In Mozambique, in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, the richest of the former Portuguese colony, there is no inhabited center, no infrastructure, no productive settlement. Pietro Romano’s article
Mozambique is adding to the unenviable list of African countries at risk of disintegration. In the northern province of Cabo Delgado, the richest of the former Portuguese colony, no inhabited center, no infrastructure, no productive settlement and now safe from the incursions of Islamist groups and their likely allies. BETWEEN SAHEL, SOMALIA AND IRAQ
International observers openly fear the birth of a “new Sahel” in central-southern Africa or, alternatively, of Somali / Iraqi solutions with likely repercussions on the Maputo regime, the gray and chaotic capital of Mozambique where only a few “oases” reminiscent of the modernist Lourenco Marques of the colonial era.
The first solution seems, at the moment, the most probable in the short term. The earthquake for the governability of this other (large) portion of Black Africa which has as its epicenter the north-east of Mozambique, precisely the province of Cabo Delgado, could involve in the crisis from southern Tanzania to Malawi and Zambia. By putting significant economic and political interests, including Western ones, at risk, especially French ones.
Paris is directly present in the area under the spotlight but in particular in the neighboring one between the Canal du Mozambique and the Indian Ocean, where in addition to the Comoros and Reunion it controls five islets, the Iles Eparses, and thanks to them an immense economic zone exclusive of about 640 thousand square kilometers, an area double that of the Hexagon (see box). A MISSED CRISIS
The international press has only recently become aware of what is happening in Mozambique. Except for a few reports in the French or Portuguese media, and for obvious reasons, little or any point was known of an Islamist insurgency, with the ethnic streaks that are never lacking in Africa, in the province of Cabo Delgado. The tension rose strongly due to the discovery of natural resources of high economic value in the area involved. The province is the third largest natural gas reserve in Africa, after Nigeria and Algeria, and in the subsoil it preserves rubies and bauxite, coal and gold, fluorite and copper and uranium.
The escalation of violence is suspect, however, for the Lusitanian nationalist weekly O Diabo. The periodical, usually very well informed on African issues and in particular on the former Portuguese colonies, believes that more complex political and economic interests are hidden behind the Islamist revolt. Behind the brutal guerrillas of Ahlu Sunna wal Jamaa – better known as Al Shabaab, in Arabic “the young”, now also affiliated with the “Islamic State” – could hide the wing that emerged defeated from the internal confrontation at Frelimo, the Front of Mozambique’s liberation of strict Communist observance which took power in Lourenco Marques when the left-wing military went to the Lisbon government in 1975 and abandoned the Lusitanian colonies of Africa and Asia to their fate. Since then, in essence, in Mozambique the former guerrilla leaders remained in power without solution of continuity with families, families and heirs in tow. Until the clash a few years ago that led to the current situation with a part of the former ruling class was sheltering abroad, mostly in South Africa, but intending to return.THE INSURGENCE OF 2017
The Cabo Delgado region is predominantly Muslim in a country where Muslims are a minority, but this had not created problems of coexistence until a few years ago. It was only in 2017 that a small army made up of Mozambicans, Tanzanians, Somalis and refugees from the Great Lakes region took up arms and began to attack public and private targets: there are now about five hundred bloody initiatives since the beginning of the violence.
In a short time, the Islamists were the protagonists of a “dazzling” rise, as the French newspaper Le Monde defined it. The health, social and economic crisis has aggravated a situation in which poverty, illiteracy, corruption and violence already dominated. And it strengthened the guerrillas which, quickly and somewhat inexplicably (unless you believe the version of O Diabo), managed to overwhelm not only the inadequate troops of Maputo but also the Russian, Ukrainian and South African mercenaries fielded by the central government in defense of this crucial area. An area where, among the numerous oil companies present, the French Total emerges, interested in some projects in the Afungi locality for a total amount of 23 billion dollars.FROM FORESTS TO CITIES
After having “limited themselves” to putting to sword and fire the minor towns that did not support them, the Islamists have raised the bar: in August 2020 they stormed the port of Mocimboia da Praia (from which boats loaded with raw materials would leave unknown destinations, more likely for ships that remained offshore), at the end of March they took control of Palma, on the border with Tanzania, a city of over 50,000 inhabitants, where as many foreign workers, technicians and businessmen reside and where it was Total’s headquarters, quickly abandoned. Not only. From Palma, government communications assure, the Islamists would have drifted away. The main foreign companies present in the area, however, would not have resumed business. In the crosshairs of the insurgents now there would be two other important objectives: the port city of Pemba and the internal nerve center of Muenda. Meanwhile, the dead since 2017 would have reached a few thousand and a million refugees (in a state that has less than thirty million inhabitants) even if official sources spread less impressive numbers. Furthermore, both fronts are accused by some non-governmental organizations of atrocities also against the civilian population.UNDER THE EYES OF THE WORLD
The weakness of the central government is attracting foreign interests of various kinds and more or less legitimate to Maputo. Portugal is multiplying the support to the former colony not only to participate in the (presumable) dividend guaranteed by the exploitation of the natural resources of Cabo Delgado, but also to regain an international role and to earn the gratitude of the Mozambican diaspora. In line with Lisbon is France which in the Sahel crisis is enjoying the support of the Portuguese, traditionally used to moving on the African chessboard.
On a continental level, South Africa offered to help Mozambique militarily, receiving the refusal of President Filipe Nyusi. Negotiations are allegedly underway to set up an African multinational force without Nyusi having spoken out for now. Maputo accuses South Africa, covertly so as not to antagonize its powerful neighbor, of hosting opponents of the current government who intend to regain power by seeking support, it is whispered, even from China. And it was from South Africa that the first accusations of atrocity to the troops deployed by Mozambique would spread, accusations decidedly denied by the head of operations in the province of Cabo Delgado, the co-commander general Bertolino Kapitine.
The crisis has also aroused the interest of the US. “Stars and Stripes” companies (one for all the ExxonMobil) are investing, and much more have planned to invest, in the province of Cabo Delgado and certainly do not want to be at the center of a secessionist revolt. Washington has officially declared that it has brought the situation under attention. It is difficult, for now, to hypothesize a direct involvement of the US Armed Forces. The Pentagon would be studying two possible solutions. One, of the “Somali type”, provides for the training of Mozambican soldiers (and any allies) with the accompanying supply of close air support and armaments and any targeted and limited military interventions. The other, of the “Iraqi type”, provides for the establishment of security corridors in order to prevent risks on sensitive targets,BOX
To demonstrate how much France cares about the Iles Eparses was the current transalpine president Emmanuel Macron. First tenant of the Elysée, on October 23, 2019, to land on the windy and sandy Grande Glorieuse, an island about 8 thousand kilometers from Paris where the head of state declared, with somewhat rhetorical solemnity, “Here is France, here our pride, here our wealth “. A rhetoric justified by the growing arrogance of the president of Madagascar, Andry Rajoelina, in claiming the islands still belonging to France that surround the Malagasy state. And this despite the doubling of aid that Paris annually allocates to Antananarivo to counter the growing interest shown by Chinese emissaries.
A Rajoelina agitating a “question of national identity” in the face of the “bad former colonialist” falls flat. On the Grande Ile there is a multiplication of trafficking of all kinds fueled by the rich natural resources of the island and above all by corruption, widespread at all levels starting with the highest, which gangrene and made it the 149th country in the world in the ranking on spread of corruption Transparency International is one of the poorest states on the planet, where a third of the population is perpetually threatened by hunger and thirst. Meanwhile, for example, a deputy close to the president, sentenced to five years in prison for aggravated embezzlement, and free to return to Parliament after only nine months. And the high bureaucrat guilty of the destruction of 85 thousand hectares of primary forest (a natural wealth for which the country also receives substantial international economic aid) does not serve a day in prison for intensive cultivation by an Asian multinational. In the meantime, the tension rises and the demonstrations in the main inhabited centers of the island follow one another. The almost total stop of public payments and the distribution of social aid linked to the pandemic from Covid, mostly arriving from abroad, almost exclusively to “friends of friends”, increased the anger. In the meantime, the tension rises and the demonstrations in the main inhabited centers of the island follow one another. The almost total stop of public payments and the distribution of social aid linked to the pandemic from Covid, mostly arriving from abroad, almost exclusively to “friends of friends”, increased the anger. In the meantime, the tension rises and the demonstrations in the main inhabited centers of the island follow one another. The almost total stop of public payments and the distribution of social aid linked to the pandemic from Covid, mostly arriving from abroad, almost exclusively to “friends of friends”, increased the anger.
It is very unlikely that France will yield to Malagasy demands. The confrontation for the Iles Eparses is part of the growing “maritimeization” of international power relations. Occupying nearly a third of one of the world’s hotspots, France can control a waterway with a high concentration of super-tankers, container carriers and mega deep-sea fishing vessels, traditionally referred to as “tuna vessels”. Nothing could convince Paris to step back. Unless the government of Antananarivo succumbs to the flattery of Beijing and the confrontation becomes Franco-Chinese.

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