not ignored. Despite the long historical relationship between the two nations, this country on the East African coast is remotely known and only in its most exotic version. Extensive beaches of fine sand and clear waters alongside the Gorongosa National Park sell this tourist product called Mozambique. This tourist information is based on an exotic perspective of the country which, simultaneously, is based on the offer of paradisiacal beaches and the possibility of contact with this strange and indomitable nature. History and heritage are relegated to a market niche more linked to cultural tourism and, above all, centered on the Island of Mozambique, former capital of the then colonial province. However, the difficulty of getting there makes this island more attractive to intellectuals and scholars than to the average traveler.

In short, in the eyes of ordinary Portuguese, Mozambique is this and little else. Ethnic and cultural diversity, recent history, except for the colonial war for older generations, gastronomy, political and social challenges are foreign to Portuguese eyes and ears, despite a common history until just four and a half decades ago behind.

The news that now arrives from Mozambique, although sparse and late due to the evolution of events, results in the interruption of this paradisiacal imaginary. In a remote and remote place in Mozambique, gunshots are heard, people are kidnapped, villages are razed to the ground, which causes the civilian population to flee. Fear is installed among the population and, gaping, we passively watched all this, without realizing why Cabo Delgado has now become the center of news about this country.

The Bishop of Pemba has been making statements and has managed to attract some international attention, notably from some Portuguese media, but also from the Vatican, in which Pope Francis prayed for the community affected by this conflict. In his most recent interventions, the Bishop warns of the fact that the climate of war has settled in Cabo Delgado and that more than 700 thousand people are being directly affected by the ongoing confrontation. He describes the situation as extremely serious and classifies the conflict as a war that has already resulted in about a thousand deaths.

Despite the gravity of the situation, political discourse at both internal and external levels (international organizations or other states) is quite sparse on this issue, disagreeing only with the United Nations and the Vatican. One of the reasons for this absence of discourse is the fact that one does not want to lose the exotic imagery that attracts a lot of tourism to Mozambique and also to maintain the level of attractiveness of foreign direct investment on the natural resources of Mozambique that have gradually come to be more strategic. Whatever the reason, the truth is that Mozambique is slowly entering the Portuguese media agenda, but still with a very partial view of what is happening.

However, not only from the media and political discourse does the public sphere live, and two books have recently been published in Portugal whose theme is Mozambique. One of the works is by Nuno Rogeiro, entitled “O Cabo do Fear: The Daesh in Mozambique 2019-2020”, edited by D. Quixote in May this year. The other is by José Eduardo Agualusa and is entitled “Os Vivo ea os Outros”, published by Quetzal in April this year. Interestingly, these are two very different approaches, one in the form of an essay and the other admittedly a novel, which have their authors in a Portuguese and an Angolan. Therefore, two exogenous views on different regions of Mozambique.

Next to the story

Cabo Delgado is one of the places of memory of Mozambique's liberation struggle. An iconic province for Frelimo's struggle against Portuguese colonialism, today it is the scene of conflicts involving extremist Islamic forces. Despite its wealth of natural resources ranging from natural gas to precious stones and even though it was a key province for the achievement of independence, the population of Cabo Delgado remains mostly impoverished and removed from political decision-making centers.

The causes pointed out as the source of the current conflict are several. Anthropologist Ana Margarida Santos, who specializes in issues of violence and memory in the north of Cabo Delgado, lists some of the conditions that allowed Islamic extremist movements to gain adherents in the province. The researcher refers to the difficulty in identifying unique reasons in a complex scenario that points to a combination of factors that range from poverty, inequality and poor development, to the religious question, external influences and export of natural resources, with no direct and immediate benefit for communities. locations. In addition to this complexity, the fact that the conflict that started with sporadic attacks on villages, now has as targets the larger semi-urban centers, with the maintenance of warlike actions with a short period of time.

“Cabo Delgado: Daesh in Mozambique 2019-2020”, by Nuno Rogeiro, does not intend to analyze the causes of the conflict, despite referring to them, but rather to place the conflict in a broad international scenario, to show its regional framework and the way how the conflict evolved beautifully. Nuno Rogeiro presents a well-structured book, based on the diversity of sources, noting that it was written with the speed of putting a theme almost forgotten in Portugal in the public sphere. It essentially has these two predicates: the disclosure of sources that are inaccessible to most researchers and the enormous desire to make the situation in Cabo Delgado public.

The author questions the silence of organizations such as the Community of Portuguese Speaking Countries (CPLP), the African Union or the Southern African Development Community, even after complaints about the existence of armed groups that terrorized local populations and the published report by the United Nations, based on data from the expert group of the organization's counterterrorist bodies. It also warns of the risks of massive flight of the population and the fact that this whole situation can ward off the desired foreign investments aimed at the exploitation of natural resources in the province. He finishes the book leaving more questions open than concluding. After all, this is an ongoing conflict, whose outlines are still little known and deserve further investigation. The author dedicates the book to Mozambicans, the innocent victims of the conflict and the Portuguese who work and live there.

As an important contribution to the questions it raises and to the description of the conflict and the factions involved, Rogeiro's book was received with skepticism in Mozambique. Part of this reaction is due to the fact that the book is seen as a justification for pacification aimed at maintaining foreign investment in the exploitation of local natural resources. However, it is worth noting the fact that this book, written in Portuguese and the only one published on the ongoing conflict in this last period, is also being read and debated in Mozambique, which, we believe, is also one of the author's objectives. In fact, the fact that the book leaves a series of questions open, triggers this desire for debate and the desire to deepen the analysis of this conflict.

It seems, therefore, that Cabo Delgado, despite being a central part of the history of Mozambique, continues to pass alongside the official history of the country, which in both colonial and post-independence times, failed to create a dynamic of development and civic participation the local community. It remains to be seen what the impact of this conflict will be on the centralization of Cabo Delgado as an essential part of Mozambique.

Muhipiti, the island that got stuck

“The living and the others” is the latest novel by José Eduardo Agualusa, set in Ilha de Moçambique, Muhipiti in the local language. This novel tells us how a group of writers, gathered for a literary encounter, is held hostage on the island. Progressively, they become isolated, as they lose contact with the continent, are without access to the telephone and internet network and cannot even see beyond the bridge that could return them to the airport to return to their countries.

At the meeting are African writers, thinking about the literary creation of the continent. Some seem to partially identify with the author's path, living in voluntary exiles. Others will have been drawn under the inspiration of the numerous meetings in which Agualusa participated, reissuing discussions about creativity and Africanity in the literature. Debates that all Africanists have witnessed. To what extent does an author have to stick to an aesthetic and content that identifies him with his territory of origin? Oscillating between fiction and reality, the book rethinks human relations, frees characters from the book and keeps them in the only possible setting, the island that survives the weather, the war and the chaos that have settled around the world.

Without becoming a raft, the island is a haven of discovery and discovery, the authors' confrontation with their work and characters and the discovery of their non-fictional selves. Isolated by a catastrophe, as destructive as that of Cyclone Idai that placed Mozambique in the international parangonas, a time of reflection and discovery is created in which time becomes timeless and the world seems to be concentrated there by the cosmopolitan experiences of the writers. Well written and thought out, the book reveals the paradise that imprisons those living, hence the timelessness and urbanity of the relationships there underway. Does reality surpass fiction or does reality surpass reality in such a way that we live in a kind of magical realism without realizing it?

The end of paradise

I learned the term Muhipiti from a very long-time friend. I traveled many times in my imagination with her to “her” island and to that idyllic time of childhood, when there is no temporality. Everything is here and now, because it is lived according to the rhythm of emotions. When reading Agualusa I returned to that timelessness that in the end the author ends up invoking. To that paradise that you only live when you are there, even if unnoticed and unattached.

Mozambique has this paradise and, at the same time, its opposite. That troubled province that bore revolutionary fruits to the country and is now dying under a ferocious attack that can hardly be identified. And all of this is Mozambique. Paradise and hell separated by hundreds of kilometers, urgently needing to identify the reasons and characteristics of the conflict referred to by Nuno Rogeiro and, also, to reconstruct what was destroying, digging, moving the earth, as Agualusa writes.

The end of the exotic imaginary of paradise can, after all, be a new beginning. Painful, but necessary for Mozambique to survive in its diversity.

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