On 9 November 2020, Islamist militants beheaded at least 50 civilians in a string of attacks on villages in northern Mozambique. The attacks occurred in the Muidumbe and Macomia districts of the northern Cabo Delgado province, home to over 2,000 expatriate South Africans. The assailants also abducted an unspecified number of women and torched homes.
As a result of sustained marginalisation and discrimination by the government, Islamist insurgents have flourished in Cabo Delgado – dubiously nicknamed the “Forgotten Cape”. Indeed, the current security environment in Mozambique has solidified the country’s spot on the world’s highest risk locations for kidnap for ransom – and for the foreseeable future.
The gas-rich Forgotten Cape has been rocked by this escalating insurgency since 2017. Today, however, we are seeing the highest risk to foreign personnel and infrastructure in the country in years. It’s easy to see why; the region is home to Africa’s three largest liquid natural gas (LNG) projects: Coral, FLNG Project (ENI and ExxonMobil), the Mozambique LNG Project (Total, formerly Anadarko), and Rovuma LNG Project (ExxonMobil, ENI and CNPC). These bring large numbers of expatriate workers who are likely to be a target for the militants and may represent a lucrative source of income.
Anyone operating in this region needs to be aware of the escalating violence. The coordinated and appalling attacks - which include videos on social media of men beating and shooting a naked woman in the city of Mocimboa da Praia, and soldiers allegedly dumping bodies into mass graves - is expected to continue. And with this comes the increased risk to foreigners across the whole country.
The militants pose a growing threat - not just to international energy majors hoping to exploit northern Mozambique’s massive LNG reserves - but to the stability of the entire south-east African region. There are reports that organised crime syndicates in South Africa have been providing financial support and militants to the Islamist group. In September 2020, armed insurgents took over at least five islands near Palma, including the island of Vamizi, home to several luxury South African-owned tourist resorts. And it doesn’t end there.
Neighbouring African states and African regional bodies have already expressed fears that the conflict will spread beyond Mozambique’s borders. In August 2020, the South African Defence Minister stated that “The violent extremist activity in northern Mozambique threatens [South Africa’s] massive natural offshore gas exploration projects”. On 20 October 2020 the Tanzanian and Mozambican police chiefs agreed to launch joint operations against Mozambican-based Islamist State (IS)-linked militants whose attacks recently spilled into Tanzania. The agreement came after 300 Islamist militants crossed the border from Cabo Delgado and attacked Kitaya village in Tanzania on 14 October 2020, killing an unspecified number of civilians.
Sadly, there is no expectation that this agreement will significantly reduce violence in the ongoing insurgency in the near term – so it is vital that, if you have any interests in this area, you take cautionary steps.
If you or your organisation has business in Mozambique, ensure all personnel keep an up-to-date itinerary of your trip with a trusted individual not travelling in your party (such as at home or at a company office). Ensure that you stay in communication with fellow travelling colleagues as well as your home or head office. Furthermore, always consider your profile and what you might be perceived as representing - such as wealth or a different political ideology or nationality - which could make you more of a target in certain areas. Be mindful of the risk of being targeted by hostile individuals simply for being an outsider. Be aware of local customary norms regarding dress and conduct. Consider adopting local standards so as to avoid attracting unwanted or even hostile attention. Finally ensure you have in place robust Kidnap for Ransom insurance coverage and stay in regular contact with security advisers where relevant.