Mozambique: News from the Field

Editor’s Note: Ingrid Nelson is one of eight UO students to receive a U.S. Student Program Fulbright award this year.  She has also received funding from CSWS for her research in Mozambique. This story is used by permission of the author and taken from her personal blog.

Ingrid Nelson

Ingrid Nelson

by Ingrid Nelson, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Geography

October 10, 2009—A couple of days ago I was rushing around the city to get several errands done before sunset. I walked a fast 1.5 miles to an old friend’s office to give him a report by a Mozambican research institute about the coal mining situation and community resettlement fiasco up north in Moatize in Tete province (a Brazilian company has won the rights to run the expansion of the mine). I dashed to the bakery to pick up some bread and then walked across the city to my neighborhood. Traffic had doubled. One really needs to develop a sense of how fast a car is traveling and if it is accelerating or risk being run down. I dodged a large 4×4 as I crossed one side street and then turned to cross the main road. A group of young girls in their green and white school uniforms were giggling as they headed home. One of the girls held the hand of what I assumed to be her little brother who was only a toddler. As I thought to myself about how responsible the girl was, about how the burden of taking care of younger siblings often rests upon girls in the family, I suddenly heard the girls erupt in laughter.

One of the girls said something I couldn’t quite hear followed by something that sounded like “nee-haw,” which didn’t sound particularly Portuguese or Xitsonga, Cicopi or other languages of the region. I looked up and suddenly saw what they were on about. A flatbed truck drove by that was carrying a crew of 15 Chinese construction workers all in salmon-red work suits and hardhats. Yikes, I had just witnessed this group of little girls yelling racist remarks to this group of Chinese workers.

Urban Agriculture

I continued on my way home, stopping at the market for some soap and fruit juice, and then made my way along the uneven and deteriorating sidewalks in the dark towards my apartment. The next day I headed down the street and said good morning to the various guards and then turned to say good morning to two women who sell a meager amount of vegetables and fruit from their 6-ft-tall metal container by the sidewalk. As I waved, I stopped. I realized that the small triangular piece of “empty” land between the sidewalk and a fence and another apartment building had actually been planted with maize and cassava, which were about 1-ft high in little rows. A colleague of mine is researching urban agriculture in Africa and there it was, it took me two weeks to recognize what was going on behind the women’s little vegetable stand. I also learned from a woman who works for the local government in Manica province that the oranges and some of the other vegetables that I had been buying here in Maputo were actually grown in South Africa. She told me that in Manica (there’s a map earlier on in the blog) they grow their own oranges and much of the other produce is locally grown.

Ingrid Nelson, at the Centro de Formação Jurídica e Judiciária in Matola, Mozambique.

Ingrid Nelson, at the Centro de Formação Jurídica e Judiciária in Matola, Mozambique.

Human Trafficking

Switching gears a bit, I was invited to attend a day-long seminar this week at the Legal and Judicial Training Centre (CFJJ) in Matola (large industrial/suburb/city outside of Maputo) in which paralegals representing local government or NGOs from different provinces were being trained on gender issues especially with regards to natural resource and land rights. But the woman who was leading the seminar also shared information on one of the latest campaigns of feminist activism here in Mozambique: the recent rise in trafficking of children and women in the months leading up to the FIFA World Cup 2010 hosted by South Africa.

At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, young girls and women were trafficked to Germany for the rise in demand for sex tourism that accompanied the sudden flood of tourists and football teams into the country (though there was already a healthy market for prostitution in Germany before the World Cup as well). The majority of the trafficked women came from Eastern Europe. Recruiters are currently approaching young women and children’s parents in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and other countries (including South Africa) and giving promises of an education or a job in South Africa. While the impending World Cup increases the demand for sexual exploitation of women, people are trafficked for other reasons as well, such as for the pornography industry, to pay off debts, forced labor or for pedophilia,  etc. Once smuggled into South Africa these young girls and women are intimidated and threatened (“I’ll turn you over to the authorities if you don’t do what I say since you are here illegally” or “I’ll tell your whole family and community back home…” etc.), kept under lock and key and introduced to life as a prostitute through initial rape by the ring leaders of these trafficking networks. After several months of captivity, desensitization and psychological abuse these girls and women will be deemed ready to make money from the flood of tourists, football teams and South Africans in the various cities hosting World Cup games this coming July.

Illustration by Mauro Manhiça, commissioned by FORCOM (Fórum Nacional de Rádios Comunitárias:

For a Good Time—Illustration by Mauro Manhiça, commissioned by FORCOM (Fórum Nacional de Rádios Comunitárias:

There is still a lot of academic debate about whether or not trafficking actually increases with the occurrence of mega sporting events (since they are of such short duration) or if it is just demand for prostitution that increases. The assessments of the 2006 World Cup and its relation to human trafficking are mixed, but organizations in southern Africa are noticing an increase in human trafficking and are linking this to preparations for the upcoming World Cup. Human trafficking is a worldwide problem and Mozambique is currently a source, recipient and “in transit” country due in part to its geographical position connecting landlocked countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia to the coast and its connecting eastern African countries and South Africa. So what can be learned from this? While the 2010 World Cup promises to be a one of a kind event as it is the first FIFA World Cup on African soil, behind such international sporting events are black markets and 21st century forms of slavery. What can be done about this? There are a number of organizations at work trying to combat these trends:, La Strada International). If you know anyone going to the World Cup, give them a heads up about this. Prostitution is a complicated and contested issue in feminist debate, but these days at big international events such as these, chances are that the woman or girl you might be paying for a good time with isn’t running her own business or a member of a union and is a modern-day slave. So enjoy the games, get the word out. Behind the spectacle on the TV screen lie hidden truths that we’d rather forget but that we also have an obligation to our fellow human beings and as consumers of this spectacle to work against.