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Prominent Lawyer Defending the Poor Gunned Down in Mozambique

NEW YORK, Mar 4 2015 (IPS) - As billions pour into Mozambique from foreign investors scooping up fields of coal and natural gas, the signs of newfound wealth are impossible to miss.

Expensive European-style bars and restaurants line the streets of central Maputo. The latest Toyota Pradas, Range Rovers and Jaguars drive down streets named Julius Nyerere, Ho Chi Minh and Kim Il Sung, former socialist leaders who might have heart failure at the wealth gap found here today.

The World Bank called Mozambique’s transition from a post-conflict country to one of Africa’s “frontier economies” nothing short of impressive. “The country has become a world-class destination for mining and natural gas development,” the Bank wrote.

Yet, according to the Bank, this rapid expansion over the past 20 years barely moved the needle for the poor. “The geographical distribution of poverty remains largely unchanged,” the Bank wrote in October last year. Per capita income is 593 dollars, less than one-third of the sub-Saharan average.

In 2014, Mozambique ranked near the bottom – 178 out of 187 countries – in the U.N.’s Human Development index.

Malnutrition has worsened significantly; life expectancy at birth is just 50 years. Malaria remains the most common cause of death, especially among children.

With signs of great wealth amidst nationwide poverty, resentment has been growing in backwater regions that have not shared in the bounty.

This week, a prominent lawyer exploring the case to decentralise power and create autonomy for those peripheral regions was cut down in cold blood on the streets of the capital, Maputo. Gilles Cistac, 54, was shot by four men in a car while riding a cab to work, police said.

A spokesman for the former rebel group Renamo said Cistac had been killed because of his views on decentralisation.

“He was killed for having expressed his opinions regarding the most contentious political issues in the country,” Renamo spokesman António Muchanga told Reuters Tuesday.

Cistac, a professor of law at the national Eduardo Mondlane University, recently told local media that the creation of autonomous regions would be allowed under the constitution. Renamo, similarly, has proposed that Mozambique be divided into two countries.

But Frelimo, the ruling party, has repeatedly rejected calls for regional autonomy, although President Filipe Nyusi agreed to debate decentralisation in parliament after Renamo parliamentarians refused to take up their seats following elections in October 2014.

Regarding the murder of Cistec, Presidential Spokesman Antonio Gaspar said, “We condemn the attack and demand that the perpetrators are caught and brought to justice. The government has instructed the interior ministry to hunt and arrest those who assassinated Cistac so that they can be severely punished.”

Meanwhile, U.S. oil major Anadarko and Italy’s Eni are developing some of the world’s biggest untapped natural gas reserves in the north of the country – a Renamo stronghold, which the group has proposed to rename the Republic of Central and Northern Mozambique.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida

 
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