Human Rights Watch has called for a government investigation into the military for alleged executions and sexual assaults against citizens, according to the Associated Press. Over 6,000 people have fled to Malawi since late 2015 as tensions between the ruling Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and opposition group Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) escalate to violent levels.
Mozambique has enjoyed relative peace since 1992, but recent violence could pose a threat to political and economic stability.
The violence in question took place in Tete Province, a RENAMO safe haven known for its rich coal deposits. The conflict hasn't spread on a mass scale, but such clashes harken back to the nation’s war-torn history. A civil war began in 1977 as RENAMO and the formerly Marxist FRELIMO struggled for power.
The newly independent Mozambique received support from the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba, but the government could not withstand opposition forces and sabotage from neighboring apartheid regimes, leading to economic collapse.
Moreover, the Portuguese fled the country in droves, leaving many to contend with mass starvation and a government that ruthlessly killed thousands. All of these events set Mozambique on a fast track to disaster as poor infrastructure and weak governance hampered development, and the southeast African country has never fully recovered.
Change for the Better
FRELIMO ruled the country as one party, but it established a constitution that allowed a multi-party system in the 1990s. The party won elections in parliament and abandoned its Marxist principles while issuing a series of reforms that led to meaningful growth. The government has also approved natural gas exploration efforts, hoping that the commodity would yield substantial revenue.
Mozambique is not as strong as other emerging markets in Africa, but the discovery of large natural gas reserves could prove to be a vital asset. With that, natural gas demand wanes across the globe, and energy companies may exploit reserves while providing little benefit to the population at large. Firms, such as ENI and Anadarko Petroleum, have a strong presence in Mozambique, and China intends to expand its natural gas foothold in the poor nation.
Another potential problem would be the government’s over-reliance on the energy sector. While Mozambique has enjoyed strong growth in recent years, officials risk placing too much emphasis on natural gas, and energy companies may retract future projects if market conditions remain unfavorable.
Another Civil War?
If all goes according to plan, Mozambique could become the third-largest exporter of natural gas, notes Bloomberg Business. However, recent conflicts may put investors and energy companies on edge if security further deteriorates. In addition, the violence in Mozambique is part of a larger trend of widespread instability taking place throughout parts of Africa.
Leaders are combating opposition and terrorists groups, and this could have vast ramifications for much of the continent if peace does not prevail in certain regions. While the possibility of a repeat civil war is unlikely in Mozambique, the situation could worsen if both sides fail to reach a consensus.