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A Mozambican woman walks in Palma, on February 16, 2017. The small, palm-fringed fishing town of Palma was meant to become a symbol of Mozambique's glittering future, transformed by one of the world's largest liquefied natural gas projects, but it is now under threat from construction delays, fallen gas prices and a huge government debt scandal. JOHN WESSELS / AFP
The small, palm-fringed fishing town of Palma was meant to become a symbol of Mozambique’s glittering future, transformed by one of the world’s largest liquefied natural gas projects, but it is now under threat from construction delays, fallen gas prices and a huge government debt scandal. (John Wessels/AFP)

The most recent report from Mozambique’s National Statistics Institute (INE) reveals the nation’s economy has flipped from a consistent inflationary trend toward a 0.6 percent deflationary one. Drawing on data from consumer price fluctuations in Mozambique’s three largest cities—Maputo, Nampula, and Beira—the INE’s research suggests this recent bout of deflation stems from the sudden drop in prices for private education, a first in the country’s history. Due to the government-mandated closure of all schools to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, private education facilities either lowered their fees or were unable to collect tuition from parents.

 

The informal economy has come to a near complete standstill

 

The Center for Democracy and Development (CDD), a civil society organization, warned that the INE’s deflation numbers are “misleading.” Typically, deflation arises when demand for goods is at a lower rate than its supply, forcing vendors to lower prices in an effort to raise demand. In a Facebook post, the CDD argues “that this deflation is not the result of an excess supply of products on the market, but from the shortage of demand as a result of the deterioration of the purchasing power of families, especially those of low income.” The Center urges the Mozambican government to prioritize support for low-income families who are most at risk of economic ruin from the pandemic.

All border posts are closed save for one shared with South Africa, which is open for cargo purposes only, and the informal economy has come to a near complete standstill. Whatever little benefit consumers would normally have gained during a deflationary period is cancelled out by the broader economic precarity of the country and its most vulnerable communities.

 

Cabo Delgado
Muzasufar Abakari, chief of the coastal village Guludo in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, photographed during Ramadan in May 2019 (Zinyange Auntony/AFP)

Valige Tauabo, the governor of Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique, announced on Monday that the country’s Defense and Security Forces (DSF) had reclaimed control of the town of Macomia. The town had been under attack by unspecified armed insurgents since Thursday, May 29. This comes on the heels of a declaration by President Filipe Nyusi that the DSF had killed two “senior officers” among the insurgents after Thursday’s attack on and occupation of the Macomia district headquarters.

Images and video clips of the destruction left behind by the insurgents—suspected of belonging to a violent local jihadist group with possible connections to Islamic State—were circulated on social media.

Private military contractors were part of the offensive to reclaim Macomia, although reports about the operation have not yet divulged the identity of all the entities involved. Separate engagements in Mozambique have suggested the presence of South African contractors as well as the Wagner Group, the infamous Russian mercenary outfit that has also been active in Libya and the Central African Republic.

 

President Nyusi has admitted that unemployment and poverty are behind the insurgency in the province

 

Since the insurgency in Cabo Delgado started in 2017, more than 1,100 civilians have been killed and thousands more displaced. The discovery of significant natural gas reserves off the province’s coast has attracted interest from multinational energy companies like ExxonMobil and Total. But despite billions in investments to extract the gas, the local people have not derived any benefit from them. And President Nyusi has admitted that unemployment and poverty are behind the insurgency in the province.

 

 

Total Logo

 

French multinational energy company Total has secured US$14.4 billion in funding for a natural gas exploration project off the northern coast of Mozambique, according to two unnamed sources who spoke to Reuters. One of the sources said Total had worked out a financing scheme with more than twenty lenders, but did not name them. This follows Total’s acquisition of a 26.5 percent stake in a liquid natural gas (LNG) project for US$3.9 billion from United States-based Anadarko Petroleum in September 2019. 

Total is not the only company that has been looking to invest in the natural gas rush in Mozambique: China National Petroleum Corporation, Shell, ExxonMobil, and BP have all been vying for plots to exploit. 

 

There have already been significant costs for the average Mozambican

 

Economists have spoken of the potential windfall this project could end up being for Mozambique’s economy, yet there have already been significant costs for the average Mozambican. The offshore reserves are located in Cabo Delgado province, a region that has been Mozambique’s poorest for decades. Those living close to where the planned on-shore facilities will be constructed have already seen their lands confiscated, some allege without compensation, to make space for energy interests. 

A 2016 Anadarko report concluded that 550 families would have to relocate, and a further 952 would lose access to their cultivated land. The region has also suffered a growing insurgency that has claimed more than 1,000 lives and displaced tens of thousands more, leading to calls by companies such as Total and ExxonMobil for a stronger military presence. Unable to contain the attacks, President Filipe Nyusi has had to turn to mercenary groups to help quell the insurgency.

 

 

Undersea Cable

 

A multinational consortium of telecommunications companies—including Facebook, China Mobile International, MTN Global Connect, Telecom Egypt, and Vodafone—announced the construction of a new undersea fiber-optic cable that will connect sixteen African countries, Europe, and the Middle East. Named 2Africa, the 37,000 kilometer-long communications cable is scheduled to go live in 2023 or 2024.

 

Africans pay some of the highest data rates in the world.

 

In March, two undersea cables serving Africa experienced breakages that drastically reduced Internet connectivity for days as repairs were made. The addition of 2Africa will help improve Internet access for millions of Africans, and mitigate disruptions should other cables experience failures in the future. Such disruptions are not only frustrating for Africans, who pay some of the highest data rates in the world, but also have a negative impact on the African economy.

A 2017 report by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) concluded that intentional Internet shutdowns in twelve countries between 2015 and 2017 cost sub-Saharan Africa more than US$237 million. Unforeseen connectivity disruptions naturally can have far greater negative impact on national and regional economies.

 

There has been a growing insurgent threat in the province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, one of the poorest areas in the country despite being rich in natural resources and with vast natural gas and oil reserves off the coast. The majority of the population is Muslim.

The government’s response to the increase in violent attacks on civilians in the province has led to human rights abuses, including the intimidation and detainment of journalists. This has led to journalists engaging in various forms of self-censorship out of fear of reprisals from insurgents or the authorities.

 

Heavy-handed police operations in Cabo Delgado have sparked protests.

 

Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi arrives to attend a reception for heads of State and Government at Buckingham Palace in London on January 20, 2020, following the UK-Africa Investment Summit. HENRY NICHOLLS / POOL / AFP
Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi arrives at a reception following the UK-Africa Investment Summit in January 2020.

 

More than twenty press freedom organizations raised their concerns with President Filipe Nyusi, specifically concerning harassment by police and military personnel, and the disappearance of journalist Ibrahimo Abu Mbaruco on April 7, who is believed to have been either detained or shot by Mozambican soldiers.

Heavy-handed police operations in Cabo Delgado have sparked protests by civilians angered at the abuse they have witnessed or experienced.

With insurgent violence growing more brutal in Cabo Delgado, public support for the authorities is vital for counter-insurgency operations to be successful

 

 

MOZAMBIQUE

 

Insurgents launched an attack in the Quirimbas Archipelago, off the coast of Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, on the morning of Friday, April 10. Dressed in civilian clothes, the terrorists took small boats from the mainland to the island the previous evening, and attacked a primary school, health center, the residence of the head of the Quirimba administrative post, and a number of homes, according to the independent outlet Carta de Moçambique. Sixty people taken hostage were later released. This latest attack comes just a day after insurgents targeted a Catholic mission in Muidumbe District on the mainland.

These attacks continue a trend of escalating violence from the shadowy Islamist group, which burst onto the scene in October 2017. It has now disseminated a video declaring its intentions to establish a caliphate and implement strict Islamic law, without bothering to cover their faces. Analysis of the people in the video suggest they are from the Mocímboa da Praia port town, which is where the insurgents launched their first attack. Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) claimed responsibility for that attack. 

 

Giriyondo border

 

Migrants and displaced people across Africa are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission. Governments should resist nationalist responses that could put vulnerable people more at risk and exacerbate the spread.

According to the International Organization for Migration, the COVID-19 outbreak is the largest mobility crisis the world has ever seen, with 209 countries affected to date – 52 in Africa. What started in the global north has rapidly moved into and across the continent.

Migration has changed extraordinarily in a short time. Opportunities for movement have reduced drastically. Many African countries have adopted strict migration measures aimed at, among other things, reducing entry into their territories through border closures, suspension of visa processes and implementation of severe travel restrictions.

Border closures, while broadly effective against the pandemic, carry some risks. These include increasing or changing irregular migration patterns and, in turn, potentially increasing transmission and reducing states’ abilities to trace it.

Afghans returning from Iran, one of the earliest COVID-19 epicentres, provide a bleak warning to African states. Approximately three million Afghans live in Iran. An estimated 200 000 have returned to Afghanistan since Iran’s coronavirus outbreak because many fear the disease and have lost work.

Border closures could heighten exposure and complicate health screenings and contact tracing

Some returning Afghans have used regular border channels, while many more are believed to be moving irregularly. Conditions are chaotic and rushed. Border agents are registering people, checking temperatures and providing information, but more than half of Afghanistan’s confirmed cases are returnees from Iran and the pandemic is spreading to regions where they are going.

South Africa has the most COVID-19 cases in Africa. It is also a regional migration hub, with an estimated 4.2 million migrants, primarily from neighbouring countries. Its immediate neighbours have substantially lower case loads and weaker health and governance systems to manage the virus.

As part of a nationwide lockdown, South Africa has closed ports with neighbouring countries. As many as 23 000 Mozambican mineworkers are estimated to have rushed across the main border crossing at Ressano Garcia in the days before the closure. Mozambican officials claimed all returnees were greeted by the health brigade and washed their hands on entry.

An estimated 13 500 Zimbabweans also returned home in that three-day period and were asked to self-isolate. On the first morning of South Africa’s lockdown, Home Affairs Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi visited the Beitbridge border post into Zimbabwe after seeing queues stretching for up to 7 km of people who hadn’t managed to cross before the lockdown began. The Zimbabweans were granted passage to return home.

Irregular migrants are less likely to seek care if they develop COVID-19 symptoms

Fears of these returnees transmitting COVID-19 in their home countries are high. Border closures don’t mean people stop trying to cross them, and often lead to an increase in irregular travel methods, which could heighten exposure and complicate health screenings and contact tracing. Many borders in Africa are notoriously porous and migrants cross illegally.

Many immigrants work in informal markets, have family members who rely on remittances and are not eligible for economic relief provided by the state. Health risks are also high for irregular migrants who stay put. Research by the Institute for Security Studies shows that they often fear authorities, including healthcare professionals. Many try to remain invisible and have low knowledge of their health rights. These migrants are less likely to seek care if symptomatic.

Concerns are also growing among aid agencies and service providers about the potential impact of COVID-19 on displaced people in Africa. Africa hosts more than 25.2 million refugees and internally displaced people. Most African refugee appeals are chronically underfunded and most displaced people are hosted in poor countries with already under-resourced health systems.

Africa houses four of the world’s six largest refugee camps (in Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia). These camps are ideal spaces for transmission of the coronavirus. They are overcrowded and lack adequate water, sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Africa hosts four of the world’s largest refugee camps, where conditions are ideal for transmission

 

Dadaab Camp
Dadaab refugee camp currently houses some 350,000 people and for more than 20 years has been home to generations of Somalis who have fled their homeland wracked by conflicts (Tony Karumba/AFP)

 

Many inhabitants have fled war or strife and have compromised immune systems as a result of malnutrition, high stress and other comorbidities. Healthcare facilities are basic; mechanical ventilators and intensive care beds are very rare. In these settings, social distancing or isolation will be extremely difficult.

Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya together accommodate 411 000 refugees (194 000 and 217 000 respectively). Movement between Kakuma, Dadaab and Nairobi was suspended in response to COVID-19. Four people from Kakuma are currently in isolation due to fears of exposure. A Somali-American grandfather had a high fever after he arrived from the United States to visit his family on 16 March.

Displaced people outside formal refugee camps are perhaps even more vulnerable. Many of these refugees are in makeshift camps or urban slums. These communities tend to be highly transient, poorly resourced and situated away from any source of official support. They rely on local charities for survival, many of which are now closed due to the pandemic and government-ordered lockdowns.

Detainees in immigration detention centres also face a higher risk of contracting and spreading the virus due to crowded conditions and a limited ability to take precautions. Many African migrants are held in detention on the continent. In Libya for example, thousands have been locked in horrific conditions for extended periods, some even for months. These migrants should be released and moratoriums on immigration detention implemented to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In their responses, governments should consider the possible unintended consequences of measures like border closures on transnational transmission of the virus. Refugee camps and detention centres must urgently be protected and provided with adequate hygiene and health facilities to prevent catastrophic outbreaks. Governments should ensure that prevention, testing and treatment is available to all, regardless of nationality or immigration status.

Aimée-Noël Mbiyozo is a Senior Research Consultant specialized in Migration at the Istitute of Security Studies in Pretoria

This article was originally published on ISS Today under the title "COVID-19 responses in Africa must include migrants and refugees." 

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