In a world crippled by the pandemic, the conflict in Cabo Delgado, a province in northern Mozambique, has accelerated dramatically over the past week. The fall of the port city of Palma on the 25th was marked by the beheading of civilians, including children, and the desperate flight of hundreds of expatriates. For the first time in contemporary history, a terrorist group controls a significant part of a Portuguese-speaking country.
The conflict, which has already claimed 2,600 lives and the displacement of 670,000 people, threatens one of the largest extractive industry projects in East Africa. The fabulous natural gas reserves have the potential to raise $ 100 billion in 25 years and transform Mozambique, one of the countries most threatened by global warming, into the equivalent of Qatar in the Indian Ocean.
Many investors felt that the chaos scenario could be overcome in Cabo Delgado. As in the Niger Delta, Nigeria’s oil hub, businesses could thrive despite the insurgency. The events of the past week show that this cynical solution is unworkable.
After almost three years of conflict, it is clear that Maputo will not do the job. If Angola inherited one of the continent’s largest armed forces from the civil war, Mozambique has a collapsing military contingent. With the security costs exploding, the French oil company Total suspended its operations in Cabo Delgado and sent a clear message: the development of the industry that can lift Mozambique out of poverty requires the resolution of the armed conflict.
Recently freed from Ernesto Araújo’s right jacket, the Foreign Ministry must look at the Cabo Delgado crisis with a new perspective. Of course, the last thing Mozambique wants is to land an army with stars like Eduardo Pazuello. The impact of the disastrous management of the pandemic by Bolsonaro on the external image of the armed forces will hamper Brazil’s return to the major operations of the international community.
But Brazil has a role to play in the Cabo Delgado conflict. In the neighboring province of Nampula, Odebrecht built a ghost airport and Vale developed a logistics corridor. For researchers at the Institute for Social and Economic Studies, a local think tank of excellence, the abandoned youth of the region are also mobilized by extremist preachers.
It would not be a surprise if they came to the conclusion that the failure of Brazilian illusions in Nampula contributed to the degradation of state authority, social disorganization and, consequently, the expansion of radical Islam. Brazil’s famous “historic debt” in Africa continues to grow.
A new African agenda would bring clear political benefits to Itamaraty. The new chancellor, Carlos França, could stand out in a land far from the Middle East, converted into a sandbox by Eduardo Bolsonaro, and prove useful for international diplomacy, on the eve of Cop26 in the United Kingdom. Mozambique shows that despite the chronic incompetence of the Bolsonaro government, Brazil can still be relevant in the world.
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