My Trip To Mozambique

Johann Botha

$Id: article.xml,v 1.0 2003/02/18 23:23:53 joe Exp $

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Introduction

How did I end up going to warm and sunny Mozambique for a week ? Hmmm.. lets see, a friend/customer of Frogfoot, (David) owns part of an Internet Service Provider in Mozambique called TropicalNet. We built a few Linux servers for them and FedEx'd the hard drives up to Maputo some time in 2002. Then a few months later they needed some help to migrate their network and install the new servers. Since Abz has some weird reaction to Malaria medicine I got the task of doing Frogfoot's first (on-site) work outside South Africa.

I took about 130 photos on the trip:

The one bonus of the trip was that I could spend some time with friends in Pretoria (where I grew up, went to school etc.), the other bonus was the SCUBA diving in Ponta Do Ouro. So it worked out to be about 50/50, business / pleasure. If you are interested in going, I include at the end, a short section on how to get a Visa if you live in Cape Town.

The Tourist's view of Mozambique

My first impressions of Moz, as I crossed the border at Kommati Poort was that the road looked very much like a South African road. People on the Moz side of the border only speak Portuguese, but they seem pretty relaxed and getting through the border was pretty quick. Turns out the road was built by the South Africans to improve trade between the countries. Some of the small South African towns close to the border seem to be doing very good business providing the Moz people with groceries. More variety and better prices.

We left the border just before it started to get dark. About 40min from the border you get to Maputo the Capital City with about 6 Million people. The skyline looks different than SA cities and it has a very third world feel to it, strange traffic rules. They dont seem to have the concept of stop streets. There is only one traffic light per intersection (not 4). Like most cities there seem to be poorer and richer parts, but all the houses have extreme fencing, barb wire and many homes have security guards after dark.

The night has a warm tropical humid feel to it. I'm told about half the countries budget is made up of money donated by EU/US aid. You have to remember that this country ranks pretty high on the "World's Poorest 10" list. With this in mind, looking at the cars and houses you dont seem to notice and new BMW's but some of the houses look really nice. There seems to be two or three nice hotels. One of the Mozambicans told me much of the wealth you see is 'fake money', perceptions created without any real development and progress, money coming from sources like the drug trade and corruption.

I can understand why you dont see many nice sedans on the road, the roads are in surprisingly bad shape, the number of pot holes are just crazy, you dont seem to get roads without pot holes in the city.

You frequently see cars with South African Gauteng number plates, almost too frequently. I'm told about 25% of the cars in Maputo are from SA and the sentiment seemed to be that a big part of those were not legal.

Table 1. The Basics

Capital CityMaputo
Population16 Million
Area [sq.km]801,590
LanguagesPortuguese, Bantu languages
ReligionsRoman Catholic, Muslim, Animist

One South African Rand buys you 3000 Meticals, the Moz Currency. The moment you cross the border you are a millionaire. The smallest coin they have is something like 1000 Meticals. You have to wonder why they dont just reset the currency, chop off the last three zeros.

There is one cellular provider called M-Cell in Moz. One thing I noticed is that Mozambicans in general have no telephone manners. Phones are ringing all the time, very distracting if you want to have a conversation or get any work done. People SMS each other while driving. On one occasion there were five people in a meeting and three were busy on their cell phones.

History and the War [1964-1992]

I'm no historian, so i'll give you my version of the story about the War in Moz. If you look at the county's flag, the big star and AK47 gives a bit of a socialist vibe. You wont be too far off if you guessed the ruling party (Frelimo) has a bit of a socialist/communist flavour to it. Now as we all know the western world has some issues with communism, enough so to fuel a war in a third world country for a fair amount of time.

There were two wars, the one for decolonisation and one civil war. The war against the colonists and Portugal stared in September 1964. Frelimo conducted guerrilla style warfare against the Portuguese troops. On September 28 1974 the Lusaka Accord was signed granting Mozambique independence. After independence 90% of the Portuguese colonists left the country, taking with them almost 80% of the skilled labour force, sabotaging the industrial and commercial infrastructure.

Some more dates: In 1977, Frelimo adopted a Marxist-Leninist ideology as the liberation movement was transformed into a political party. During the 1980s, South Africa embraced a campaign of destabilisation policy against the governments of Angola and Mozambique. South Africa troop specially trained and went on operations with Unita (Angola) and Renamo (Mozambique). Both Renamo and Unita depended on critical support from South Africa. Remano won U.S. support during President Reagans term in office. In 1986 Mozambican President Samora Machel dies in an air crash. July 1989 - Frelimo party congress officially abandons Marxism-Leninism. 4 October 1992 - General peace agreement signed to end the civil war.

According to the locals there would not even have been a civil war if it were not for the US and SA governments funding the opposition party. I'm not sure how much of a socialist view the current government has, it just strikes me as odd to have communist symbols on flags and visas.

The ISP Industry in Mozambique

VSAT (duplex) satellite links and Wifi (Wireless Links) are legal in Moz. Well, for all practical reasons. Moz still has a big dumb parastatal telecoms dinosaur called TDM who believe they can control the way people communicate . Dont you just love to insult big bureaucratic monsters, dumb dinosaurs, has a nice ring to it. Like I was saying, Wifi is not really legal, its just that the government does not seem to want to make the final call on the issue. Roomer has it the EU/US Aid people with the big cheque books like the concept of wireless telecoms in Africa, god bless them, deregulate the local loop!. So if the state was to make some waves they would not only annoy the ~4 wireless ISP's but the hand that feeds them.

The biggest wireless ISP in Maputo is called Intra. I'm told they donated lots of money so Maputo could have nice big road signs advertising their services and M-Cell services mostly. Now these road signs are signs with the names of the roads on them and not just ads. I dont care how much you hate the intrusions of advertising you have to concede that knowing the name of the road you are in or looking for is cool. Now how does your average politician explain to the people that people providing us with road signs are bad people ?

In general, I think its safe to say that the 'digital divide' is alive and well in Mozambique. I'm told the average salary is about $30 and a dialup account is about $15 per month.

Latency to South Africa ranges between 1.3 and 4.5 sec. Not nice if you want to ssh home to read mail. So I ended up working in off-peak times to get the latencies below 2sec.

Some of the buildings in Maputo seem like they must have been nice buildings a long time ago. Buildings are maintained very poorly. Part of the trip was to install some WiFi equipment, which included installing equipment on one of the taller buildings in Maputo.

Using the lift to get to the roof of this building was a very scary experience. I think I was sweating like a rapist all the way up. The lift seemed to move very slowly and make strange clunky noises as it passed some of the floors. I'm told this is one of the good lifts and it gets much worse. Apparently its not uncommon for people die or loose limbs as they disembark from an elevator ride. Talk about an arm and a leg.

In the tropical heat of Maputo there is no place better than the server room. Nice and cool, but not totally free of mosquitos. Never drop your guard. So the best working environment is alone in the cold, ambient fan buzz, server room with the smell of insect repellent and 2sec latency. It's a tough country for network geeks.

A day after we arrived there was news of a cyclone on its way to Maputo, so I called the mail server box 'cyclone' and the firewall 'hurricane'. The cyclone never hit us. In the back of your mind you have to wonder what it would be like to experience a tropical cyclone fist hand. Could get pretty ugly.

Language is a big issue. If you dont speak Portuguese you have a problem. Not many people speak English and the quality of English is often entertaining if you like dark comedy. Took me 30 minutes to get a piece of UTP cable from a switch to a server after explaining this a few times to the person doing the cabling.

Portmasters suck. Well I guess they would suck less if you at least had the same version of the OS on all three your Portmasters. Migrating their Portmasters and Radius setup must have taken up most of the time of our evening network migration. We worked right through the night to get the network in a logical, manageable state.

You have to appreciate how much of a hack job this network was. BIND, Sendmail, old Redhat, everything on one big /25 subnet, no logical routing or firewalling, no QoS policies, email traffic just sucked up all their bandwidth, they run a Microsoft OS on their border router. Shall i continue? Be afraid.

One positive thing I must add here is that Maputo has a small but working Internet Exchange. Not without its politics, but if you've ever been involved the politics of INX's you develop a deep respect for people who make them work.

SCUBA Diving in Ponta Do Ouro

We went diving in Ponta do Ouro over the weekend. A Magic place. Nice warm water. Amazing sea life. Cool people, a fair number of South Africans. You can even talk Afrikaans to your dive master. Nice restaurants. Ponta Do Ouro was great.

We lived in a friend of David's house in Ponta. There is no shortage of labour around there, you get out of bed at 6:00, go SCUBA diving at 7:15. The local people carry _all_ your gear for you and when you get back home, your bed is made and everything is tidy. I felt like a king.

Ponta makes you wonder why you did'nt become a dive master and live the relaxed endless summer life in a tropical climate.

Our first dive was fsckn amazing, Nice deep 35m dive, in this purple blue water. At least 15m viz. We saw three big hammer head sharks. A few rays. Nice game fish. There is so much life on the reefs.

The second dive was ok, not so great viz. A shallow reef dive. I saw some big scorpion fish.

The third dive was the next morning, a deep dive again, lots of reef fish, nice Parrot fish and big Rays.

The road to Ponta and back is all 4x4 track. Good fun. We stopped half way at this small general store to buy some beer.

Food

The food is great! We went to the fish market one night. Seafood is very cheap. Clams, crabs, fish, prawns and wash it down with the local beer and lots of Gin and tonic. The Portuguese chicken is also very good with a healthy dose of peri-peri souce. People love their garlic and chili spices.

Malaria and Mosquitos

 

I say we take off and nuke the site from orbit, it's the only way to be sure.

 
 --Ripley

Fight the flying pigs with:

  • Gin and Tonic for Quinine
  • Tabard Candle with Citronella Oil
  • Tabard Lotion
  • Tabard Stick
  • Khakibos Gel, the organic, natural option
  • Doximal Malaria Tablets

Malaria comes from the Italian words "mala" (bad) and "aria" (air) and is caused by the Plasmodium parasite. Quinine is made from the bark of the Cinchona tree. Quinine is effective in combating malaria because it is able to bind strongly to blood proteins, and form complexes which are toxic to the malarial parasite.

Tonic water and garlic is by far the nicest anti-Malaria agents. Tonic water in South Africa has 67mg/l Quinine. Tonic in Moz has 80mg/l Quinine. When used in the suppression of malaria, the usual dosage range is 300 to 600mg of quinine daily. So you need to have about 5 liters of Tonic each day. In Moz you only get Tonic in cans, no bottles.

The Malaria tablets gave me this careless feeling, I felt detached and it seemed to shorten my attention span. Really weird. Not very nice in combination with the heat.

Table 2. Malaria Stats

Mosquito Bites5
Mosquitoes Killed2
Double Gin and Tonics Consumed36

I felt like something from the movie Aliens when I got back home. This constant irritation in the back of your mind with the idea that you are host to a parasite and this monster is going to start eating through your chest any second. So i'm paranoid. Luckily I did not get Malaria.

Gin

I think Gin and Tonic saved my life. I'm pretty sure that even if I did get Malaria, there was one evening I spent drinking with friends in Pretoria that cured me. I almost did'nt survive it, thats how I know the Malaria did not.

On the topic of Gin, I started to like Gin. Bombay Sapphire is really nice, Tanqueray is also good and Gordons goes down very nicely with tonic and a squeeze of lime.

The Dry Gin Martini, shaken not stirred. It's said that one is not enough but two Martinis are too much. The crisp, clean and very hardcore way to enjoy your Gin. I can picture an alcoholic having one these for breakfast.

Table 3. Classic Gin Martini

My personal Martini recipe:

  • 4 tots Gin
  • 2 tots extra dry Martini & Rossi Vermouth

Add ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with crushed ice. Shake and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Add two green olives. Enjoy with a bowl of olives.

P-Town

Always fun to visit good friends in Ptown. The usual dose more partying and drinking than i'm used to. Smiley pitched up at the airport with Gin and tonic in his car and we listened to Roger Waters on the way back as he told me about the the art of mixing your alcohol and muscle relaxing drugs on international flights. Apparently the trick is to take your Voltarens with about a quadruple shot of hard liquor after the plane is in the air. If you take it before and you have to change planes, you may not be able to walk. Naturally not all of this is true.

We had some geeky fun with Linux, figuring out lm_sensors and i2c, tc with IMQ for QoS and I configured FreeRadius with LDAP. I lost a game of squash against Mr. Stock Broker cum Squash Pro.

We played Playstation2, had a braai or two. Made a really nice lunch one Sunday. The weird thing is that all the men made the meal and all the woman watched TV. We made a damn fine roast chicken with veg.

Things I Noticed

I arrived back late the Sunday evening. Spent lots of time catching up on email. Weird how you can get unfit in two weeks.

Not to sound like a boring, non-well-traveled critic, but I realised that I miss spinning and running and the food, music and movies I like and I guess I miss my way of doing things, miss my workstation, my screen, my chair and I dont think I function well with high latency and little bandwidth.

One idea I had is for something like an ISP-tour programme. People with skills in the ISP business can visit each other, share knowledge, ideas, experience etc. Do some site seeing take picture of some really geeky things like datecenters and routing equipment. Mingle with the people that run ISPs in other counties. I'm sure our ISP could learn allot from other people's experiences and I guess our experiences could be of use to other ISPs. So if you read this and you own or work for an ISP, lets talk.

Getting a Visa

Getting a visa to go to Moz is pretty easy if you live in Cape Town. It takes a day or two. All you need to do is go to the Moz Consulate in Cape Town between 8:00 and 12:00 and fill in two forms.


  Consulate of the Republic of Mozambique
  11th Floor
  Pinnacle Building
  Corner of Strand and Berg Street
  Cape Town
  +27 21 426 2944
  

You need to take along:

  • R85 Cash for a 1-30 day Multiple Entry Visa
  • Two small photos (of yourself)
  • Photocopy of your passport
  • A pen to fill in forms

If you dont have a passport, return home, do not pass go, do not collect $300. Just kidding. Getting a passport takes about a month and you can apply for one at the Dept. of Home Affairs, 56 Barrack Street, Cape Town.

Step One: Get a Deposit Slip

You need to deposit the money for the Visa into a bank account. Then make sure that you get a computer printed proof of deposit. The standard stamped hand written copy of a deposit slip is not accepted.

Table 4. Bank Account Details

Acc HolderMozambique Consulate
BankFirst National Bank
BranchSt. Georges Mall
Branch Code201309
Acc No5005 121 3649

Step Two: Fill in two forms you get at the Consulate

Tips for the forms and process

  • Know where you are going, street address of where you will be staying
  • Know how long you will be staying
  • If you are driving through the border write border-entry-exit: Kommati Poort