Culture, Freedom, and Development

Citizens have shaped policy and cultural norms in unprecedented ways in developing countries due to the boom in media and increase in freedom of expression. These members of society can connect with each other to represent their opinions to their governments, represent their nation to the international community, and bring attention to development issues. As one example, the Portuguese-speaking Southern African country of Mozambique has a richness of cultural traditions and a relatively high level of freedom of speech compared to regional countries. In this country, dancing is a part of daily life, and people are seen regularly protesting in the street.

Mozambique is a country with a rich history, multifaceted culture, and steadily growing economy, yet it is one of the least developed countries in the world in terms of health, education, and income. As a country located in Southern Africa on the Indian Ocean, Mozambique experienced an influx of migrating peoples and cultures throughout the centuries including Bantu tribes, Arab and Asian traders, and Portuguese colonizers. Gaining its independence from Portugal in 1975, the country had nearly two decades of civil war ending in 1992 with about a million deaths. While the country has gradually moved towards democracy and a robust economy, on the Human Development Index (HDI) the United Nations ranks Mozambique as 185 out of 187 countries (1  = very high level of human development; 187 = very low level of human development).  The HDI indicates that Mozambicans on average have a life expectancy of 50.7 years at birth, 1.2 years of schooling, and a Gross National Income of $906 (international $) per year. Despite the Government of Mozambique’s agenda to reach the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals by 2015, the country and its leadership fall short. After a grueling civil war, the transformations in Mozambique’s political and economic systems have not added up to the general well being of its citizens in terms of human development.

While Mozambique has shocking indications of very low human development, its society has great strengths in media freedom and cultural expression. Citizens regularly express their discontent against the president and the ruling party through private media outlets including printed press, social media, and TV and radio stations. In fact, compared to the Sub-Saharan Africa region and countries worldwide, Mozambique’s press freedom ranks high – 73 out of 179 countries according to international media whistle-blower Reporter without Borders. Furthermore, citizens often exhibit their resistance to policies and bring attention to national development issues via cultural expression through media outlets. Singers lament about corruption on the privately owned TV station Miramar, and the National Song and Dance Company of Mozambique (Companhia Nacional de Canto e Dança or CNCD) has partnered with the United Nations to bring awareness about development issues such as the fight against HIV and AIDS. Cultural institutions that promote such expression receive little support from the government; nonetheless, they could be instrumental in promoting citizen-led development initiatives in the coming years.

In order to shift Mozambique’s development status from the third least-developed country in the world, Mozambicans could greatly benefit from harnessing strength in their freedom of speech and cultural expression. The efforts of the CNCD and UN are a good start. In Mozambique, where culture and freedoms of expression are such great parts of daily life, the intersection of cultural expression and development could be great platforms for a stronger nation.

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