Mozambique Is South-Central Africa’s Gateway To Multipolarity
The Southeast African country of Mozambique is rapidly emerging as a key gateway for the landlocked countries of South-Central Africa to obtain access to the Indian Ocean Region, from where they can then participate in China’s New Silk Road and India’s "Cotton Road” counterproposal. For simplicity’s sake, given that the Chinese and Indian infrastructural integration projects are non-Western, they’re categorized as "multipolar” in the context of this article, though New Delhi’s foreign policies are far from friendly towards Beijing and essentially align with Washington’s. Moving beyond that point, however, it’s plain to see that the future of Africa is dependent on its ability to economically integrate with Asia, thereby giving a decisive geographic advantage to the coastal states along the Indian Ocean Rim while simultaneously hindering the development prospects for the landlocked ones.
Here in lays the relevancy of China’s New Silk Roads, which are much more developed than India’s "Cotton Road” for the simple reason that there’s something tangible behind them. China is developing a crisscrossing network of rail infrastructure throughout Ethiopia and the East African Community (EAC), but lesser known to the global and perhaps even regional publics too is its investments in Mozambique, the country which is destined to serve as the connectivity terminal for linking its landlocked South-Central African neighbors to the larger global economy. China is involved in three major Silk Road projects in Mozambique, each of which further connectivity in their own way and can also be utilized by third party actors as well. China’s global vision isn’t one of "zero-sum games” like most of the world’s, which is why it isn’t overly protective of who ultimately ends up using its funded facilities so long as its own national companies retain access to these routes.
This is an important concept to keep in mind while reading the article because it proves that China’s infrastructural investments could be utilized not just for its own benefit and that of its direct partners, but for any interested party which is capable of trading along these routes. At the same time, however, it’ll also be argued that Mozambique’s connectivity prospects to South-Central Africa make it a prime target for Hybrid Warfare, which is presently being waged against it in a low-intensity but high-stakes manner. All in all, the article aspires to highlight the geostrategic importance of Mozambique, outline its Chinese-funded connectivity prospects for the wider region, and raise awareness about the ongoing asymmetrical conflict within the country in order to present the reader with a comprehensive overview of this relatively under-discussed state’s overall significance to the emerging Multipolar World Order of the 21st century.
The first thing to be discussed about Mozambique is its strategic positioning, as this sets into motion the motives behind China’s New Silk Road investments there and the Hybrid War which is bubbling up to disrupt them. Mozambique is located in Southeast Africa in the southwestern corner of the Indian Ocean Region. It used to occupy a much larger strategic role in the centuries preceding the Suez Canal, as its coast was bypassed by many European trading vessels before the Egyptian shortcut was created. After the canal’s opening in 1869, however, Mozambique and much of the greater region lost its previous trade-transit importance and struggled for relevancy in an ever-shifting world. These geostrategic determinants are still in force, but what’s bringing Mozambique back on the map nowadays is its copious LNG deposits in the northeast, which are poised to begin extraction and sale to the global marketplace after 2020.
Mozambique will become a magnet of international attention by virtue of its LNG resources alone, and this in turn will attract investments from neighboring EAC member Tanzania. It should also be brought up in this context that Tanzania is forecast by the UN to have one of the fastest-growing population rates in this century, which could potentially translate into solid economic growth if it’s leveraged properly. Comparatively smaller Mozambique could therefore become a transit state in linking the much larger Tanzanian and South African marketplaces, thereby possibly bringing extra economic benefits to the country. This is on top of the transit advantages that it’s expected to reap by being the landlocked South-Central African countries’ gateway to multipolarity via the New Silk Roads which will be discussed in detail shortly. The reason why Zambia, Zimbabwe, and Botswana are participating in connectivity projects with Mozambique is because of the coastal state’s location along the southwestern rim of the Indian Ocean Region and also due to the fact that these countries want to diversify their global market access routes away from their erstwhile dependency on existing partners.
Zambia is close with Tanzania due to the Chinese-built TAZARA railway from the 1970s, the first Silk Road project of the modern era, but it also aspires to position itself as the crossroads of transcontinental bi-oceanic trade in South-Central Africa. This explains the country’s interests in connecting to Mozambique to complement existing and planned connectivity routes through each of its neighbors. As for Zimbabwe and Botswana, these two states have hitherto enjoyed using South African infrastructure to facilitate the shipment of their goods to extra-regional markets, but the explosion of socio-political unrest and xenophobia in the "Rainbow Nation’s” in recent years has given both landlocked countries cause to consider alternative corridors such as the relevant one which will be described through Mozambique. The main point is that Mozambique’s geography makes it an attractive location for several Chinese-funded multipolar integrational projects, while its LNG deposits guarantee that it’ll remain prominently on the global radar in the decades ahead.
Chinese Connectivity Prospects
There are three leading projects in Mozambique which China is either helping to fund or is a part of in some other capacity, with one of them being a gas pipeline while the other two are trade corridors.
African Renaissance Pipeline:
The first is the$6 billion African Renaissance Pipeline which will connect the country’s offshore gas deposits in the northeast with the energy-hungry metropolis of Johannesburg in South Africa. This project is very important because it could eventually pave the way for a Tanzanian-South African trade corridor, although that’s still a very distant option in the future. What’s most significant about this initiative in the short to medium term is that it can help South Africa counter its rolling blackouts and therefore provide it with a reliable opportunity to recover and expand its economic growth. This in turn would make South Africa a stronger partner in BRICS, but it could also elevate Mozambique’s profile vis-à-vis its neighbor and potentially put pressure on the South African authorities to proactively prevent or decisively respond to xenophobic attacks against its neighbor’s migrant workers there.
Just as any energy relationship has a tendency of doing, it’ll probably in one way or another give the supplier and transit state (one and the same in this case) additional leverage on the downstream consumer, but conversely, it could also make Mozambique much more dependent on South Africa if the latter decides to ‘weaponize’ its consumption for political purposes. That scenario can only feasibly occur if South Africa manages to prevent or diversify away from any mono-dependency on Mozambique such as through its recently derailed nuclear energy cooperation with Russia, though if it doesn’t, then the relationship will probably work out more to Maputo’s advantage. This in and of itself would turn a comparatively impoverished and previously geostrategically insignificant state into a relative power player capable of influencing South Africa, whether on its own regard or at the behest of foreign patrons.
Nacala Development Corridor:
This multinational initiative is the most promising of the two trade corridors that China’s involved in, and it aims to connect Zambia to the Mozambican port of Nacala by means of southern Malawi. Upon completion, it’ll diversify Zambia’s trade routes by giving it an eastern alternative to TAZARA. It’ll also help to connect Mozambique to the transcontinental bi-oceanic corridor that China’s spearheading in South-Central Africa and which the author described as part of his book-length article series on Hybrid War scenarios in Africa. In principle, Mozambique would be able to access the recently refurbished Benguela Railway connecting Angola to Zambia, and therefore linking the two former Portuguese colonies via an overland route through the erstwhile British one between them. The Nacala Development Corridor would probably benefit tiny but increasingly overpopulated Malawi most of all, since it would give it direct access to the Indian Ocean through Mozambique and indirectly to TAZARA and Benguela (and thenceforth the Tanzanian and Angolan/Atlantic Ocean markets, respectively).
Ponta Techobanine Railway:
The final connectivity project has yet to experience any large-scale Chinese investment in its rail portion, but has seen Beijing develop its terminal port in Maputo. The Ponta Techobanine Railway is a project to connect eastern Botswanan coalmines to the Mozambican capital via an iron route through southern Zimbabwe. Once it’s finished, it will give both mineral-rich Botswana and its similarly endowed and commercially developing Zimbabwean neighbor access to the Indian Ocean without having to go through South Africa. This would reinforce both of their strategic desires to diversify away from near-complete trade dependence on their southern neighbor and avoid the socio-political unrest which is expected to continue bubbling in the ever-increasingly xenophobic and civil war-prone country in the coming future. With a reliable and modern access route linking both landlocked countries with the high seas, it follows that an influx of foreign investment could also begin streaming in to these states.
The Ponta Techobanine Railway basically represents a power play by Mozambique to beat out its South African competitor as the preferred oceanic trade corridor for the landlocked countries of South-Central Africa, particularly the two mineral-rich ones of Botswana and Zimbabwe. South Africa has been hitherto regarded as the undisputed hegemon in this part of Africa, solidifying its influence through the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and its Southern African Customs Union (SACU) core, but with the energy-assisted rise of Angola, Zambia’s forecasted transit status in facilitating intercontinental bi-oceanic trade, and Mozambique’s rising geostrategic prospects as well vis-à-vis Botswana and Zimbabwe in particular, South Africa’s regional security architecture is quickly unravelling and the country is steadily losing its former influence over these countries. That’s not to say that any one of its rising sectoral competitors can ever replace its hegemonic influence in a holistic sense, but just that their combined potential could collectively reduce South Africa’s overall regional leadership.
The Fragility Of FRELIMO
Mozambique has many opportunities to serve as South-Central Africa’s gateway to multipolarity, but it must first ensure that it’s not torn apart by Hybrid War before then. The author published a detailed analysis of the most pressing asymmetrical threat facing Mozambique in an earlier article for Oriental Review, and the reader should reference it for additional information if they’re interested, but the primary point being expressed is that militant tensions have once more returned between the ruling FRELIMO party and the rebel-opposition RENAMO one. These two groups fought in the decades-long civil war which formally ended in 1992, but the conflict was never truly concluded owing to imperfect weapons control mechanisms and persistent political distrust between both sides. Each of them progressively returned to civil war footing throughout the years and began to more confidently position themselves for conflict, but the real trigger for the latest escalation of violence over the past couple of years has been Mozambique’s impressive offshore natural gas discoveries.
The resultant economic and development windfall that their extraction is expected to procure for Mozambique, as well as the corresponding boost that this will give to the country’s geostrategic significance vis-à-vis the aforementioned New Silk Road projects, means that one of the poorest states in the world finally has an historic chance to rapidly improve living conditions for its citizenry and escape the post-colonial trap of impoverishment that it’s been stuck in since independence. For as optimistic and apolitical of an outlook as this may be, it also presents a temptation for both political parties to enrich themselves and their supporters, which explains FRELIMO’s corruption and RENAMO’s ambitions to forcefully seize power. The ruling party has been implicated in an embarrassing $2 billion debt scheme where previously undisclosed loans eventually resulted in the country defaulting on some of its public debts. This scandalous fiasco has severely dented the country’s credibility with both international investors and the citizenry alike, and is expected to relatively increase the popular appeal of RENAMO in its regions and perhaps even elsewhere across the country.
Pertaining to RENAMO’s area of combat operations in Mozambique, the group is active in roughly half of the country’s provinces which correspond to more than 50% of its overall territory, although they don’t militarily control the majority of land within them. However, each of the provinces that RENAMO does lay claim to was won by the party’s political wing in the 2014 general election, which leads to the group thereby demanding that Maputo grant these contiguous territories "decentralization” as part of a peace agreement with FRELIMO. If the existing 27 December truce ends up being used as the starting point for any forthcoming devolution of powers from FRELIMO to RENAMO, then it could lead to a complicated outcome that would affect Mozambique’s New Silk Road connectivity prospects. The rebels would control all of the provinces that the Nacala Development Corridor is expected to transit through, while the government would retain control over the ones facilitating the Ponta Techobanine Railway. Both sides, though, would control some part or another of the African Renaissance Pipeline.
Mozambique has the very high chance to function as the cornerstone of China’s New Silk Road connectivity plans for Southeast Africa, but it needs to overcome its lingering civil war tensions in order to fulfill its geographic promise to the multipolar world. Beijing’s differing capacities of involvement in helping Maputo build the African Renaissance Pipeline, Nacala Development Corridor, and Ponta Techobanine Railway are meaningful signs of commitment testifying to China’s genuine desire to turn Mozambique into a significant node on New Silk Road, but all of this can be offset if FRELIMO and RENAMO don’t reach an enduring settlement to their continuation conflict. Consequently, in line with the forecasted model described at the end of the last section, they’ll also have to work out a mechanism for managing the New Silk Roads which will fall under their control, which could inadvertently end up triggering another round of violence if both sides experience a falling out over transit cost details, for example. Moreover, any uncertainty over the security or pricing of these routes could diminish their attractiveness and ultimately lead to a lose-lose situation for the two conflicting parties.
What Mozambique needs to do, then, is speedily resolve its domestic troubles through the framework of last year’s truce and building upon the 1992 Rome Peace Accords which ended the civil war. The author isn’t in a position to advise FRELIMO about how it should deal with RENAMO, but the ruling authorities must in any case take care to not unwittingly cede too many governing responsibilities to the provinces per the rebel’s desired "decentralization” solution in order to avoid the abovementioned scenario of incessant and mutually counterproductive bickering which could sabotage each side’s New Silk Road benefits. Having said that, this doesn’t mean that "decentralization” shouldn’t be countenanced or even pursued in some capacity, but just that responsible decision makers on both sides and their foreign partners should understand the heightened strategic risks inherent with this approach, as well as how they could negatively impact on Mozambique’s regional connectivity plans.
Nevertheless, from a cynical perspective, so long as the country’s offshore natural gas reserves in the northeast remain secure, then the government will receive steady income and the global markets (and relatedly, Great Powers) will be satisfied, but it would still be best for all of Mozambique’s citizens and the state’s long-term future if it invested the diplomatic capital necessary to end the conflict with RENAMO once and for all and therefore enable a reliable New Silk Road future of regional integration. From the reverse angle, however, any of China’s competitors which aspire to influence these projects have a natural interest in prolonging the political and/or military dimensions of this Hybrid War conflict in order to disrupt, control, or influence these infrastructural routes, which, as can be inferred from the analysis, could allow the interfering state to exert their sway all throughout the South-Central African region by means of these initiatives (or lack thereof). For these reasons, the ongoing events in Mozambique must be seen through the prism of New Cold War geostrategy, even if the country never returns to being a major global flashpoint like it was during the Old Cold War.
Andrew KORYBKO / Political Analyst
DISCLAIMER: The author writes for this publication in a private capacity which is unrepresentative of anyone or any organization except for his own personal views. Nothing written by the author should ever be conflated with the editorial views or official positions of any other media outlet or institution.
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