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Africa: Mozambique runs on empty

When Mozambique struck gas in 2010, it was supposed to herald a bright, lucrative future for the poor African state. It hasn’t turned out that way. Rising debt, sluggish growth and a corrosive financial crisis have culminated in the IMF freezing payments to the struggling state. Its banking industry is one of the few brighter spots.

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Ecobank’s Lamine Diop strides through the high-ceilinged lobby of the new office building in Maputo, a rueful smile on his face. “I’m sorry,” he tells Euromoney, coming to a halt in a pool of brilliant early-morning Mozambican sunlight. “I thought we were meeting next week.” The awkward silence that follows is broken by the tall, well-dressed banker, who glances down at his watch and sighs: “Well, I guess we can talk now. I don’t have anything else to do.” 

It’s a common lament in Mozambique’s cozy and welcoming capital city. Until six years ago, this corner of southeastern Africa was largely overlooked by corporates and investors, bar the agribusiness firms that come every six months to harvest cotton, sesame and tobacco. 

But then gas was found in the Indian Ocean: up to 180 trillion cubic feet of liquid natural gas. Global energy groups, led by Texas-based Anadarko and Italy’s Eni, rushed in, keen to transform Mozambique into the Qatar of Africa. South Africa’s Standard Bank estimated the gas find would more than triple GDP per head between 2015 and 2035, vaulting Mozambique from the world’s seventh-poorest nation to the middle ranks of frontier states, somewhere between Bangladesh and Vietnam. 

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