Mozambique: Politics, Economy, and U.S. Relations

Mozambique, a significant recipient of U.S. development assistance, achieved rapid growth following a post-independence civil war (1977-1992), but faces a range of political, economic, and security challenges including unmet development needs, a range of governance shortcomings, organized crime, an ongoing economic slump, and political conflict and violence involving both mainstream political actors and violent extremists.

Between 2013 and 2016, the country experienced political violence arising from a dispute between the former socialist majority party, FRELIMO, and the leading opposition political party, RENAMO. (The latter is a former armed rebel group that fought the FRELIMO government during the civil war.) Their recent dispute, prompted by years of varied RENAMO grievances linked to FRELIMO’s control of the state, led to numerous armed clashes between government and RENAMO forces. In 2018, the two parties negotiated political and military accords to end their dispute, but they have yet to fully implement those agreements, and the potential for failure remains. Since late 2017, Mozambique also has faced attacks by the violent Islamist extremist group Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ).

The country faces a post-2015 slump in economic growth. While previous growth expanded the economy and contributed to a decline in extreme poverty, the majority of Mozambicans have remained poor, and while some socioeconomic indicators have improved, the country faces a range of persistent socioeconomic challenges. Development gains have remained limited despite large inflows of foreign assistance and foreign direct investment (FDI). Much of this FDI has financed large industrial projects, many of which have been criticized for being poorly integrated with the broader domestic economy—in which the informal sector and small-scale economic activity prevail—and for generating relatively few jobs or broad reductions in poverty. Mozambique’s future may be transformed by the development of large natural gas reserves, discovered in the county’s north in 2010. Gas exports are expected to begin in the early to mid-2020s and, together with rising exports of coal, to spur rapid economic growth. The U.S.-based firms Anadarko and ExxonMobil, the latter in partnership with Italy’s ENI energy firm, lead international oil company consortia developing the reserves, although a merger involving Anadarko is likely to result in the sale of its Mozambique assets to France’s Total SA.

While the state may face challenges in effectively governing and managing the large anticipated influx of gas revenue, it has taken some steps to address such challenges. The government plans to establish a sovereign wealth fund to preserve gas income, which it intends to allocate, in part, to infrastructure development, poverty reduction, and economic diversification. U.S.-Mozambican ties are cordial and historically have centered on development cooperation. U.S. assistance, funded at an annual average of $452 million between FY2016 and FY2018, has focused primarily on health programs.

Given recent events, U.S. engagement and aid may increasingly focus on the development of economic ties and security cooperation, notably to counter ASWJ, which is active in the area where large-scale gas processing development is underway. For many years, Mozambique received relatively limited congressional attention, but interest in the country may be growing; the country hosted congressional delegations in 2016 and 2018. U.S. humanitarian responses to the recent cyclones have also drawn congressional engagement. Developments in the country—including the rise of violent extremism and prospects for U.S. private sector investment and U.S. bilateral aid program outcomes in a context in which state corruption poses substantial challenges—could attract increasing congressional attention in the coming years. Purchase this volume