Southern Africa: Economic Opportunities, Extremism, and Political Turbulence

Gas Boom

In November, Mozambique will likely ship its first exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) to European markets via its Coral Sul floating facility. For Europe, the LNG shipments come at a time when the region is desperately seeking alternative supplies of gas given embargoes placed on Russia, whose military aggression toward Ukraine persists. For Mozambique, the development would mark the start of a gas boom which promises to radically transform one of Africa’s most underdeveloped economies.

Expanding Extremism

Before such gains can indeed be realised, the Mozambican government has to address the ever-evolving insurgency by the Islamic State (IS)-aligned al-Sunnah movement. Although the mid-2021 deployment of Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Rwandan forces has led to the recapture of swathes of insurgent held territory, al-Sunnah has proven markedly resilient. In addition to launching sporadic attacks in the gas-rich districts of Palma and Mocímboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado Province, militants have also expanded their operations to southern administrative divisions of the region which had otherwise been spared from violence. A continued southward push by insurgents could see them worsen what is an already burgeoning humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado Province where at nearly one million people have been displaced due to insecurity.

While the shadow of the IS looms large over Mozambique, its specter has also been seen in neighbouring South Africa. In October, the U.S. embassy in Pretoria issued a security message warning of an increased threat of terrorism in the Sandton area of Johannesburg. While the identity of the group behind the threat was not disclosed, the terrorism warning was issued mere months after the IS threatened that South Africa would be at risk of punitive acts of violence should it militarily engage against its affiliates in Mozambique—a directive which the South African National Defence Force has since undertaken.

Cyril Challenges

The threat of terrorism in South Africa is expected to serve as an additional headache for the country’s embattled president, Cyril Ramaphosa, who is facing multiple challenges in the form of rolling blackouts (loadshedding), party factionalism, economic malaise, and allegations of corruption. These factors will weigh heavily on the statesman as he seeks reelection as ANC president ahead of the party’s December 2022 elective conference. Most recently, a parliamentary inquiry found preliminary evidence of misconduct by Ramaphosa after millions of dollars in cash were stolen from his private game ranch in 2020. The so called “Farmgate” scandal has put Ramaphosa's political future in further peril as he faces calls for resignation and a potential impeachment inquiry.

Prepping for the Polls

Also gearing up for elections in the coming months is Zimbabwean president Emmerson Mnangagwa, who appears poised to serve as the presidential candidate of the ruling ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe’s 2023 general elections. Unlike his South African counterpart, Mnangagwa faces a more certain path to victory within a political context which cannot be considered free, fair, and impartial. Further strengthening the incumbent’s chances of reelection is fractures within the political opposition—highlighted by the emergence of the CCC breakaway faction of the MDC—which is as much at odds with itself as it is with the ruling party.

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