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DEVELOPMENT-MOZAMBIQUE: Jose Negrao, An Economist Who Cared

Moyiga Nduru

JOHANNESBURG, Jul 1 2007 (IPS) - The late activist and economist Jose Negrao, who posthumously won the Southern Africa Trust’s Drivers of Change Award last year, is featuring again at this year’s awards. His brainchild, Mozambique’s Group of 20 anti-poverty civil society organisations, has been nominated for the 2007 award.

Nominations for this year’s Drivers of Change Award close in five days’ time on Friday July 6. It is only the second year that organisations and individuals in the categories of civil society, business and government can be nominated for the award.

The award is not monetary but aims at acknowledging initiatives in the Southern African region which contribute to overcoming poverty and succeeds in making a real and lasting difference to poor people’s lives.

When one mentions Jose Negrao’s name, colleagues and friends remember him as a selfless person who devoted most of his life to fighting poverty in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony situated along Africa’s south-eastern coast.

Negrao, a professor of Development Economics at Mozambique’s University of Eduardo Mondlane, was a champion of the poor and of social change. He sadly died in 2005, aged 49, leaving a formidable legacy.

‘‘He was on the poor people’s side, unlike most academics. He made sure poor people’s voices got into the country’s national poverty index,’’ Graig Castro of international human rights organisation Oxfam told IPS. Oxfam nominated Negrao for the 2006 Drivers of Change Award.

‘‘One of his qualities was to bring different opinions together without any antagonism. He had a rare quality not found in most people,’’ he said.

Negrao was known for his passion to reduce poverty in rural areas where 70 percent of Mozambicans live. In the 1990s he stayed in Zambezia province on the border with Zimbabwe, Zambia and Malawi, working on his PhD thesis titled ‘‘Economic behaviour of the rural poor’’.

‘‘His argument was that poor people are poor because they don’t have opportunities. If they access opportunities through economic and political power they will be able to improve their conditions,’’ explained Pomash Manhicane, executive director at the Cruzeiro do Sul Jose Negrao Institute for Development Research, a think tank established by Negrao in Maputo, Mozambique.

‘‘He used to travel a lot around Mozambique with his students to talk to poor people and conduct research on poverty.

‘‘He will be remembered for leading the land reform campaign in Mozambique. He coordinated 15,000 volunteers to campaign against the privatisation of land,’’ said Manhicane told IPS in an interview.

‘‘He made sure that the poor, especially women, had a voice in the formulation of the land law. Negrao will also be remembered for helping to set up the Group of 20 civil society organizations, or G20, to fight poverty in Mozambique,’’ said Manhicane.

No stranger to awards, Negrao received former Anglican Archbishop and anti-apartheid activist Desmond Tutu’s Footprints of Legend Leadership Award in 2002. He was named personality of the year by the Mozambican weekly newspaper ‘‘Savana’’. The Danish also honoured him for his work.

In January, Mozambique’s National Union of Peasants commemorated the death of Negrao, Manhicane said.

Negrao’s commitment to fighting poverty was well-founded. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPF) put the country’s per capita income at around 210 US dollars per annum and life expectancy at 41.9 years, among the lowest in Africa.

This is mainly due to HIV/AIDS which also fuels poverty. Around 1.8 million Mozambicans are living with the virus, according to a 2007 Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) report.

The Southern Africa Trust initiated the Drivers of Change Award because ‘‘there is so much happening at grassroots level which is not known. Some projects are working. We want to bring them to the fore,’’ said Petronilla Ndebele, communications and partnerships manager at the Southern Africa Trust.

Apart from recognition, the award ‘‘has great potential to provide a platform for sharing experiences, learning and linking similar initiatives,’’ Ndebele explained. The Southern Africa Trust is a non-governmental funding organisation based in South Africa’s commercial hub of Johannesburg.

The Southern Africa Trust is looking for individuals and organisations which have demonstrated innovation in strategies to develop and implement better public policy for ending poverty and inequality in Southern Africa.

‘‘For the business award, we look at corporate social responsibility to empower people. We also look at the nominee’s labour policy and whether it is employing people from the area,’’ Ndebele said. The winner will be announced at a gala event in October 2007.

She pointed out that 40 percent of the people in the Southern African Development Community, with its combined population of 230 million, live below the poverty line of one dollar a day.

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