Do Bicycles Equal Development in Mozambique?

Hanlon, Joseph, Teresa Smart
Oxford: James Curry, 2008, ISBN 978-1-84701-319-4, 242 pp.
Reviewed by or other comment: 

Ndwakhulu Tshishonga

Lecturer in Community Development,

University of KwaZulu-Natal,

South Africa

The first section of this book asks whether real development is taking place in Mozambique. It traces the country’s history through its brutal wars, the achievement of peace, and slow recovery. It leads the reader through the destruction inflicted by the colonial Portuguese when they were leaving the country, as well as the civil instability generated by Renamo. The second section focuses on the main political party, Frelimo, and the prevailing problems of corruption and dependency. Lastly the authors question the value of market-led development and seek alternatives to it.
Hanlon and Smart analyse the driving force behind development in Mozambique, and ask who is really benefiting from it. They describe the political, economic, and social structural changes that the country is going through on the path to recovery. They argue that the commitment to social development is merely rhetorical on the part of the Bretton Woods institutions and other external donors, who wield the real power in Mozambique. The authors’ own observations are supplemented by interviews to enable the reader to understand the debates and political issues at stake. The book situates current debates about development not only in Mozambique but also in the wider developing world, where governments’ freedom of action is stifled by impossible stipulations, imposed by the World Bank, the IMF, and other donors, about how the national economy should be run.

Although the increased provision of bicycles in Mozambique is often cited as a symbol of development, the authors argue that there are still not enough. Rapid advances in education have resulted in greater literacy among the population, but neither this nor the increased availability of bicycles has done much to raise the incomes and living standards of rural people. Considering that Mozambique has been enjoying peace for the past 16 years, it is disappointing that development has not yet reached the majority of ordinary citizens. Hanlon and Smart argue that the war-free years have actually made people worse off than they were before. Private-sector and market-led development in Mozambique is not reducing poverty. The reason is that the majority of the people are too poor to take advantage of the free market and of the expansion in human capital and infrastructure.

The book asks why progress has been so slow, considering the prevailing conditions of peace in the country and the amount of aid that has been poured into it. It considers Mozambique’s problems in the planning of development strategies. The writers argue that even though there is plenty of human capital and infrastructure to support development, they are not enough on their own. The interviews conducted for the book make it clear that despite the diligence, hard work, honesty, and skills of the individual Mozambican people, they still find it difficult to achieve any effective development for their communities. Peasants as well as civil servants find it extremely difficult to survive in the economic sphere, given the lack of credit, marketing support, and technical help. The authors suggest that if only skilled farmers and their associations were assisted, as in other countries, they could become productive and profitable, thereby enhancing self-development as well as community development.

The book criticises Mozambique’s policy of allowing foreign investors to take the lead, followed by a few wealthy party-connected individuals who are only interested in their own development. It shows that millions of people work individually in the informal sector: people like Felito Julio, who sells sugar cane that he delivers to his customers on his bicycle. They argue that the country’s economic policies fail to take into account small business people and associations engaged in commercial farming, building, and other activities that could encourage small informal businesses like that of Felito.

The book’s observations and interviews are impressive. It bluntly tells it as it is: that the majority of the people have not been lifted out of poverty. Rather, the modern cargo cults, i.e. the IMF and the World Bank, together with donor countries, have not brought development flying in. Although there are a few pockets of development in the villages and towns of Mozambique, the rest of the country is still backward in terms of development. Poor people are frustrated by the lack of support from the government and credit associations. Considering the people’s diligence and capacity for hard work, the authors argue that Mozambique could be economically developed, given appropriate attention to its human capital and infrastructure. This comprehensive account of the development of Mozambique presents a true picture of how development in the Third World is hindered by policy makers and donors. Although Mozambique is quoted as a success story in terms of economic growth, the book paints a different picture. The country cannot be developed by the efforts of people like the sugar-cane seller acting alone: they need the support of the government, and without this aid and without a change of policy by the government and the Bretton Woods institutions, there will be no sustainable development.
I highly recommend this book to students, economists, and politicians, because it will stimulate debate on the nature of development and prompt questions about the validity of economic policies currently imposed by donors.