Essays

Effects of Lockdown Policies for COVID-19 in Mozambique

Reflecting on perceptions about the effects of pandemic containment policies

Abstract

In a global society, people have different views and perspectives towards lockdown policies. The “Global South” in general, and Mozambique in particular, each set of behaviours and attitudes, driven by the economic and social condition of each individual involved, influences the implementation of policies in the country at large. The present study, therefore, emerged as a result of lockdown policies and is aimed at reflecting on perceptions concerning the effects of containment policies imposed on account of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic in Mozambique. In addition to the field study (observation and small survey), the study used bibliographical research, with a qualitative approach based on the comprehensive and interpretive paradigm. The research reveals that the level of acceptability of lockdown policies is insignificant since lockdown is a luxury that does not reach the poorer classes, as they need to continue working to survive. Those accepting of lockdown are oblivious about the real situation of hunger that forces the poorest to go to work every day, making the streets and informal markets their locus of daily sustenance for the family.

Introduction

Mozambique has already gone through several crises, including political, economic, social, environmental and health.  However, contrary to other health crises the country has experienced, the current one, resulting from the COVID-19, is particularly different due to the advent of a globalised and integrated world, which makes us more vulnerable. Santos (2020) warns that lockdown, combined with the slowdown in economic activity, has obvious negative consequences.

The literal meaning of the corona-virus pandemic is the widespread chaotic fear and borderless death caused by an invisible enemy (Santos, 2020). The prevailing pandemic reality in Mozambique stimulates chaotic freedom. Any attempt to imprison it analytically is doomed to failure since reality always goes beyond what we think or feel about it. This state of affairs has stimulated this present bibliographical research. The research, whose foremost purpose is to scrutinise the effects of lockdown in Mozambique, was complemented by observation and interviews.

The study is divided into four sections, including this one: introduction.  The section following the introduction describes the socio-economic and political situation of the country, Mozambique, before COVID-19. The following section deals with the effects of containment policies in Mozambique. And finally, section four takes account of summing up the study, conclusions and suggestions.

Mozambique Before COVID-19: Socio-economic and Political Situation

In the period preceding the outbreak of the Sars-CoV-2 pandemic, there were no rules for the restriction and social lockdown of individuals. On the contrary, absolute freedom of movement of people was in place. Lockdown and social distancing have been quite difficult for many people, knowing that circumstances make this impossible. For example, those who commute from their homes to work daily face the old and colossal problem of lack of transport, which increases the risk of infection given the impossibility of maintaining the recommended distance. That is just one example to illustrate the degree of difficulty in fully complying with lockdown policies (Santos, 2020).

For the French sociologist Hamza Esmaili, lockdown is a luxury that does not reach the poorest classes, who need to keep working to survive. Esmili goes on saying in the following terms:

I believe that containment is necessary to stop the current pandemic. But as a sociologist, I see that the idea of ​​lockdown has several assumptions and doesn’t correspond to reality. Especially, it does not correspond to the reality of the population in the poorest neighbourhoods. Lockdown is a bourgeois concept (Esmili, 2020).

Thus, from our perspective, lockdown is extremely difficult because the majority of the population lives in the informal economy.

According to Baker (2020), mobility, like travel, has been one of the ways to spread infectious diseases throughout recorded history and will continue to be one of the causes of emergence, frequency and dissemination of infections in the population in different geographic regions. However, in 1986 Ulrich Beck, a German sociologist, wrote a famous book entitled Risk Society, which clearly shows the issue of risk and its consequences is socially constructed and is understood according to the historical period, cultural context and linked to the social structure in which it occurs.

Therefore, the idea of ​​distancing does not make sense for a street vendor, as it is precisely in the social proximity that the “soul” of his or her business is deep-rooted.  Working from home, as the lockdown policy presupposes, is throwing stones at a utopia without having tangible measures that would make the implementation of such a policy feasible such as a monthly basic food basket during the lockdown period. The issue that will surely come to light is disobedience to rules which are impossible to follow.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Mozambique was on the road to recovery from two years (2016-2018) of economic crisis. Owing to a reduction in inflation and the advance of one of two large gas projects and moving towards more inclusive growth, the country was more stable since the economic contraction caused by the debt crisis in 2016. However, the prospects of growth rates were limited. Average Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth hovered around 3.8% in 2016 and 2017 and reached a slightly lower rate in 2018, at 3.3%. Services such as tourism, transport and logistics, as well as financial activities – which were the most affected by the crisis – were gradually recovering. Still, these gains were also offset by weak growth in the extractive sector, as revealed by the World Bank Report (2018).

For a broader understanding of the economic, social and political relevance that the free circulation of people and goods brought (and still does) to the national economy before COVID-19, it should be recognised that even though about 2/3 of the population live in rural areas (ibid, 2018), the country has a vast area of ​​arable land, and great availability of water and energy, as well as newly discovered mineral and natural gas resources, three deep-water seaports, and a relatively large and potential workforce. It is also strategically located, as four of the six countries with which it has borders do not have access to the sea and therefore depend on Mozambique for access to global markets. Mozambique’s strong ties to the region’s economic power, South Africa, underscores the importance of its economic, political and social development for the stability and growth of southern Africa as a whole.

It is worth emphasising that tourism is a socio-economic practice that involves commuting, which very often involves the use of transport. In recent times, the volume and speed of tourism growth were unprecedented due to the development of technical and scientific information.   According to Guambe (2019), in 2018, international tourist arrivals reached 1.461 million in Mozambique. To enable these international influxes, tourists used all modes of transport, with greater emphasis on air, which, in 2018, made a substantial contribution in the movement of 58% of total tourist arrivals, followed by road transport, with 37%; the contribution of water and rail modes, with 4% and 2% respectively. These facts prove the importance of free movement to the Mozambican economy.

Examining social relations, Mozambique, like most African countries, has social relations in which the concept of “Ubuntu”[1] is fundamental. Ubuntu is grounded in a daily philosophy of direct, friendly and harmonious interaction of the elements that make up society, where people help each other and work together in farming, funeral ceremonies, weddings, and initiation rites, among other rituals or events (Cambrão & Julião, 2020).

Despite the mutual support networks and the growth offered by tourism, the Mozambican population between 2018 and 2019 still experienced extreme poverty rates, with agriculture and commerce moving people daily in search of maintenance for their daily survival and that of their households. There was also a growing disparity between those who were better off financially and the most disadvantaged households, limiting progress towards the goal of sharing prosperity and placing Mozambique among the countries with one of the highest levels of inequality in Sub-Saharan Africa.

COVID-19 in Mozambique: Effects of Containment Policies

The rapid expansion of community-acquired COVID-19 cases in many countries around the world led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the disease caused by the Coronavirus (COVID-19) as a pandemic on 11 March 2020 (WHO, 2020a). On 23 March, the first case of COVID-19 was registered in Mozambique. The country thus joined the list of countries with confirmed cases of the disease caused by the new Coronavirus (WHO, 2020b, p. 05). Through the Presidential Decree number 11/2020 of 30 March, Mozambique declared a state of emergency to face this pandemic. This decree regulated the functioning of institutions, both public and private, and included lockdown, social distancing and strict hygiene measures. These rules have had several types of consequences and responses from society.

In this context, we carried out a field study (observation, survey and interviews) with 22 individuals. All of them are national citizens residing in the provinces of Sofala and Nampula (in central and northern Mozambique). Half of these are informal traders, and the other half are workers in the formal economy (teachers, nurses and politicians). The study seeks to apprehend the level of acceptability of lockdown policies in the population and the motivating factors for each viewpoint of the studied subjects.

The table below shows the results of the questionnaire that we administered:

From this small survey, we can tell that the level of acceptability of lockdown policies is lower. Those who agree with lockdown disregard the hunger that forces the poorest to go to work every day in informal markets.

After presenting the survey results, we present the interviews carried out, the answers given, and our interpretations. We asked two guiding questions, which allowed us to gauge varying perceptions relating to the consequences of lockdown. The first question was:

What is your opinion about containment policies?

This question was posed to twenty-two people. Half of them were informal traders and the other half formal workers (teachers, nurses and politicians). Of these, seven agreed with the containment policies, and the remaining fifteen disagreed with these policies. Those who disagreed responded as follows:

Informal Merchant 1:

“I don’t agree with these lockdown policies because we the neediest have no other option, because if we are confined, we can starve knowing that we have not had food support from the government”.

Another informant, Informal Merchant 2, said:

“I think it makes no sense to adopt lockdown policies when conditions have not been created that will keep poor people like us alive, with food to sustain us, even if little”.

Two informants went a little further by saying, respectively:

“Since last year, the government has promised to give us a value as a survival subsidy in times of COVID-19, but the problems of that project were that the value would be given a single time only, and even more seriously, the amount was little and would not be enough to support our extended families” (Trader 3).

“It’s been over nine months or more, and this amount has not been channelled to the population until today. Thus, there is no way for us to stop going to the streets to earn our daily bread” (Informal merchant 3).

Still, along this same path, another informant went much further by stating the following:

“In this country, the poor are not given aid by the government, the richer are the ones who are valued. This inequality makes us feel helpless and abandoned because we don’t have any subsidy to fight hunger and, in this pandemic, we also don’t have any help received from the government, so for me, there is no way to be in lockdown while my children are hungry” (Trader 4).

The answers of the remaining eleven informal traders are identical to those given by four informants above.

Of the eleven formal workers, while four defend the same ideas already defended by informal traders, seven were reluctant to adopt a convergent opinion, as we can see in the words of one formal worker:

We have to be aware that this disease is dangerous and because it is highly contagious, we all have to be aware of protecting ourselves and protecting our closest ones, through the adoption of mandatory lockdown policies, without exception”.

The second question was:

What do you think should be done before the adoption of containment policies?

The answers of the informal traders read as follows: 

I believe that if the government created quarterly, semi-annual or annual survival subsidy funding, we could adopt such lockdown policies” (Informal Trader 6).

Another informant said,

If the government could create programs to support the disadvantaged before adopting these lockdown policies, it would be better.” (Informant 7).

From these interviews, in addition to our observations, we find that those who defend lockdown are mere reproducers of “politically correct” opinions, and/or slaves of decisions taken, regardless of the consequences, either out of fear (for historical reasons of the country) or to gain the sympathy of the “policymakers”. Moreover, some of those who approve the lockdown measures are unaware of the reality experienced by more disadvantaged citizens, who have the streets as their only source of income and survival.

Also, we observe widespread ignorance and lack of respect for moderate social distancing measures and focussed protection of those most at risk from COVID-19. The accentuated inequalities that characterise the country are a driving force for disobedience of the minimum measures to prevent COVID-19 on the part of informal traders. Mozambique is a country whose social inequality is quite visible and acute. On the one hand, there is a small, very wealthy elite and, on the other, an overwhelming impoverished majority living on less than a dollar a day, according to the 2019 Human Development Index (HDI). Such inequalities generate two types of consequences: one for the wealthy elite and one for the poorer.  This has to be taken into consideration.

Moreover, formal employment has also been very strongly affected. According to the CTA[2] (2020), the mandatory lockdown, decreed in several countries around the world and Mozambique, in particular, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is affecting companies in the Extractive Industry, specifically those in the Mining Sector whose production is exclusively for export, and those in the oil and gas sector that is in the implantation phase in Mozambique and depends on foreign specialists in their operations. About 500 PMEs are associated with the Extractive Industry, of which 85 (about 17%) have already completely suspended their activities, putting 26,350 at risk as a result. Regarding the expected turnover of PMEs[3] to date, 160 of them (about 32%) recorded a 100% reduction in turnover, which corresponds to an estimated loss of revenue of USD 12.6 million.

We believe that when adopting the containment policies, it would be possible to fight the “acerbity” that this pandemic imposes by combining efforts of the National Institute of Social Action (INAS), which is responsible for the Basic Social Subsidy for vulnerable people (living in precariousness), to those of some philanthropic organisations. And not only that, if the efforts are collaged, it could be possible to fight the deadliest pandemic: hunger. Some say, “Better to die of hunger than of COVID-19.” Therefore, lockdown can impose high levels of stress, which, in turn, can compromise the population’s physical and mental health.

Conclusion

During COVID-19, unlike the rich who have not faced daily survival challenges, the poor see survival as a problem that is even more serious than the illness. Indeed, for poor people, who often lack income, food, clothing, housing and basic health care, lockdown itself is a threat. Many families resort to selling on the streets, wandering through the avenues to sell anything in the informal markets. These people far outnumber the small number of workers in the formal system whose jobs are at risk.

Certainly, this disease has a point to prove to the world, especially to those who govern it: society, without exception, is vulnerable due to the current socio-economic policies driven by the unequal accumulation of money. The pandemic has revealed global society’s greatest weaknesses. And as the responses to our survey show, in Mozambique, the response has exacerbated those inequalities and created great poverty and hunger, as well as a sense of impotence and disregard towards policies that are impossible for most people to observe.

As we evidenced earlier in the present work, in Mozambique, if the lockdown policies were to be adopted successfully, there is a need to create a government fund, in partnership with global philanthropic institutions, through the National Institute of Social Action (INAS), which is responsible for the Basic Social Subsidy for vulnerable people (who live in precarious conditions).  And indeed, moving forwards and regardless of health conditions, such a fund is needed at all times to provide basic levels of equality among the citizens of this very unequal country.

Finally, we believe that it is time to put into practice the African Philosophy Ubuntu across the world: we are human insofar as we participate, live in communion and, above all, in solidarity. It is time for global solidarity.


Bibliographical References

Baker, M. Mc. A. (2020). Tourism and the Health Effects of Infectious Diseases: Are There Potential Risks for Tourists? International Journal of Safety and Security in Tourism/Hospitality. Facultade de Ciencias Económicas. Disponível em: https://www.palermo.edu/Archivos_content/2015/economicas/journaltourism/edicion12/03_Tourism_and_Infectous_Disease.pdf acesso em 6/7/2021

Beck, U. (2011). Sociedade de risco: rumo a uma outra modernidade. SP: Editora 34.

Cambrão, P. & Julião, D. (2020). Covid-19 e suas Implicações em Moçambique: uma Análise Antropo-sociológica.  Moçambique: REID – Revista Electrónica de Investigação e Desenvolvimento.

Confederação das Associações Económicas de Moçambique (2020). Análise do impacto da covid-19 nas operações da cadeias de valor da indústria extractiva. CTA.

Esmili, H. (2020). Coronavírus: confinamento é um luxo inviável para os mais pobres, afirma sociólogo francês. BBC News Mundo.

Guambe, J. J. J. (2019). Efeitos da Pandemia de Covid19 sobre o turismo na África subsaariana e em Moçambique. Maputo: Universidade Pedagógica e Maputo.

Relatório sobre o Desenvolvimento Mundial 2018 (2018). Aprendizagem para Realizar a Promessa da Educação.

Santos, B. S. (2020). A Cruel Pedagogia do Vírus. Coimbra: Edições Almedina, S.A.

WHO (World Health Organization) (2020a)? “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)”, Situation Report.

WHO, (World Health Organization) (2020b, Março 11), “WHO Director-General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19”.


[1] A society supported by the pillars of respect and solidarity is part of the essence of ubuntu, an African philosophy that deals with the importance of alliances and the relationship of people with each other. In an attempt to translate into Portuguese, Ubuntu would be “humanity to others.

[2] Confederation of Economic Associations of Mozambique.

[3] Small and Medium Enterprise.

Pedrito C. C. Cambrão holds a PhD in Sociology from the University of Porto (U. Porto), Lecturer, Researcher and Coordinator of the Scientific Directorate of the Zambeze University – Matacuane Campus – Beira/Sofal, e-mail: prof.pedrito@hotmail.com

Domingos M. Julião is a student of International Relations and Local Developmnt at Universidade Lúrio (UniLúrio), Faculty of Social and Human Sciences – Ilha de Moçambique/Nampula, e-mail: domingosmanueljuliao@gmail.com

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