MOZAMBIQUE: INFORMATION FOR THE PRIVILEGED FEW
Mozambique is a unique country with a strategic geographic position on the east coast of Africa, many mineral deposits and a stable government, yet it remains one of the poorest in the world. (See the United Nations Development Programme Human Development Report.) More than 80% of the 23 million Mozambicans live on less than $2 per day. Only 35 to 40 percent of the population can read and write, and less than ten percent has access to electricity. In addition, the country is still recovering from a devastating 16-year civil war that ended in 1992.
Growth in Mozambique has been steady, but wealth is not distributed equally. The same goes for information — it is only available to a privileged minority. Mozambique has almost no libraries or places to access books. One percent of Mozambicans are reading newspapers. A country that is not reading does not evolve. There is a clear barrier to information access and when the majority of people are excluded from what is happening in a society, they lose their sense of will and ambition, and ultimately their rights to be citizens.
REMOVING THE BARRIER TO INFORMATION ACCESS
We decided to start a free newspaper to bridge the gap in information access and we called it Jornal @Verdade (Verdade meaning “the truth” in Mozambique’s official language of Portuguese). The @ symbol in the name is our benchmark for success — when Mozambicans are digitally literate enough to recognize the symbol as part of an email address, we will have done our job. We didn’t start a newspaper to become a great newspaper though; we did it to transform the country. From the very beginning, @Verdade was designed to be a tool for the development of the citizen — the human being who is entitled to be an active participant of the country’s economy simply by being informed, by being able to make educated decisions, by being able to speak and be heard, by being allowed to dream, to want, to do, and to initiate change. We strongly believe that giving people information access and a channel to express themselves is the first step toward engaging them as active citizens, and creating the critical mass needed to achieve important social changes in Mozambique.
We also needed to provide @Verdade for free. With a typical newspaper costing up to $1, information does not rank highest on many people’s priorities. In Mozambique, newspapers are an unaffordable luxury for most, unlike developed countries where newspapers are commonplace and taken for granted. For the price of a newspaper, a person can buy eight pieces of bread that can feed a family for a day. We did not want people to choose between “feeding the stomach or feeding the mind.” We appropriately gave @Verdade the tagline of “A Verdade Não Tem Preço” which means “The Truth is Priceless.” Learn more about why and how the newspaper is free.
The first newspapers hit the streets in August 2008. @Verdade is a 32 page, high quality, full color, “non-political” newspaper with an estimated print readership of 400,000. (Learn more about our verification procedures.) The target group for the printed newspaper is those living in poverty in informal urban settlements throughout Mozambique, mostly concentrated in the capital, Maputo, where roughly 1 million people live. For much of this population, @Verdade is a vital alternative to state television and radio and in many cases, is their only source of information. We also provide news through the internet, Facebook and Twitter. In fact, middle-class urban readers are encouraged to read the newspaper online so printed copies can be targeted to those who need it most. However, the print and online channels are closely integrated, encouraging conversation and exchange between the different target audiences. We are also the only news agency in Mozambique to be listed as a Google News source. Learn more about what’s in @Verdade.
In just a few short years, @Verdade has become the “paper of the people.” They rush to grab it, chase after moving vehicles for it, and collect it in their homes. We have also given a voice to the people. Readers actively engage with @Verdade through email, SMS, Blackberry Messenger, Facebook and Twitter. The @Verdade Facebook wall has become a place for civic debate as well as breaking news. We even created a “Mural do Povo” (“People’s Wall”) physically located outside our office where people express themselves daily. Our experience has proven that information access truly does create active citizens. Learn more about Our Results.
Download a full document with historical context, demonstrating how the @Verdade model is promoting democratic rule through transparency, openness and accountability in Mozambique.
OUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
After three years of refining our model, we are now at a critical juncture — and we are making big plans. In the next few years we intend to:
- Significantly increase our circulation. Our current print-run isn’t nearly sufficient to meet the reader demand. First and foremost we will address this gap.
- Deepen our social impact. We will consolidate and fully integrate our existing mobile, social media and print channels, and provide additional channels through which interventions can occur. This will allow people to move from just being informed to taking action, making more informed decisions and contributing to a national conversation and collective knowledge.
- Measure our results. We will design qualitative and quantitative measures to better understand our impact. We will also perform research (e.g. using ethnography) to determine how to more effectively circulate the newspaper.
- Support other movements. We will share our experience and insight with others who want to start similar movements and learn from our model. Learn more about applying the @Verdade model or Partner With Us to start a conversation about your movement.