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Along one side of Maputo’s Avenida Samora Machel, a wide boulevard that leads up towards the imposing city hall, a block of old colonial buildings lies in ruins. Trees grow where once there were living rooms. A few yards away is the gleaming red façade of a new international bank branch. Maputo, the seaside capital of Mozambique, is full of such juxtapostions: between the old and the new, the rich and the poor, the beautiful and the ugly.

Maputo wakes early – the office day starts at 07.30 – but it takes a while for the city to rub the sleep from its eyes. There is a laid-back feel to Maputo that is at odds with the pace of change that is beginning to take place. Since the end of the civil war in 1992, Mozambique has experienced steady economic growth yet it remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. International aid still makes up around 40 per cent of the government’s annual budget. But foreign investment has soared in the past five years, from around $100m (€78m) in 2005 to almost $900m (€700m) now. Part of the reason is the country’s relatively untapped coal, gas and mineral reserves. Some of the world’s largest mining firms are preparing multi-billion-euro investments in Tete, a coal-rich province in the north.

This is all having a knock-on effect on Maputo. The central business district is almost unrecognisable from five years ago. Cranes dot the horizon, building new office blocks and luxury hotels. Economic growth and untapped minerals may attract big business, but it is something else that has drawn the fashion designers and architects, musicians and artists who can be found dancing beneath the stars at the open-air Rua d’Arte club at 04.00 on a Saturday morning.

“I grew up in Brazil and thought that was paradise,” says Beatriz Costa, an Angolan fashion designer who set up a boutique in Maputo with her Mozambican husband, Miguel, three years ago. “But paradise is here.” It is a city that enjoys its culture. One recent Saturday night there was a crush outside the Teatro Gil Vicente as hundreds of people jostled to get in to watch flamenco. After the show, most people walked up the road to the Franco Mozambique for the opening of a new photography exhibition.

There is a faded glamour to Maputo. It has its spots of beauty but is still a little rough around the edges. The architecture also reflects the city’s Portuguese and communist heritage. Mini colonial masterpieces lie hidden behind vast grey ­concrete apartment blocks.

“We love our art,” says Goncalo Mabunda, a 33-year-old artist who makes sculptures out of rusting old civil war munitions. “It’s part of what makes this city.”

The beach also helps. At weekends, Avenida da Marginal, the road that runs up along the coast, is one long traffic jam. Cars are parked on the sand, stereos are turned up and beers are drunk as young men set up impromptu volleyball or football matches, while others show off their back-flips and capoeira skills. Women at the side of the road sell beer from iron shacks and barbecue fresh chicken and fish.

Beaches, culture and a lively nightlife have not just attracted foreigners – it has also helped Maputo keep talented Mozambicans who might otherwise have been tempted to move abroad. “I’ve lived in Europe before but somehow I always come back,” says Christine Ramela, a 29-year-old who works in advertising. “It’s the nightlife, the food, the people.” The influx of foreigners, both the aid workers and the businesspeople, has added to the mix. “We have become a more cosmopolitan city.”

Her boss, Vasco Rocha, is one of those foreigners. He came to Maputo from Portugal for a week-long holiday in 1997. “I thought, ‘Why am I going back to the traffic and the stress of Europe?’” At the time, there were no advertising agencies in Maputo. Within six months he had established his own company and two years later it was bought by DDB, making it one of just four offices the agency has in sub-Saharan Africa.

In the late 1990s, there were few ­Portuguese who made the move from Lisbon to Maputo. Most of those who had been based in Mozambique when the country was a Portuguese colony left in 1975 when it won its independence. In recent years though, particularly as the Portuguese economy has begun to ­struggle, more have begun to return. “There are new Portuguese coming every day,” says Rocha.

And not just Portuguese. Maputo’s growth has attracted interest from the other big Lusophone economies: Angola and Brazil. Mozambique Airlines began twice-weekly direct flights between Maputo and Luanda last year and plans to add a third weekly flight in November. Angolans, flush with oil money, are investing in mobile phone networks and hotels. The Brazilian influence is more established, and is confirmed by the success of TV Brasil. The channel, which began broadcasting across Africa in May, was launched following demand from Brazilians living on the continent. But it also fits nicely with Brazilian president Lula’s Africa policy. Since becoming president in 2002, he has visited 27 African countries and he is planning a final visit to Mozambique in November before he steps down from the post.

The majority of TV Brasil’s content is produced in Brasília but a small team of three has set up an African bureau in Maputo. “People here want to see Brazil,” says Eduardo Castro, TV Brasil’s chief Africa correspondent. “Turn on the radio and you hear Brazilian music. Turn on the television and you find Brazilian telenovelas. There is Brazilian food in the markets, even the evangelical churches are Brazilian. It’s Brazil everywhere.” TV Brasil has proved so popular in Mozambique the state broadcaster has begun screening some of its shows for those who do not get the service on satellite.

Mozambique is technically a democracy but, like all countries governed by liberators, the transition has been rocky. ­Frelimo, the old communist-backed ­liberation party, is the dominant force, not just at the polls but increasingly in the private sector too. Leading party officials have stakes in several major companies. As one diplomat told Monocle with a degree of understatement, “The laws on corruption need clarity.”

The economy’s impressive growth figures (8 per cent year-on-year since 1994) can be misleading. Much of the wealth appears to be in the hands of a well-connected elite and the gap between rich and poor is widening. Basic infrastructure, built by the Portuguese and maintained during the civil war by Frelimo, is beginning to crumble.

“The municipality used to take much more care of the city,” says Katia Momade, a director at the Ministry of Tourism. “People seem more concerned about making money and have forgotten about those small but very important things like investing in infrastructure, cleaning the roads, hygiene.”

The lack of a proper sewage system and public toilets means the smell of rubbish and stale urine occasionally wafts across parts of the city. Education is also a challenge. Mozambique has the lowest level of literacy in southern Africa – fewer than half of adults can read and write. Companies complain it is impossible to find enough qualified accountants.

There is very little manufacturing in Mozambique. Even the capulanas, the traditional brightly coloured local fabrics, are now made in India and shipped to Maputo. Thanks to one of the largest ­hydroelectric dams in Africa, Mozambique is a net exporter of electricity, but struggles to deliver a reliable supply to many of the towns outside Maputo, let alone the more rural areas.

Hollywood films have used Maputo as a backdrop, although whether the city should be particularly proud that it could be used as an alternative to war-torn Sierra Leone in Blood Diamond or 1970s Kinshasa in Ali is another matter. The airport is so run-down that Ali’s producers needed only to place a portrait of Mobutu Sese Seko over the entrance to turn it into a believable version of ­Kinshasa airport.

“Maputo is changing and growing but the challenge is still great,” admits Joao Munguambe, the city’s director of economic activities. “Corruption is a real problem and our infrastructure is not good enough.” While the airport is set to be upgraded – the Chinese have built a new terminal – Munguambe argues there is a more urgent need to reintroduce public transport and provide basic utilities such as water and electricity in the informal settlements that ring the city and where most Maputians now live.

It is a view shared by Daniel David, Mozambique’s biggest media mogul. David owns the only private daily newspaper, O Pais, as well as a weekly, a radio station and one of the four television channels. “We have had huge, unbelievable changes,” he says, “but these bring big problems. Traffic. Housing. Jobs.”

David started his media group, Soico, after spending 13 years at the state TV channel, working his way up from delivery boy to board member. Though he is critical of his home city, he laughs at the suggestion he might be happier elsewhere. “I like Johannesburg,” the city where he recently bought designer glasses and an iPad, “but Maputo has a soul.”

Signs of communism

Most African capitals have streets named after liberation leaders. There is rarely a city on the continent that doesn’t have a Nelson Mandela Avenue and a Kwame Nkrumah Boulevard. Maputo’s street names are a little different. Post-independence, Mozambique’s communist government decided to name many of the capital’s thoroughfares after left-wing figures. Avenida Vladimir Lenine runs through the heart of the city, crossing Avenida Mao Tse Tung. Avenida Karl Marx runs parallel to Lenine and Avenida Ho Chi Minh cuts across it. Frelimo favours links with the West these days and every so often someone within the municipality suggests changing the names. For now, though, the signs of communism remain.

Made in Maputo

1: Peri-Peri sauce from a local market
2: Locally brewed M2 beer
3: Candlestick from Bazart
4: Thumb piano from a local market
5: Cashew nuts from a street seller
6: Fabric from the central market
7: Mozambique music produced for Mozambique fashion week
8: Bag by designer Wacy Zacarias
9: Straw bracelets from Bazart

Monocle fixes

1 Take pride in the city’s architectural history. Too many old buildings lie in ruins and several have been knocked down to make way for generic structures.

2 A bit of re-branding wouldn’t go amiss. Maputo has some of the best arts, culture and nightlife in southern Africa but most tourists don’t experience it, instead heading straight to the beaches.

3 Stamp out small-scale police corruption. Police checkpoints at night appear to be little more than an excuse to shake down drivers for bribes.

4 Infrastructure needs a complete overhaul. The electricity grid, sewage system and water supply all struggle to cope with the rising number of residents.

5 Maputo, like many African cities, is in desperate need of a good public transport system. It would not only ease the rush-hour traffic jams but would make it easier for the city’s poorer residents to get around.

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