IRPfellows, Mozambique — Oct 24, 2014

Off to Moz

Winter is coming and I’m flying south. Over the next two weeks I will report from Mozambique on health care issues such as childhood vaccinations with the International Reporting fellowship at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The project takes journalists to parts of the world that are underrepresented in the mainstream media. As far as I can make out, the tradeoff is a free trip funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in exchange for providing exposure for issues that wouldn’t otherwise make it to press.

As part of my initial research and in response to questions from friends and colleagues, here’s a brief primer with very basic information about Mozambique.

Where is it? On the eastern side of southern Africa, right across the water from Madagascar.

Is it safe? Things were bad in the immediate wake of independence from Portugal in 1975, and the country erupted in fifteen years of Cold War-driven civil war. Now coal mining in the north and the recent discovery of offshore gas fields mean business is booming. Mozambique also held elections on the 15th this month, which resulted in a few violent skirmishes. Foreign observers reported voting irregularities, particularly the – ahem – counting of votes. While election day itself went relatively smoothly, both the United States and European Union issued slap-on-the-wrist statements about cheating.

Why is there an AK-47 on their flag? Seriously, I’m concerned. Prominently featuring a Kalashnikov on your national banner does send a strong message. In fact, Mozambique is the only country in the world with an automatic weapon on its flag. In 2005 Mozambique’s opposition formally proposed removing the design, but it is associated with the ruling political party and the effort failed. Its original representation of liberty from colonial Portuguese overlords strikes a rather different tone these days.

What about Ebola? While relevant to the larger question of how public health systems in Africa handle outbreaks, I am geographically closer to Liberia in Berlin than I will be in Maputo.

Have you been to Africa before? Other than a week in South Africa and a day-trip to Morocco, no. I’m excited to see a tiny slice of the continent.

How’s your Portuguese? I’ve studied it for several years, always with instructors from Brazil or Portugal. Curious to see whether I’ll understand the African interpretation.

You can learn more about the project here. Now I’m off to Frankfurt -> Addis Ababa -> Maputo. See you in Moz!