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© 2018-19

  • Paul

A-TOWN


The African republic of Mozambique on the continent’s southeast coast has quite a few claims to fame.

For one, it’s the only country in the world with a contemporary weapon on its flag (a Kalashnikov AK47, no less). It’s also the country whose name (were it permissible) would score you the most points in a game of Scrabble (a grand total of 34, excluding bonuses). And it’s the only country with a single-word name that contains A, E, I, O and U.


An AK47 and a hoe. What more could you need. (Wikimedia)

And speaking of letters...

Mozambique was a Portuguese colony from around the turn of the sixteenth century right through to its independence in 1975. A few hundred years into that Portuguese rule, Portugal decided to implement a series of infrastructure initiatives in the country, aimed at motivating people to move away from the ever-more crowded Indian Ocean coastline, and thereby open up the country’s interior.

To achieve their goal, the Portuguese administrators of colonial Mozambique spent tens of millions of escudos building a series of new towns scattered across the country. The plans were hastily passed by the local government, funding was secured from the Portuguese government, and in January 1854 work began on the very first of these new towns at a site 200 miles north of the capital, Maputo. Within just two years, seven of these new towns had been built across the country.

Each one had houses, shops, a school, a doctor’s surgery, a village hall, and brand new infrastructure throughout. The only thing they didn’t seem to have, alas, was a name.

Work took place so swiftly on the snappily-titled ‘1854 Mozambique Development Plan’ that the towns began to be constructed while their names were still undecided; in their place, the towns simply became known as Site A, B, C, D, and so on. And those names remained in place even after the population started to move in.

Why change what’s already working, after all? So set-in-stone were these single-letter placeholders that the names stuck—and to this day, you can take an alphabetical tour of towns called A, B, C (not far from the border with Zimbabwe), D, E, F (which stands on Lake Malawi), and G (which stands in what is now Niassa nature reserve in the far north of the country).

Unfortunately, the development plan quickly lost steam. Widespread flooding in southern Africa in 1857 brought the new developments to a temporary halt, and in the aftermath funding was redirected to repairing the damage. The plan was finally abandoned the following year—leaving the rest of the alphabet sadly unaccounted for on the Mozambique map...


#history #geography

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