In this narrow, bad tempered, age of nationalism and petty racial tension it is heart-warming to see an independent African nation honour a man born on the other side of the world for sharing its values and its struggle for freedom.
This happened on June 25 2019 as Mozambique celebrated 44 years of independence by making Scottish-born journalist Iain Christie an honorary citizen in the land he believed in and spent 25 years of his life living with tight knit family in Maputo.
Christie came to Africa to work on newspapers in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, in 1970. Here, he reported on the many liberation movements using Tanzania as a base: including FRELIMO, the liberation army led by Samora Machel. The two got on like a house on fire and friends for life. Decades later, the first picture you saw when you entered the Christie home was that of the first president of Mozambique in army fatigues with rifle; when the two met, in Machel’s days of power, there would be a : “Hey, Christie!” followed by a presidential bear hug.
“I liked the party because I thought it approached liberation and socialism in a very interesting way,” he once told me in a long chat about politics in his lounge in Maputo.
In 1975, the Portuguese government had given up its military rear guard action against majority rule in Africa after the remnants of the late President Antionio Salazar’s right wing Estado Novo was kicked by a peaceful coup by the socialists in 1974. It ushered in rapid change as Portugal rushed to hand back its so- called “overseas provinces” in Africa, from Cape Verde to Mozambique, within a year, after more than 400 years of colonial rule.
The flamboyant former medic turned military commander Machel decided to march through Mozambique to spread his message of Liberation among the people. He invited journalist Christie to go with him and the Scotsman went every step of the way made Mozambique his home. The two would spend hours, under the stars ,talking into the African night of a brighter tomorrow.
In later years, Christie recalled the trip to me as a magical experience where the villagers would cook food and stage plays for their new president.
In Maputo, Christie set up the English service of the Mozambique News Agency and later trained journalists and broadcasted on The Voice of Zimbabwe, a radio station broadcasting from Maputo as the next door neighbours inched towards independence. Whatever his reservations, in latter years, he was firm in his belief that Mozambique was better off for achieving liberation.
The fact that Mozambique remembers Christie’s enthusiastic contribution to the country, with his pen, is commendable – if not just a little nostalgic for brighter, better, days of hope.