Groups on the “Swahili Coast” started the Mozambique Channel insurgency in 2017. The revolution now includes not less than 800 separate attacks across Mozambique, especially Northern Mozambique. The attacks have resulted in at least 2600 fatalities while other 600,000 individuals are now displaced.
The importance of this strategic region for maritime security and traffic
By mid 19th century, the Mozambique Channel had for decades played a central role in the trade between the Western world, East Asia, and also within the Indian Ocean. Yet an international naval response was necessary to prevent illegal traffic and safeguard channel trade, a similar scenario we see today.
The Mozambique Channel has been a significant route for shipping in Eastern Africa. The Channel receives every major river in Madagascar. It also features the ports of Toliary and Mahajanga on its coast. The ports of Beira, Mozambique, and Maputo and the Zambezi River’s mouth are also along the opposite shore of the Mozambique Channel.
The current maritime security situation
The ongoing rebellion in northern Mozambique has led to multiple maritime security concerns in the Mozambique Channel, a primary transit course for the marine traffic in the Indian Ocean’s arm. For instance, March 2021 was a period that saw a sour struggle for the port of Palma, reinforcing concerns about maritime security between Madagascar and the Mozambique coast. Today, the Mozambique Channel is already experiencing limited local maritime-security capacity.
Piracy, illegal fishing, and other reasons for insecurities in the Mozambique Channel
Several factors contribute to the Mozambique Channel insecurities, like the significant energy development projects of offshore gas fields near the Cabo Delgado Province’s coast. In August 2020, the militants’ capture of the port of Mocimboa da Praia led to an escalation of the insurgency in Mozambique.
This insecurity led to the disruption of the enormous gas projects due to the weak maritime security along the Channel. This has also opened prospects for terror groups to fund and expand their operations, leaving essential coastal lines susceptible to naval threats.
Since 2017, drug trafficking along the Mozambique Channel has been another threat in the region while drug traffickers were using the Channel as a trade route to smuggle heroin to Mozambique from Afghanistan.
Additionally, the East African coast faces many challenges concerning illegal fishing and piracy that have thrived in the region for decades now. Piracy concerns led Mozambique to allow other countries, like the South African Navy, to offer security assistance.
The international engagement in the area
So far, the Mozambican armed forces seem to be overwhelmed as far as restoring order in the country is concerned, despite receiving reinforcements from several security contractors before. Instead, the insurgency appears to steadily grow in ambition and proficiency, creating a growing appreciation of the maritime aspects of the security situation. The results have been detrimental as the latest developments have led Total, the French energy company, to freeze work on its Mozambique high-cost liquefied natural gas venture.
When it comes to international responses, Portugal has committed itself to station 60 soldiers to train local Special Forces. On the other side, France has areas off the East African coast, the Mayotte and Reunion, and several other Indian Ocean territories.
The European Union (EU) has not been left behind as it keeps focusing its counter-piracy naval function on the Somalian coast with the Atalanta operation. But it now routinely consists of less than two naval assets, a situation that, together with the overall EU reluctance to more deeply involve themselves in the Mozambique state of affairs, has led to low likelihoods of extending the naval operation south to the Mozambique Channel.
The United States of America have also involved itself in the Mozambique Channel’s regional maritime capacity-building attempts. Recently, the U.S announced a mission to offer the Mozambique marines military training to enhance the local armed forces’ ability to battle the insurgency.
And after a technical mission dispatch, reports claim that the South African Development Community nations are thinking of stationing around 3000 troops to neutralize the insurgency. But implementing such a plan may not be that easy.
The notion of an emerging maritime security Hotspot
Today, the Mozambique Channel waters are becoming a primary new security hotspot throughout the Indian Ocean. Islamist groups have insurrected in Northern Mozambique, leading to an increased disruption in the Channel. And the Mozambique government seems to be powerless in suppressing the insurgence altogether.
The idea of this emerging maritime security hotspot has called for European partners and the Quad nations to help contain the situation before stepping of other factors into the vacuum. The Mozambique insurgency is currently threatening security throughout the Mozambique Channel, the 1000-nm long watercourse separating East Africa and Madagascar. Approximately 30% of the global tanker traffic passes here, and the region hosts some of the largest gas reserves.