At the height of the Western-imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe, the late President Robert Mugabe started strengthening economic ties with several countries in Asia, the sub-continent and the Middle East (China, India, Indonesia, Iran and Malaysia) in a bid to counter the sanctions.
Mugabe’s government dubbed it the ‘’Look East’’ policy. Unlike Zimbabwe, Mozambique is not under sanctions. However, Mozambique is cash-strapped owing to a combination of factors, not least of which is the fact that cooperation partners have reduced their aid flows.
Consequently, with Mozambique cash-strapped, President Filipe Nyusi seems to be developing his own ‘’Look East’’ policy. Between October 2022 and January 2023, Nyusi visited the United Arab Emirates twice, where he secured financial pledges to the tune of 800 million US dollars for the repair of the Mozambique’s main thoroughfare linking the North to the South and discussed defence and security issues with the Emirates authorities, as well as visits to Qatar and Jordan.
On Friday, he started a three-day visit to Saud Arabia which had all the hallmarks of a charm offensive. Apart from about five ministers, he took along leaders of the country’s Islamic community perhaps to help buttress whatever was his case.
In a meeting with the Moslem leaders in his entourage, Nyusi told them that the reason he was in Saudi Arabia because ‘’we’re in a phase that we’ve barriers with regards to financial movements for reasons that you all know. We don’t have enough freedom of elasticity to invest more or contract debt. Consequently, we’ve to find ways to not stop working or remain stagnant. And here there are opportunities, including banking, Islamic funds. We’ll explore all these opportunities,’’ he said.
However, one thing he did not say in public was that his visit had another objective. After all, Nyusi surely heard Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman tell the world on 20 May 2021 that Saudi Arabia was working with SADC to support the Mozambican military fight the insurgents in the northern Cabo Delgado province. During their meeting, Nyusi must have pressed bin Salman on the support.
The problem with this kind of support, at least for Mozambique, is that Maputo does not receive the funds directly, which it resents. This has been the case with the European Union providing funding for the Rwandan military and police contingent in Cabo Delgado.
Also weighing in the mind of the President must have been the suspicion from Mozambique’s security services that part of the funding for the insurgency comes from Arab countries, collected in mosques as aid for humanitarian activities. As such, Mozambican authorities must have wanted to engage Gulf States in the hope that they can help shut down this alleged source of funding for the insurgency.
Although some analysts dispute this narrative, this was brought to the fore in January with the killing of Islamic State leader, Bilal al-Sudani, by United States special forces in Somalia. Al-Sudani was accused of playing an important role in financing terrorist activities and attempting to build a trans-national network spanning Central and East Africa down to Mozambique.
It remains to be seen whether the policy will bear fruits.
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