It’s not uncommon to have a weapon such as a sword or a shield on a national flag as these often symbolize a country’s struggle for freedom, but what about having a Kalashnikov AK-47 assault rifle?! Well, if you look closely at the Mozambique flag, sure enough you’ll find one. Apparently the gun stands for defence and vigilance and even though there have been murmurs over the years for it to be removed it still sits proudly on the flag, along with a star, a hoe and an open book. Thankfully, on my recent trip to the country I only came across two of these four objects (and no, I didn’t do any weeding whilst there!).
It was my first time in Mozambique, one of Africa’s six Portuguese speaking nations. I don’t speak Portuguese, or even Spanish, but due to its borders with English speaking South Africa, Swaziland, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi and Tanzania, there were a fair few citizens who I was able to converse with. Adjacent to the Indian Ocean, the country has one of the longest coastlines in Africa.
The Portuguese first landed way back in 1498. The nation achieved independence in 1975 but the capital, Maputo, still has many pockets of colonial influence. The Maputo Central Train Station is considered one of the most beautiful stations on the continent. The regal Hotel Polana still oozes colonial opulence even though it has transformed into one of the city’s most modern facilities. My favourite piece of architecture is the Casa do Ferro (Iron House) designed by Gustav Eiffel (of Parisian Tower fame). It is a house made completely of iron which became so hot in the summer that it was abandoned. It’s safe to say that the Paris landmark has been more of a success!
Maputo has a population of 1.2 million and although some areas of downtown are fairly cramped, with a certain nitty gritty, there are other suburbs which are spread out and even resemble the well-to-do suburbia of London. The popular expatriate areas of Polana and Sommerschield stretch north along the coast, flanked by the palm fringed Avenida da Marginal and are dotted with popular facilities, including the country’s best mall, Marés Shopping, and the businessman magnet Radisson Blu Hotel.
These suburbs came as a surprise to me as Mozambique has one of the lowest GDP’s per capita in the world. I’ve been to countries far higher in the GDP ranking list which have nowhere near the quality of amenities. You’ll be able to pick up most of your weekly shopping list at one of the South African chain stores of Spar, Game and Shoprite and even if you’re hunting something a little more obscure, the chances are you can find it in Maputo. Along the Avenida Julius Nyerere, in the Polana area, are a handful of small gourmet shops selling the likes of Old El Paso tortillas, Yutaka miso paste and creamy imported French cheeses. The pick of these shops is probably Deli 968 and nearby there are many coffee shops and restaurants popular with diplomats and the expatriate community.
One shopping area which does not appeal so much to foreigners is the Maputo Shopping Centre in the downtown area. It’s actually illegal for US citizens to buy products from the mall as it is owned by Mohamed Bachir Suleman, who is on a list of wanted drug barons by the US government! This won’t ruffle the feathers of many US expats though as the mall is looking rather sorry for itself these days, although it does have the city’s only cinema.
Going full circle now I’m going to finish on the gun/flag topic. We know that Mozambique has a gun on its national flag, but can you name the other two countries which have guns appear on them? It’s actually quite tricky but have a go by looking through the flags on this website: http://www.photius.com/flags/alphabetic_list.html