Meet the Ambassador
‘Mozambique is a country with a great deal of untapped and underused potential,’ says the Dutch ambassador in Maputo, Elsbeth Akkerman. ‘In socially relevant sectors such as water management, healthcare and education, as well as in terms of trade, there is a lot that the Netherlands and Mozambique can achieve together.’
Why did you want to become ambassador to Mozambique?
‘Before this posting, I was the Dutch ambassador to Vietnam. My partner and I, and our two cats, moved to Maputo at the end of August 2022; I was keen to work in an African country as I am interested in the geopolitical, economic and social opportunities and challenges this special continent represents. This is a continent you hear and read about a lot, but which you actually have to have experienced in order to understand it. That certainly applies to Mozambique too.’
‘The Netherlands and Mozambique have long-standing ties since the mid-1970s. Following Mozambique’s independence from Portugal, large numbers of Dutch people have been working here in agriculture, water management and education. Most of these people have extensive practical experience and are driven by clear ideals.’
What strikes you about Mozambique, about the country and the people?
‘Though a vibrant coastal city, Maputo is considerably smaller and therefore also quieter than Hanoi with its population of several million. To me, Mozambicans are a very special people: cheerful and resilient, full of life, they like good company, good music and good food. One quality that is beautiful and distressing at the same time is how the people here manage to be content with very little; there is enormous poverty as well as inequality in Mozambique. The natural assets of Mozambique, though, are phenomenal and very diverse – I enjoy the country’s nature tremendously.’
‘What is very obvious to me is the enormous untapped potential, both in terms of the economy and of the people. The country is very strategically situated on the Indian Ocean and its six neighbouring countries give it an enormous hinterland. The soil here is very fertile, but agriculture is still conducted on a small scale and not very productively, while the road and rail networks are not well developed.'
'Many Mozambicans, especially those in rural areas, have limited access to education, which in turn hampers their access to the job market, assuming there are jobs – unemployment, especially among the young, is high. The Netherlands is working with Mozambique to create more opportunities for young people and intends to collaborate more with Mozambique in the field of education as well.’
In what areas is there collaboration between the Netherlands and Mozambique?
‘Agriculture, and particularly food security, is an important topic that the Netherlands and Mozambique have been collaborating on for a considerable time. The same goes for water management and climate. Mozambique is vulnerable to the effects of climate change, such as extreme weather and rising sea levels. In early 2023, the country was once again hit by a cyclone, which resulted in a great many casualties and damage.'
‘During the UN Water Conference in March, which the Netherlands and Tajikistan jointly chaired, the Netherlands, Mozambique and the World Bank reached agreement regarding the protection of part of Mozambique’s extensive coastline. This will not involve building a concrete wall, so to speak, but will involve more natural measures like those used in the Netherlands: strengthening dunes and beaches and promoting the formation of sandbanks along the coast.’
‘In northern Mozambique, the Netherlands is working on boosting stability and security. This part of the country has been plagued by armed rebels in recent years, resulting in a large part of the population having to flee their homes. Together with the Mozambican government and our international partners, we are contributing to refugee reception, the rebuilding of crucial infrastructure, and access to safe water and food. In this way we hope to contribute to public welfare and to the country’s future development.’
‘I am always eager to promote equal rights and equal opportunities, for women and young people as well as for LGBTIQ+ people.’
What opportunities do you see here for Dutch companies?
‘There is scope here for small and medium-sized enterprises to be drivers of economic growth, development and job opportunities more than they currently are. A lot can also be done to improve the position of entrepreneurs, in my opinion. In terms of Legislation isn’t always particularly clear or transparent, and procedures take up a lot of time.’
‘One thing that would help attract trade and investment is investing in education; technical and social skills are important, as are language skills. Portuguese is the working language in Mozambique, which can sometimes make collaborating and doing business with foreign partners a little tricky. In Vietnam I noticed what a difference government investment in English language training can make in terms of attracting business.’
‘My background is in economics, and that is what interests me. Before joining the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, I worked at the Ministry of Economic Affairs and at the Ministry of Agriculture. I see many opportunities in Mozambique for Dutch entrepreneurs. The number of Dutch companies that are active in Mozambique at the moment is not that high, but considering the country’s untapped potential I think that it can increase considerably. The European Union will be organising a trade and investment summit in November – the embassy will be working hard to get Dutch businesses to participate too.’
In which areas do you see opportunities?
‘Agriculture, sustainable energy and generation of sustainable energy are some such areas, as is greening services . Besides its gas reserves, Mozambique could also exploit hydropower and there are opportunities in terms of solar and wind energy. While many people commute to work, the development of public transport has been negligible.’
‘The transport minister recently approved the acquisition of three hundred electric buses. This will mean public transport in Mozambique will become more green and be improved at the same time. This kind of initiative really gets my blood pumping. The Netherlands has knowledge of charging stations for electric cars, and I hope that we as the embassy will be able to play a role here by bringing the right people in Mozambique into contact with the right people in the Netherlands.’
Which projects, partnerships or topics are of special interest to you as the ambassador?
‘I am always eager to promote equal rights and equal opportunities, for women and young people as well as for LGBTIQ+ people, including here in Mozambique, working together with other embassies who have similar agendas. I am part of a group of ambassadors working together to combat child marriage. Many girls here get married before they reach the age of 18, even though this is prohibited by law. Around 50% of women in Mozambique already have two children by the time they turn 18. These topics need attention, and we can make a difference together.’
What would you like to achieve as the Dutch ambassador to Mozambique?
‘Mozambique is a country with unparalleled untapped and underused potential, and I hope to be able to help change this by raising the country’s profile and also by getting government organisations and partners from different sections of society to partner with the business community. The private sector can contribute to development, renewal and sustainability efforts, particularly in a country in which access to education, healthcare and markets is crucial for the well-being and prosperity of the population.’
‘The interests of Mozambicans are what matters to me, and that is why we will keep continuing the dialogue on fundamental freedoms and a vigorous government that works towards them.’