AIDS: «The progress achieved in the past 20 years is impressive»
Mozambique and Zimbabwe are two of the priority countries for Switzerland's international cooperation work. In November, Nicolas Randin, SDC Assistant Director General and head of the Sub-Saharan Africa Division, paid working visits to Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
SDC Assistant Director General Nicolas Randin visited beneficiaries of the electric vehicle project in Domboshava, Zimbabwe © SDC
As neighbouring countries, Mozambique and Zimbabwe have certain features in common. Both countries have predominantly agricultural economies and a subsoil rich in raw materials. They are both vulnerable to climate change, prone to natural disasters and affected by food insecurity. They also have a high prevalence of HIV/AIDS and very young populations. Both Mozambique and Zimbabwe have high rates of poverty with most of the population living below the poverty line. They are among the countries prioritised by Switzerland for its international cooperation work.
SDC Assistant Director General Nicolas Randin has headed the new Sub-Saharan Africa Division since 1 September. He recently returned from a trip to Mozambique and Zimbabwe.
You have just returned from Mozambique. You first visited Mozambique in 1993 on an assignment for the ICRC and worked there for the SDC between 2002 and 2006. What are your impressions? Has the country changed?
The country has seen improvements in many areas. The General Peace Agreement was signed in 1992 following 17 years of civil war. The economy, infrastructure and basic services were all in a pretty bad state. Despite substantial private investment and international aid, Mozambique is still one of the least developed countries in the world. Development takes time, sometime it takes more than a generation for a country to move forward.
Mozambique has significant natural resources, which have now begun to be exploited. The financial l prospects are good, but countries do not always manage to use the revenues to benefit the whole population.
At the start of 2022, Switzerland renewed its cooperation programme with Mozambique for the 2022–25 period. What priorities have been set? What added value will Switzerland's cooperation work bring?
Switzerland has been consistently focusing on the north of the country, where poverty levels are high. We have made a long-term commitment, supporting local initiatives and the national level. Switzerland is assisting the Mozambique government with a range of institutional reforms. We are actively supporting decentralisation with a view to improving basic services at local level, good governance and the management of public funds.
We are also actively helping to develop the economy in order to create jobs, strengthen value chains, step up agricultural production and improve access to financial services. Moreover, we are helping Mozambican civil society and the private sector in a number of areas.
You also visited Zimbabwe. In 2023, the SDC is switching from a regional programme covering 5 Southern African countries to a bilateral programme covering Zimbabwe and Zambia. Why was this decision taken? What priorities have been set for this programme?
The SDC launched its programme in South Africa at the end of apartheid. We then expanded our support to countries within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a regional organisation that has 16 member states. Starting in 2023, we will be focusing on Zimbabwe and Zambia, where the needs and challenges are great.
We are adjusting our programme in line with rapidly changing regional conditions, to ensure it continues to be relevant. For the SDC, the key priorities are food security, which is particularly impacted by climate change, health and governance.
What are the main challenges the SDC faces in switching from a regional to a bilateral programme? What will happen to projects implemented at regional level?
We honour our commitments, so any change of direction will take several years. We will continue to support some regional programmes that reinforce and complement our national programmes. There are still challenges to overcome in terms of identifying the right partners and areas where Switzerland can add value.
The AIDS epidemic in the early 2000s hit Southern Africa particularly hard. Patients were unable to access antiretroviral treatment, which was extremely expensive. The fight against HIV/AIDS became a priority for the SDC's regional programme. Twenty years later, what is your assessment of SDC's work?
The progress achieved in the past 20 years is impressive. Fifty per cent of all people living with HIV are in Southern Africa. When I was in Mozambique 20 years ago, we regularly lost colleagues and partners. The appearance of antiretrovirals was a game changer. NGOs have also played a key role. As the antiretroviral therapy is a lifelong treatment, it was essential to engage in a long-term commitment.
Nowadays, the drugs are supplied through global programmes and easier to access. Testing is also available. So people living with HIV can now lead pretty normal lives. The AIDS crisis is no longer in its peak, but infection rates are decreasing very slowly.
Switzerland supports the Newlands Clinic in Harare, founded by a Swiss doctor, Professor Ruedi Lüthi, which specialises in caring for HIV/Aids patients. The clinic provides care to some 8,000 disadvantaged people. It has also become a referral centre for complicated cases and conducts research into the effects of available treatments.
Climate change is impacting Southern Africa as well as other areas of the continent. In the past decade, Southern Africa has experienced more frequent and increasingly severe flooding and drought. Zimbabwe and Mozambique are particularly vulnerable. How is Switzerland's international cooperation supporting people? And what innovations have been introduced to tackle climate change?
In the event of natural disasters, we can mobilise our Swiss Humanitarian Aid experts and fund emergency responses. Mozambique is regularly hit by typhoons that cause destructive flooding.
Our agricultural development programmes provide assistance to farmers in the form of drought-resistant seed varieties. Innovative climate information and insurance systems are being developed. In Zimbabwe, a green mobility project is also being rolled out in rural areas, with the aim of replacing petrol and diesel-powered transport with electrical vehicles.
Finally, you have been the Head of the Sub-Saharan Africa Division since 1 September 2022. How have your first three months been? Has the approach of managing humanitarian aid and development cooperation in combination paid off?
The new Sub-Saharan Africa Division allows more exchanges between the various programmes, countries and organisations that deal with the continent, including the African Union, the African Development Bank and think tanks.
Managing our development programmes and humanitarian aid together enables us to see the full set of challenges countries face and ensure the best possible response. We are still in the trial phase, but the interest shown by my colleagues shows that we are on the right track.