Like many other men and women in Mozambique’s capital, Maputo, Agostinho feels optimistic about the future. After years of living in extreme poverty, he now has his own business and lives with his family in Zimpeto, a growing neighbourhood in the northern outer end of Maputo.
One of the things that has made the biggest difference to him and his family’s life has been improvements in the energy system. In Zimpeto his household is linked to the electricity grid. Agostinho buys electricity through a prepaid system called Credelec. Thanks to Credelec Agostinho has greater control over his electricity spending but prices have gone up and he’s now paying more. Using electricity for cooking is too expensive.
Thus, the game changer in Agostinho’s life has been the arrival of gas. Until last year, the family relied entirely on charcoal for all their cooking needs, a common occurrence in Maputo’s low income neighbourhoods. Last year he invested in a new gas cookstove and a gas cylinder. The convenience soon became apparent. The gas stove cooks faster, is cleaner and can be used inside the house. While the cookstove and gas cylinder cost a fair amount, this represents a significant advancement.
The benefits of gas improved further when in June this year the price halved. An 11kg bottle that used to cost US$13 (773 MZN) now costs US$7 (446 MZN), making it cheaper than charcoal. In a country where firewood and charcoal account for 77% of the total energy balance, the transition to gas can make an enormous difference to the lives of the poorest people.
The drop in prices came just after Mozambique’s Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy, Leticia Klemens, and the Vice-President of Shell, Clare Harris, signed a memorandum of understanding for the domestic exploitation of Mozambique’s gas reserves in the Rovuma Basin. This is one of the largest reserves of natural gas in southern Africa. The announcement of the agreement alone has been sufficient for the government to drop consumer prices.
The agreement follows a public tender to exploit gas reserves for domestic purposes. The government also awarded two other projects. In the past, Mozambique’s energy policy focused on generating revenue through exporting natural resources, such as hydropower and coal, at the expense of developing internal markets. If maintained, these projects will mark a significant departure from previous energy policies.
The one dark cloud hanging over this development is the country’s debt crisis. Many expect that gas revenues will help palliate the consequences of this odious debt, but gas is still not flowing. After last year’s scandal, the government is anxious to show that it’s able to mobilise the country’s natural gas reserves to benefit ordinary Mozambicans.
The drop in gas prices was a key theme at a workshop with local leaders of some of the poorest neighbourhoods in Maputo.
“People are transitioning to gas”, explained one participant. This transition is clearly visible in Maputo. The charcoal-based urban landscape is disappearing. Gone are the days when there was a charcoal-selling point in every corner, although the charcoal depots remain strong in large markets. As deforestation advances, charcoal is produced farther and farther away, with most coming from the relatively unstable province of Gaza. Charcoal is now so expensive that gas has become a more affordable option for many people.
Yet, for now, charcoal continues to be the fuel of choice for most households in Maputo. The transition to gas is, as yet, incomplete.
In their discussions, local leaders explained that gas is the new norm in cooking practices but most households have not yet adopted it. A heated discussion emerged about why people continue to use charcoal. Is it because gas cookstoves are too expensive? Is it because people prefer to cook with charcoal through habit? Or are they used to the taste of the meat cooked with charcoal? Perhaps people are unaware of the possibilities of gas and how to use it? Or maybe many families perceive gas to be unsafe?
One neighbourhood leader said:
We are just like this, it is difficult to change us!
He said this to justify the need for civic education. Yet, it’s not people who have to change. Rather, a range of institutional, infrastructural and socio-economic factors determine the possibilities for sustainable transitions to universal energy access. For example, in some neighbourhoods, accessing gas supplies is difficult whereas charcoal sellers will bring charcoal right to the door of households in portions small enough to be affordable on a day-to-day basis. Moreover, households may not provide a safe setting to install a gas cookstove, even when the family can afford it.
The transition to gas is not inevitable. As one of the community leaders in the workshop stated, “accessing energy is a process”. Gas may contribute to improve the lives of Maputo’s inhabitants. However, this depends on a gradual process of adjustment of local practices of energy use, changes in the built environment to fit gas technologies and the development of local energy markets to facilitate access to gas supplies.
*Names are pseudonyms
Vanesa Castán Broto, Senior Lecturer Environment and Sustainable Development, UCL; Domingos Augusto Macucule, Senior Lecturer in Urban Planning and Sustainability, and Shaun Smith, Post-doctoral researcher in energy, UCL
Exxon Mobil Corp. said it will buy a 25 percent stake in a project off Mozambique from Italy's Eni SpA for about $2.8 billion as the U.S. oil giant expands in natural gas.
Eni will continue to lead the Coral floating liquefied natural gas project and all upstream operations in Area 4 while ExxonMobil will lead the construction and operation of gas liquefaction facilities onshore, Exxon said in a statement Thursday. The purchase will be completed after a number of conditions are passed, notably clearance from the authorities in Mozambique.
"This strategic investment will enable Exxon Mobil's LNG leadership and experience to support development of Mozambique's abundant natural gas resources," Chief Executive Officer Darren W. Woods said in the statement.
The U.S. oil major's participation will potentially accelerate development of one of the world's largest LNG projects. Former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson discussed plans to buy into Eni's assets with Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi in July.
Over the last three decades there’s been some progress towards institutionalising multiparty democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this elections in the region rarely result in changes of government.
A recent survey by Afrobarometer – a non-partisan African research network – sheds some light on why this is the case. The survey, which involved 9 500 interviews conducted in 2014/2015 in Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe, found widespread support for multiparty politics.
But the results also show that opposition parties face major obstacles to winning majority support. These include the fact that they aren’t trusted as much as governing parties and that very often they aren’t seen as a viable alternative to the dominant ruling party.
All five countries are governed by parties that emerged from liberation movements and have been in power for decades since independence. Although some of these incumbents have lost some electoral support in recent years, opposition support has not been high enough to unseat them.
The trust question
The latest findings mirror the results of a survey in 36 African countries in 2014/2015 which found that opposition parties had the lowest levels of popular trust among 12 types of institutions and leaders. While trust in ruling parties was 46%, it was only 35% for opposition parties.
This was an improvement over the situation more than a decade earlier when trust levels in opposition parties was much lower.
Figure 1: Trust in opposition political parties| 5 countries in Southern Africa | 2014/2015
In Namibia and Mozambique levels of trust in opposition parties were found to be at the highest levels ever. But in Zimbabwe trust in the political opposition declined sharply after 2008/2009. Similarly, the proportion of Zimbabweans who said they felt “close to” an opposition party dropped from 45% in 2009 to 19% in 2014.
This dramatic reversal of fortune provides an important lesson for opposition parties in the other four countries. First, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, led by Morgan Tsvangirai, was unable to leverage its role in stabilising the country when it was part of the Government of National Unity (GNU).
Secondly, infighting and increasing fractionalisation may have further shaped public opinion about its viability as a party.
There’s a much more lopsided distribution of power and resources for opposition parties in countries with dominant governing parties than for those in competitive party systems. This, coupled with a lack of governance experience, makes it difficult for opposition parties to be seen as credible alternatives.
Take the example of Botswana. The Botswana Democratic Party, in power since independence in 1966, is the region’s most enduring dominant party. It has even adopted the slogan “There is still no alternative”. Although the party has been able to maintain a majority of parliamentary seats, its share of the popular vote declined to 46.7% in 2014, the lowest level of any of the dominant parties in the region.
Afrobarometer’s 2014 survey, which took place a few months before the election, showed that 44% of Batswana agreed that the political opposition presented a viable alternative vision and plan for the country (Table 1, below).
Table 1: Perceptions of opposition viability | 10 countries in southern African | 2014/2015
In Botswana’s “winner-takes-all” electoral system, a large part of the opposition’s success in the 2014 election was due to three parties forming a coalition - the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC). This reduced vote splitting. A recent decision to expand the coalition to include the country’s remaining major opposition party, the Botswana Congress Party, has led to speculation about the chance of an opposition electoral victory in 2019.
Similarly, in South Africa, the opposition’s strong showing in the 2016 local elections has bolstered its optimism about its prospects in the 2019 national and provincial polls.
This success suggests that confidence in the political opposition may have grown since the 2015 Afrobarometer survey. It could also reflect widespread dissatisfaction with the governing African National Congress and political institutions, leaders and performance on a range of key policy areas.
But public dissatisfaction with government performance doesn’t necessarily translate into perceptions that opposition parties could do a better job, as Figure 2 shows. This is particularly so in South Africa and Zimbabwe. While eight in 10 citizens in the two countries report poor government performance on their top policy priority (unemployment, only 37% say that another political party could solve the problem.
Figure 2: Poor government performance on most important problem and opposition ability to solve problem | 5 countries in southern Africa | 2014/2015
Role of opposition parties
What role should opposition parties play?
Only a minority of citizens in the five southern African countries with dominant parties agree that the opposition’s primary role should be to
monitor and criticise the government in order to hold it accountable.
This is true even among respondents who are opposition party supporters (Figure 3, below). In South Africa there’s even been a decline since 2008/2009 in support for opposition parties playing a “watchdog” role.
Figure 3: Support for opposition ‘watchdog’ role| 5 countries in southern African countries | 2008-2015
This suggests that opposition parties might put off potential voters if they are seen to be constantly criticising the ruling party rather than contributing to the country’s development. Opposition parties might do better if they highlight their policy platforms and gain citizen confidence in their plans and capabilities.
This is a crucial insight for opposition parties in the region as it runs counter to the opposition’s conventional role in Western democracies.
Rorisang Lekalake, Research Fellow at the Centre for Social Sciences Research (CSSR)/Afrobarometer Assistant Project Manager for Southern Africa, University of Cape Town