Mozambique's economic record over the past 15 years has rightly been praised. Annual GDP growth of 10% has become the norm, large-scale foreign direct investment (FDI) has helped to boost government revenues and Maputo is certainly making the most of its strategic location close to South Africa.
Yet most of the country away from the more economically developed south and main coastal cities has yet to see any real benefits. The war may be over but unemployment and underemployment are massive problems, while trade with Maputo, never mind the rest of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), remains limited.
Although the war caused a great deal of devastation to local trade patterns and infrastructure, it is often overlooked how little effort the Portuguese colonial authorities put into developing some parts of the country. Apart from Maputo, investment was largely restricted to select agricultural regions where a plantation economy evolved. Many regions were relatively untouched by 400 years of Portuguese rule and surveys of the country in the 1970s uncovered Mozambicans who did not know that they lived in a country named Mozambique. The lack of north-south transport links were a major cause of this isolation.
The few major transport links that were constructed were expected to form the basis of the independence era economy. However, the main west to east railway lines that connected the western provinces to the eastern ports became regular targets during the civil war and were put out of use for many years. This not only divided the interior from the coast but also prevented the use of Mozambique's ports by the landlocked countries to the west.
From north to south: a railway line led from the Zambian-Malawian border through Malawi, connecting with Lilongwe and Blantyre before passing through the Mozambican town of Nampula on its way to the port of Nacala. A connecting line passed from Blantyre southwards through Sofala to another Mozambican port, Beira. A second line connected Zimbabwe, and ultimately much of the rest of Southern Africa, with Beira. Further south, railways from Swaziland, Johannesburg and Zimbabwe led to Maputo. The Johannesburg link obviously enabled goods to be imported from or exported to most of South Africa via rail.
The colonial era railways enabled Mozambique to trade with its neighbours and the activities of Southern African traders helped to fund railway maintenance...