A controversy has divided Mozambique over a plan to redesign the flag and the national emblem -- which sports an AK-47 assault rifle -- to reflect the the country's return to peace with critics blasting it as a waste of money and time.
The Mozambican parliament on June 15 approved a law proposed by an ad hoc committee on the proposed changes and on the same day launched a three-month national competition to come up with new designs for both the flag and the national emblem.
The new symbols should "reflect the blood spilt by the Mozambican people in the war for independence as well as national unity, peace, democracy, social justice and the wealth of the nation," it said.
Mozambique gained independence from Portugal 30 years ago before being wracked by a brutal 16-year civil war, which cost a million lives between 1976 and 1992.
It has been ruled since independence by the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO).
Multi-party politics was only introduced after a law was passed on December 23, 1986.
But the plan has sharply divided political parties and civil groups, including the governing FRELIMO.
"We cannot change the flag and enflame political passions in the process. The flag represents one nation, one people, one state," said Edson Macuacua, a high-ranking FRELIMO official, sounding his disapproval of the plan.
Fernando Mazanga, spokesman for the former rebel Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO), now the main opposition party, said: "The redesigning of the symbols should reflect the institution of democracy, which sadly came late to Mozambique."
Carlos Jeque, a former independent presidential candidate, said: "The flag and the national emblem were designed during an era of single-party rule. Today the context has changed and the emblem could do with a revamp but the colors of the flag -- yellow, white, black, green and red -- should not be tampered with."
There are more than 10 symbols in the national emblem, which is emblazoned on coins and currency notes. They include an AK-47, a book, a rake, the sun, a mountain, a map of the country, a rice stalk, a corn of maize and the sea.
However, many people in the country say the proposal is a luxury in a country reeling under poverty and with a high HIV/AIDS rate.
The Mozambican Youth Farmers' Association (AJAM) recently sent a memorandum to President Armando Guebuza denouncing the "exorbitant budget of 500,000 meticals (about US$21,000)" for the competition. After the competition's deadline expires on Sept. 15, the specially appointed commission will choose three of the best designs which will then be forwarded to parliament for a final decision. The winner will receive 250 millions meticals (US$10,200). The runner-up will get 150 million meticals and the third prize will be worth 100 million meticals.
The Muslim Association of Mozambique also blasted the plan in a cutting letter to parliament, saying the "national priority should be the fight against poverty and HIV/AIDS."
Romao Alberto, secretary general of a prominent civic association, warned of a "merciless war against those who dare to change the flag and the national symbol."