MAPUTO, MOZAMBIQUE – Juridio Chicala smiles as he stands in the foyer of Maputo’s grand Victorian railroad station: “I would like to travel and visit America, but I would not like to live there. Mozambique is my country, and things are getting better here. I want to stay and build a better country.”
He and his fellow citizens have a long way to go. Last year, Mozambique was ranked No. 172 out of 177 countries in a United Nations poverty report – and that was before the current credit crunch.
But Mr. Chicala is undaunted. He was taught English by Mormon missionaries four years ago after becoming a Christian in 2003. He is about to marry his fiancée, and his job gives him an above-average salary.
In a typically African city choked with traffic, corrupt police, decaying infrastructure, and uncollected garbage, his company’s bright-yellow tourist trains with road wheels are an unmistakable sight.
They pick up and drop off visitors at the capital’s few tourist attractions, including the impressive railroad station completed in 1910. Keen moviegoers will recognize it as the fictitious hotel in the 2006 movie “Blood Diamond,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio, about the tragedy of the illegal diamond trade in West Africa.
Chicala says the former Portuguese colony is on the rise. He points to a growing number of construction projects under way and air-travel improvements as evidence.
“Things are changing, and there are more political groups fighting to make their mark,” he says. “Frelimo [the ruling party] are more open and encouraging business to be more competitive and create jobs, which didn’t happen before. I am optimistic for my country.”