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Mozambique needs a Marshall Plan to counter Islamic Insurgency

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Wednesday, 23 December 2020 13:48

Northern Mozambique needs a Marshall Plan to generate mass employment for local young people and prevent them turning to the region’s extremist Islamic insurgency.

Attempts at development in northern Mozambique, which has been grappling with the insurgency since 2017, need to focus on creating large numbers of low-skilled jobs in construction and agriculture, says Ian Krohn, a director at the ThirdWay Africa advisory group in Maputo. He sees a “Marshall Plan” to reconstruct the region as the quickest way to do so.

The share of people in Cabo Delgado living in poverty is estimated by the South African Institute of International Affairs at 60%. Focusing on low-skilled jobs is “unsexy for the development world,” says Krohn, who was recently in Pemba, the capital of the northern Cabo Delgado province. “But it’s a good first step for a place like Cabo Delgado.”

READ MORE Mozambique: Sophistication of Islamic insurgency threatens LNG plans

The insurgents in November slaughtered civilians in villages in northern Mozambique, and across the border in Tanzania. The international community has been stepping up its response to the rebellion, which clouds prospects for onshore liquid natural gas (LNG) development scheduled for 2024. Mozambique has asked the European Union for training help to fight the combattants, and Portugal, the former colonial power, has said it will provide assistance.

But an international effort to create jobs on a mass scale is essential to tackling the underlying causes of the rebellion.

READ MORE: Mozambique LNG prospects lifted by international response to Islamist insurgency

It’s possible to overstate the role of ideology in local involvement in the insurgency, says Krohn. Many young people in the north have no access to basic services, let alone jobs, he adds.

He gives an anecdotal example in which an affluent, educated newcomer recruits local young men to help build a mosque. They find that they can earn between three and ten times the minimum wage. The construction team starts to turn into an intelligence network, passing on information about the local police. For some of the workers, this turns into a path to joining the rebellion.

Krohn says development in Mozambique has sometimes been guilty of “pie in the sky.” The country has “absurd” numbers of trained accountants with no prospect of employment. Job creation needs to stress quantity rather than quality, he says. “There has been a reticence in accepting that reality.”

Graphite potential

ThirdWay Africa is an investment and advisory group focused on the east and south of the continent. It seeks to identify synergies between financing from international donors and the private sector.

Mozambique has suffered from being outside both Anglophone and Francophone Africa, says the group’s chairman Alejandro Tawil from Miami.

Tawil first went to Mozambique in 2008, when he became involved in a conservation project in the south. He points to Mozambique’s reserves of graphite, largely overlooked since the discovery of large-scale LNG reserves.

  • The world needs graphite as a component in the batteries of electric cars. The global market is dominated by China, which produced 64% of world output in 2019.
  • According to the ESM Foundation in Switzerland, Mozambique was the world’s joint second-largest producer, tied with Brazil on 9%.

READ MORE  Mozambique’s glittering graphite mining boom

Most of the country’s graphite is found in Cabo Delgado. But COVID-19 has ground mining operations to a standstill.

  • Australia’s Syrah Resources, which mines graphite at the Balama mine in Cabo Delgado, recorded no natural graphite production there in the second quarter.
  • In July, Syrah said it was cutting its workforce at Balama by 65% due to COVID-19.

Skewed development

A historical rift between the north and south of the country means that development has been “incredibly skewed” to the south, says Krohn. Increasing the local content level of oil and gas infrastructure projects in the north can provide “quick wins” in the next one to three years.

“We’re behind the ball” in terms of the local content, he says.  Though specialised foreign engineers will be needed, local labour can often be used for infrastructure and food production, says Krohn. It’s critical to target job creation on the northern regions where the jobs are most urgently needed, he adds.

READ MORE Mozambique: Can Cabo Delgado’s Islamist insurgency be stopped?

Cabo Delgado has historically been left as a kind of “Wild West,” says Tawil. The government and stakeholders now need to develop a strategy to develop the region. Lifting employment has to be the top priority, he says. “It’s the only solution.”

Bottom line

Job creation is the only way out of permanent security fire-fighting in northern Mozambique.

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