As the insurgency in northern Mozambique continues to escalate, not only is the humanitarian crisis deepening, but the instability’s ripple effects are being felt far beyond Mozambique’s borders. Over 700,000 people in the region have been internally displaced, and nearly a million are facing severe hunger. Humanitarian appeals have struggled to attract sufficient funding, but developments in the region suggest that some elements of the crisis definitely have the world’s attention.
Efforts to contain and defeat Mozambique’s militants—and to protect massive international liquified natural gas investments—have included the ineffective and often abusive deployments of Mozambique’s security forces, as well as Russian and South African private security contractors. The United States has controversially designated the militant force in the area, ISIS-Mozambique, a Foreign Terrorist Organization, and it is providing military training to help local forces counter the threat. The European Union is also seriously considering sending military trainers, a step already been taken on a bilateral basis by Portugal.
Meanwhile, Mozambique’s southern African neighbors have become increasingly alarmed by the apparent strength and resilience of the insurgency and concerned about the potential for regional contagion. This poses a challenge for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), an organization that in theory should be the first international responder to threats to peace and security in Mozambique; in practice, however, it has a thin record of effective military intervention. This spring SADC sent a technical assessment mission to Mozambique that reportedly recommended the organization deploy a significant regional military force involving nearly 3,000 troops to help restore security to the troubled Cabo Delgado province. But a summit slated to consider this proposal at the end of April was postponed, ostensibly due to the unavailability of two heads of state, Botswana’s President Masisi and South Africa’s President Ramaphosa, but probably also due to Mozambique’s own reluctance to accept intervention.
It’s not just Southern African states that find themselves confronted with the ramifications of Mozambique’s instability. In the Indian Ocean, island states must navigate the fallout of increased international attention on maritime security in the Mozambique Channel, an important global shipping route, in the context of broader major power rivalry. These states are trying to anticipate the likely trajectory of, and potential opportunities associated with, investments around Mozambique’s massive offshore LNG deposits in the midst of extraordinary volatility, while simultaneously coping with an uptick in illicit trafficking in drugs and people. It’s not difficult to envision new security partnerships forming, as island states look to maximize their benefits and maritime powers scramble for supremacy.