Authored by Rabab Haddad: Department of Research, Studies and International Relations
Reviewed by Dr. Badra Qaaloul: President of the International Center for Strategic, Security and Military Studies
From an isolated country on the eastern coasts of Africa to a country whose news tops the world’s newspapers and attracts the attention of major countries and transnational corporations.
Mozambique began experiencing a real crisis in 2013 when gas fields extending over the northern sea areas were discovered.Since then, Mozambique came under the spotlight so much so that some called it “the Qatar of Africa.” The hope for economic recovery quickly turned into horror, fear, war, terrorism and armed groups, as if the saying of natural resources is a curse applies to Mozambique as it had applied to many African countries before.
What is happening in Mozambique? Why has terrorism been internationalized so quickly?
The “curse of wealth” affects Mozambique
What is hidden by the increasing military concentration in the north?
Mozambique is located in the East African region and has a population of 30 million, with an area of 799,380 square kilometres. It is one of the richest African countries with the largest deposits of pink sapphires in the world, which located in the province of Cabo Delgado. The British company Gemfields owns a concession in the province that provides about 40% of global exports of sapphires.
Also, Mozambique has the largest gas reserves in East African countries, and the ninth largest in the world, estimated at 5,000 billion cubic meters. A series of gas investment projects have been launched that exceeded $150 billion, and according to specialists, Mozambique will occupy the fourth place in the world within a decade in terms of natural gas exports.
Furthermore, Mozambique leads the world’s largest graphite mine located in the city of Palma.With regard to coal production, the country owns the fourth largest coal mine in the world and is invested by the “Val” company… The list of wealths in the country goes on, but with smaller percentages, including gold, bauxite, tantalum, and titanium.
Oil and gas companies have been battling over the region for a decade, the oldest of which is the concentration of the American “Anadarko” and the Italian “Eni” who were joined later on by the French company “Total” and the American “Exxon”.
Despite the huge amount of wealths, the rate of human development is very weak. According to 2018 statistics, the country ranks 44th in Africa and 180th globally. Citizens also live on very low incomes, with an average per capita income estimated at 1.2 dollars per day. The absence of good governance and “oligarchic” control of the ruling party, were the most important reasons for the economic weakness and the deterioration of the social situation, which directly led to the expansion of terrorism.
2 – Political corruption and armed opposition
After the discovery of gas fields, Mozambique was given special attention by countries, major powers, companies and international financial institutions. In 2014, the International Monetary Fund held a summit in the capital, Mobito, entitled « Africa Rising », after which it provided the state with financial incentives and loans.
Two years later, the Wall Street Journal blew up a financial corruption scandal related to the concealment of loans worth $2 billion,the equivalent of more than 13 percent of the country’s gross domestic product.
Since 2012, Mozambique’s economic returns have witnessed a remarkable increase as a result of foreign investments in the country’s natural resources. However, the recovery of the economy coincided with the government’s lack of financial transparency, which made the country rank 64th out of 117 in the scale of transparency of the public financial budget in 2019. the financial losses resulting from political corruption between 2002 and 2014 were estimated at approximately $5 billion, the equivalent of 30 percent of the state’s gross domestic product.
The ruling party, the Mozambican Liberation Front, known as “Frelimo”, established an oligarchic regime in which it controlled the political and economic arena by monopolizing the economic sectors and legal and illegal trade. Some reports indicated that the ruling party was involved in the heroin trade, since Mozambique is an important point in the contraband trade linking Asia and Central Africa.
After 2016, the financial corruption scandals of the ruling party recurred, the most important of which were thefts of the Agricultural Support Fund and the use of Social Security Fund resources to buy private planes and other crimes that increased popular anger and fueled the opposition.
Following the signing of a peace agreement in 1992, the armed opposition returned to activity in 2013, represented by the “Renamo” movement, an old rebel movement that became active within an opposition political party and carried out armed attacks in strategic areas in the north and center.
After the fall of the historical leader of the opposition “Afonso Dhlakama” in 2018, and the growth of extremist religious currents in the state, both the opposition and the government were forced to find a ground of understanding and concluded an implicit political agreement in which the opposition handed over its weapons and integrated some of its soldiers into the armed forces of the state, in exchange for allowing the opposition to engage in political activity officially and to hand them over local and regional plans, this path culminated in the signing of a peace agreement in 2019 in which 5,000 opposition fighters handed over their weapons.
As a result, all national forces, both opposition and government authorities, unified to confront the extremist organizations that took control of the north. These national efforts were supported by foreign military forces working to protect their companies and investments in Mozambique.
Mozambique no longer suffers from a lack of military capabilities to repel terrorist expansion, but rather is suffering from military overcrowding.
3- The growth of terrorism and extremist currents
The first terrorist attack in Mozambique took place on October 5, 2017, in Mosiboa da Brea, in the north of the country. Extremist religious currents invaded Mozambique three decades ago when a group of extremist sheikhs returned to Mozambique and called for the application of extremist religious teachings and began teaching children and young people and building new mosques and entered into conflict with local sheikhs and Sufi currents through violent religious discourses in mosques.
After the tension between the fundamentalists and the political authorities since 2013, when the explicit rejection of the state’s laws that contradict Islamic Sharia and the institutional system began, they worked to establish their own system within the state. This shift is attributed by some to the entry of the leaders of the Kenyan immigration movement, which was founded by “Abboud Rojo Muhammad” after the latter’s assassination in 2012 and the disintegration of the movement.
After a large group of young people has been indoctrinated for decades, the pahse of ideological indioctrination ended with the formation of terrorist organizations in the style of “Ahl al-Sharia wa al-Sunnah,” which is affiliated with ISIS and is known locally as “The Youth Movement.” On March 10, 2021 Washington classified the “Ahl al-Sharia and al-Sunnah” organization and “Islamic State: Central African Emirate” and the Ugandan “City of Unity and Mujahideen” organization, terrorist organizations affiliated with ISIS.
In addition to locals who have close ties to the leaders of ISIS, the organization includes separate groups of extremists affiliated with African organizations such as Al-Shabab in Somalia, Kenyan immigrants and extremists from Tanzania. Most of them joined Ahl al-Sharia in 2016 after government pressure on them, and since that time the group has entered a new phase of armed violence.
The followers of “Rojo Muhammad” had extended relations with terrorist organizations in East Africa, especially the Somali Al-Shabab movement, which enabled the people of Sharia to obtain financial and logistical support to carry out their operations.
This organization is very similar to Boko Haram in its ideology and formation. It is the result of the development of a fundamentalist religious trend that targeted children and youth based on a popular rejection of social reality and the growth of political corruption. The three northern provinces, Cabo Delgado, Niassa and Nampula, where terrorist groups are concentrated, are at the same time the richest provinces in terms of natural resources, the most marginalized and the most socially vulnerable.
The organization is expanding quickly, and makes some believe that it is supported and armed by official parties, and it is also known for the “atrocity” of its terrorist operations, which amounted to burning villages and executing children, according to the reports of the “Save the Children relief organization”. These terrorist operations have claimed the lives of 3,000 people since 2017, forcing 700,000 residents to flee and migrate to other areas away from the northern provinces.
4- The internationalization of terrorism in Mozambique
The security situation in Cabo Delgado, in the far north, has reached its peak since the beginning of 2021, which prompted « Total » to suspend its investment activities in the region. There is a concentration of giant foreign companies that have invested huge sums. “Total” for instance, invested 20 billion euros, while the American company “Exxon Mobile” invested 30 billion dollars and the Italian “Eni” invested 7 billion dollars.
In addition to the major companies, foreign powers such as China, India, Thailand, South Korea, Portugal and Japan have other companies investing in natural gas, investments ranging in total, according to specialists, between 50 and 100 billion dollars.
These countries are working to protect their facilities either through the military intervention of their forces, or through private combat companies employed by the aforementioned companies.
Rwanda wasthe first country to provide military support. It sent 1,000 soldiers to Mozambique in July 2021 and was credited with recovering the city of “Palma” from the control of terrorists.
Shortly after Rwanda, in August 2021, the South African Development Community (SADC), which is considered directly concerned with the terrorist expansion in Mozambique, intervened.
As for Zimbabwe, it has sent about 2,900 soldiers within the framework of the SADC group, in addition to sending military advisors to train the Mozambican army, as part of a bilateral agreement between the two countries.As for South Africa, it is the second largest participant with 1,500 soldiers.For its part, Angola sent 20 military advisers.
The European international powers and the United States of America, within joint missions, sent military advisors to train the country’s regular army.
The European Union decided in July 2021 to send 300 soldiers to carry out training missions, and the EUNAVFOR Atalanta military naval mission, stationed on the coast of Somalia, was extended to include Tanzania and Mozambique.
As for Portugal, historically the colonial power to which Mozambique was subject, and the Portuguese language is today the official language of the state, it sent 60 advisors in April 2021 and signed a second agreement in Mobito in May, which requires sending the same number of troops in the coming period.
France is also one of the most prominent supporters of the anti-terror operation in Mozambique after the meeting of the French President with the Mozambican President, on May 28, 2021, although the two countries have had a military cooperation agreement since 2004, but the military cooperation scheduled in May was the result of pressure from “Total” company, which suspended the works of its facilities in “Palma” in April 2021 and transferred its workers to settle temporarily in the capital, “Mobito”.
In addition to the regional and international forces, the Mozambican government has worked to contract with private combat companies, the most important of which are the Russian “Wagner” and the South African “Dyck Advisory.” Other companies were also summoned at the request of the oil companies, including the “Lancaster 6 DMCC” combat group affiliated with “Eric Prince” founder Blackwater Company.
The fight against terrorism has been internationalized in Mozambique, as the neighboring countries fear the spread of terrorism to their countries, and the major powers fear harming their interests and the facilities of their companies.
In recent months, the regions of the north have been crowded with regular fighters and contractors, amid international fear that Mozambique will live in a financial crisis.