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Text Message Sparks Major Strike Against Price Hikes in Mozambique

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Special to the NNPA from GIN –

(GIN) – In another sign of the power of new technologies, a simple SMS message to cellphone users in Mozambique’s capital city Maputo brought thousands of citizens to the streets to protest soaring cost of living increases.

The anonymous SMS message read: "Mozambican, prepare yourself to enjoy the great day of the strike… Let's protest the increase in energy, water, mini-bus taxi and bread prices. Send to other Mozambicans."

On Sept. 1, residents of poor neighborhoods responded, breaking store windows, vandalizing banks and setting up barricades with rubber tires. Police responded with rubber bullets and live fire. Over 286 were arrested, 400 were wounded and 13 left for dead in the clashes.

In a press interview with French news agency AFP, Samira, a 35-year-old who lives in Mafalala, a zone of tin shacks on the edge of Maputo, said, ”That message went around to the whole world... Even me, when I saw the message I forwarded it to other people. To my friends, my sister. 'I'm asking you, please read this message'."

At first, Members of Cabinet insisted that the price increases were "irreversible", but more SMSes circulated criticizing the government's response.

"Mozambicans, the government appears to have met just for a coffee and whiskey and not to resolve the problems of the people," said one message.

Joao Pereira, a lecturer at Eduardo Mondlane University, Mozambique, said cellphone technology was giving the poor a voice in politics in a country with a weak opposition, and where the media is dominated by the state-owned newspaper and television station.

"This technology is a new way of giving a voice, of giving power, of giving a means of expression that poor people themselves don't have,"

After an emergency meeting this week, the Cabinet reversed course and agreed to cancel the bread price hike, scale back an increase in electric bills, and withdraw increases in water prices.

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