The oft peaceful Southern Africa region, already battling to contain the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, is finding itself gripped in uncharacteristic instability with Mozambique, South Africa and eSwatini all on edge.
A perusal of the situations in the three countries shows a striking convergence of concerns from the various players involved; with hunger, unemployment and unequal distribution of resources featuring prominently.
In Mozambique where insurgents have been on a warpath since 2017, huge natural gas deposits which were discovered in Cabo Delgado in 2011, are cited as the focus point of the conflict in the country.
“Today, Cabo Delgado is home to Africa’s three largest liquid natural gas (LNG) projects: the Mozambique LNG Project (Total, formerly Anadarko) worth US$20 billion, Coral FLNG Project (ENI and ExxonMobil) worth US$4.7 billion, and Rovuma LNG Project (ExxonMobil, ENI and CNPC) worth US$30 billion,’ notes Abdullahi Boru Halakhe, an expert on governance, security and peace in Africa.
“And gas is not the only valuable natural resource in the region. Rubies excavated in Cabo Delgado are also selling for millions of dollars. In 2014 alone, rubies from the Montepuez mine sold for US$407 million.
“Amid all these riches, however, the local population of Cabo Delgado is living in poverty. A study conducted by the UN University World Institute for Development Economics Research in 2016 found that 90 percent of households in Mozambique’s northern provinces, including Cabo Delgado, were deprived, while less than 10 percent of households in southern provinces were considered deprived.”
What is alarming about the situation in Mozambique is that the terrorists have suddenly acquired sophisticated weaponry, giving rise to the narrative that there is a foreign hand that is fuelling the anarchy in that country.
“The majority of the population continue to live off subsistence farming, while watching the elite get richer — a perfect recipe for armed revolt. What sets Mozambique apart is that it has been acting out this scenario even before the LNG exploitation has begun,’ says a report by Sustainable Development News.
While the problems confronting Mozambique have their roots steeped in the dangerous intersection of resource control and religious fanaticism, things are slightly different in eSwatini and South Africa, where “protestors” have embarked on looting, violence and thuggery.
The protestors in the Kingdom of eSwatini are demanding a dismantling of the absolute monarchy, the last such political system in Africa. In South Africa, things flared when former President Jacob Zuma was jailed for 15 months for contempt of court in relation to a probe into alleged corruption during his tenure.
Leaders of the demonstrations in eSwatini openly urged citizens to burn properties and businesses linked to King Mswati III. They called their movement the “Kungahlwa Kwenile” campaign.
“As we launch the ‘Kungahlwa Kwenile’ campaign we want the whole country to be on fire … People must target King Mswati’s properties and businesses like Montigny Forests, game reserves, properties of MPs who don’t corporate (sic) and government properties among others. All roads must be blocked across the country …,” the campaign said.
Poverty and inequality figure highly in eSwatini’s unrest, and these are juxtaposed against the monarchy’s opulent lifestyle.
More than half of the population – 58,6 percent – are said to live below the poverty datum line, while 20 percent are considered to be extremely poor.
“Over 100,000 people in the Kingdom depend on feeding schemes such as the World Food Programme, and more than 330,000 people are experiencing acute levels of food insecurity,” says a Global Citizen report.
“The situation is only deteriorating as the country’s food production is still recovering from drought conditions from 2016, and more recently, household incomes have seen a knock from the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“According to Unicef, just 69 percent of the country has access to clean water, with only 58 percent of people having access to basic sanitation. Almost 11 percent of those still use open defecation services, the majority of which do not have access to hand washing resources.
“The country’s rural clinics only recently received access to hot water hand-washing stations in April 2021 as a donation to the country from a private company. This is a luxury that some local residents do not even have in their homes. Before this, 82 percent of rural clinics in the country went without hot water.”
It is such conditions that protestors are pointing to as their casus belli.
In neighbouring South Africa, last week President Cyril Ramaphosa conceded that the demonstrations that rocked the country could have been triggered by hunger and poverty.
“Although these may be opportunistic acts of looting driven by hardship and poverty, the poor and the marginalised bear the ultimate brunt of the destruction that is currently under way,” President Ramaphosa said. We will soon be facing a huge risk of food insecurity and medication insecurity in a few weeks.
“The path of violence, of looting and anarchy leads only to more violence and devastation as well as more suffering. It leads to more poverty, more unemployment and more loss of innocent life. This is not who we are as South Africans. This is not us.
“What we are witnessing now are opportunistic acts of criminality with groups of people instigating chaos merely as a cover for looting and theft.”
A report published by South Africa’s Department of Social Development on July 2, 2021 shows that the poverty levels are increasing in that country.
“Statistics South Africa reported an improvement between 2006 and 2011 when poverty levels, measured by the lower-bound poverty line, reduced from 66.6 percent to 53.2 percentof the South African population,” the report says.
“However, by 2015 the poverty rate had started to increase again up to 55.5 percent. This increase in poverty rates also affects the depth of poverty which improved between 2006 and 2015 but worsened again post-2015.
“The number of workers with highly skilled jobs is low, while a large proportion of the working population is employed in very low paid jobs. For instance, top-end jobs earn nearly five times the average wage for low-skill jobs yet represent less than 20 percent of the total working population.
“Essentially, unemployment remains a structural feature of the South African economy and employment creation has not transpired at the anticipated rate. The nature of the labour market is that where there is growth in jobs, these are typically in fields requiring higher skills levels.
“Latest unemployment figures show that unemployment has deepened further to 42.6 percent in the final quarter of 2020. Although these figures are affected by COVID-19 and the related economic effects, structural unemployment has been a longstanding issue in the country, affecting millions of families.”
From the experience of these three countries, it is evident that resource distribution and equality are at the heart of citizen concerns, and these can easily erupt in violence and chaos.
Today it is these three countries. Without urgent all round action, tomorrow it could any other SADC country.