Leveraging the Africa Leaders Summit to Engage Mozambique on Security

Mozambique’s high-level participation in the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in December will provide U.S. government and private sector representatives with an opportunity to directly engage with Mozambican decisionmakers on developing new approaches to security problems there. The United States has long been Mozambique’s largest bilateral aid donor, providing the country with 536 million USD last year, a figure set to rise with Mozambique’s inclusion in the Global Fragility Act and support to humanitarian crises. Since 2010, however, the ties binding these two nations have expanded into the commercial and security spaces. In 2020, the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation approved investments of roughly $1.8 billion for liquified natural gas (LNG) projects in Cabo Delgado Province, and in 2021 the Export Import Bank approved a $4.7 billion loan for these projects. Furthermore, demand for U.S. exports will likely increase as development gets underway.

The United States has also joined a growing group of countries providing bilateral security assistance to Mozambique to fight the Islamic State-Mozambique (IS-M), or al Shabaab as it is called locally. Between March 2021 and February 2022, the United States Africa Command conducted three Joint Combat Exchange Training (JCET) programs with their Mozambican counterparts. These programs have included human rights and law of conflict training, in which would help the Mozambican Defence Armed Forces (FADM) mend its broken relationship with the civilian population. Furthermore, the designation of the IS-M as a terror organization by the State Department in 2021 signaled U.S. interest in expanding law enforcement cooperation in combating this group.

U.S. public and private sector representatives have a unique opportunity during this summit to jointly engage high-level officials on this intersection between the country’s economy and security. While the deployment of Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) and the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) have reduced insurgents’ presence in its historical coastal base and control over key lines of transportation, the group has not lost the intent to fight, resurfacing in new areas of the province and neighboring Nampula where it has displaced the civilian population and disrupted governance. However, given the separation between the northern and southern parts of the country, political elites place little importance on investing in a long-term solution to the conflict. Both the deployment of troops to the areas most relevant to LNG exploration and the government's statements suggesting security has sufficiently improved to allow exploration to resume—even as fighting and displacements continue elsewhere—reinforces the perception that the government’s priority is on near-term profit over long-term stability. Reversing this perception and setting Mozambique on a path toward greater stability in the north would necessitate the following:

  • Developing a comprehensive counterinsurgency strategy that recognizes the internal drivers of this conflict. Narratives on the conflict tend to emphasize the role of foreign actors over the domestic political and socioeconomic grievances at the heart of this armed movement.

  • Rebuilding security forces. The Mozambican military and police would benefit from a cultural shift that emphasizes the importance of respecting human rights and defending the civilian population alongside training assistance and equipment acquisition.

  • Facilitating transparent, effective humanitarian assistance. With nearly one million internally displaced persons, Maputo can have an easy win in rebuilding ties with local populations by easing the bureaucratic obstacles to humanitarian aid workers and supporting efforts to reduce corruption in the distribution of aid.

Emilia Columbo is a senior associate (non-resident) with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.