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ISS Regional Seminar:
Organised crime, corruption and governance in the SADC Region
Pretoria, 18 and 19 April 2002

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Mozambique: Threats posed
by the penetration of criminal networks

Peter Gastrow and Marcelo Mosse


It would be an understatement to describe the past three decades in Mozambique as a period of transition. This would not capture the magnitude of the fundamental and tumultuous political, social and economic changes the country has experienced. Since the early 1970s, Mozambique has veered from one extreme to the other. Portuguese colonial rule ceased in 1975, ending a system of subjugation and colonial-capitalism. The new head of state, Samora Machel, immediately set about fundamentally transforming his country into a one-party socialist system with a centrally planned economy. The state sought to perform all the roles in the economy, from traditional social services to the production and distribution of goods and services. This was the revolutionary phase, during which the state strove towards egalitarianism.

The result was a serious collapse of the economy and deepening internal political divisions that developed into a civil war between the Renamo rebels, as they were then, and the Frelimo government. This debilitating conflict, which was to last for more than ten years, resulted in a devastated countryside, the destruction of infrastructure, and the displacement of millions of rural people. In 1987 Mozambique embarked on a new course aimed at transforming the planned economy into a market economy and at moving away from one-party rule to a multi-party democracy. But the ongoing civil war prevented progress towards these objectives; as a result, social dislocation and the destruction of infrastructure continued. Only after the end of the civil war in 1992, and more specifically after the first democratic elections in 1994, was stability restored in Mozambique. However, the protracted civil war and the failed socialist experiment had resulted in extreme poverty and a damaged economy. According to World Bank figures, Mozambique was the poorest country in the world during the mid-1990s in terms of GDP per head.1

After 1994 the country went through a remarkable recovery phase. As stability began to be restored and the country moved towards a market economy, investment returned and Mozambique became one of the fastest growing economies in the world, albeit it from a low base. Today the economic outlook is still favourable and the country's real GDP growth is expected to remain high, averaging 9 per cent per year during the period 2001-2002.2

However, Mozambique remains one of the world's poorest countries. The government still lacks the capacity to provide the most basic services to the majority of the population (which totals about 19 104 696), two-thirds of who live in absolute poverty. During 2000, 70 per cent of the total adult population and 76 per cent of all women could neither read nor write, and the average life expectancy was only 46 years. According to the 2001 Human Development Index of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which measures countries' achievements in terms of life expectancy, educational attainment and adjusted real income, Mozambique is placed in the category of 'low human development'. It is therefore regarded as constituting part of the group of 'least developed countries', which, in the SADC region, include Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia, Angola and Malawi. These all form part of the 20 least-developed and poorest countries of the 162 that are listed in the UNDP index.3

Mozambique has a coastline that stretches 2 470 kilometers along the Indian Ocean, and land boundaries of 4 571 kilometers. From a security perspective such extensive borders are difficult to control, even for the most developed and well-resourced countries.

While it is clear that Samora Machel's socialist experiment was a failure, his rule was characterised by a determination to weed out self-enrichment and corruption. He defended the interests of the poor and was the critical conscience of the state. He is remembered for the conviction with which he delivered statements such as:

"Material, moral and ideological corruption, bribery, the search for self comfort, nepotism, that is, favours on the ground of particular friendship or preferences in job allocation, favouring family members, friends or people from his own place are part of the system of life that we want to destroy ... Everyone who diverts from our political line will have no tolerance from us. We will be intransigent ... We will not hesitate to expose them to people harmed by their behaviour." 4

When Machel died in 1986, this element of principled leadership disappeared. According to the late Carlos Cardoso, the former editor of Metical, the army became corrupt, crime increased, and leading figures in the governing Frelimo party were linked to corruption and drug traffickers to an ever greater extent.5 The degree of 'pragmatism' that was required by party functionaries to make the radical shift from a centrally planned towards a liberal market economy resulted in many also becoming more 'pragmatic' about transparency, accountability and ethical standards. This ability to adapt led to a form of 'radical pragmatism' within the ruling elite. 'Mozambique has a "rule of arrangements" and not a rule of law system', Cardoso claimed.

In different parts of the world, periods of transition from one-party socialist rule towards a multi-party democracy and a market economy have tended to provide an environment that is conducive to the expansion of organised crime. The same occurred in Mozambique. The social control mechanisms introduced under socialist rule, which included measures that encouraged people's participation in the decision-making process and held government officials accountable for their actions, collapsed and were replaced by weak state structures that could provide only symbolic safety and security to a population that was left to fend for itself.

Today Mozambique's criminal justice system continues to be very fragile and under-resourced. There is a lack of political will to fight organised crime and corruption, and a general perception that some of the political elite are either involved in or are connected with organised crime. The police do not have the human or material capacity to control the coastline or land borders. Organised criminal groups have exploited this environment and have made the country a haven for international drug smuggling, in particular.

Organised crime in Mozambique

This paper focuses on some of the more prominent organised criminal activities that constitute a threat to Mozambique and does not attempt to cover all forms of organised crime. The more threatening criminal groups appear to be those involved in transnational organised crime. These are groups and networks whose members and criminal activities are not confined to Mozambique, but that also extend to other countries including Portugal, Brazil, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Dubai and South Africa. Among the more prominent of these groups are those that are linked to drug trafficking, money laundering, trafficking in human organs, stolen motor vehicles, illegal firearms, and the obstruction of justice.

Drug trafficking

The trafficking of drugs became important in Mozambique during the 1990s when the big international drug dealers started to look for alternative routes that were not controlled by the international agencies. During the extended civil war it had not been possible to use Mozambique as a transit route for drugs, but when the war ended in 1992 the country became attractive as a secure trans-shipment area for drug smugglers. Communications were re-established, state structures were weak, and the government encouraged international investment. In addition, Mozambique had a long coastline with many islands. The low salaries of state employees made it easy to corrupt elements within the police and other branches of the civil service.

The volume of illicit drugs consumed within Mozambique remains a minuscule portion of the volume that is trans-shipped through the country. However, local drug consumption, particularly in the capital Maputo, is becoming a growing social and security problem. A speech by the Minister of the Interior to Parliament during April 2001 underlined this: the Minister reported that the police had struck at parts of the city so notorious for the sale of illicit drugs that they are popularly known as 'Columbias'. One such 'Columbia' was in the military neighbourhood where demobilised soldiers were involved in the drugs trade. The minister mentioned that the police had arrested 168 drug dealers and users, and seized 99 packages of hashish, 320 grams of cocaine, and 30 doses of heroine.6

According to sources interviewed in Mozambique, there appear to be at least two large transnational drug networks operating in the country.7 The one, involving individuals from Colombia, Chile, Spain and other parts of Europe, focuses on trafficking in cocaine and uses Mozambique as a transit area. The second group, which has been active in Mozambique since about 1992, consists largely of Pakistanis and Mozambican citizens belonging to the local Pakistani community. They concentrate mainly on hashish and mandrax.

It is difficult to establish whether the illegal trade in drugs in Mozambique is expanding. Police statistics are not of much assistance in this regard: they suggest that the situation is under control because there have not been significantly more prosecutions for drug trafficking. They do emphasise, however, that there has been an increase in the trafficking of Cannabis sativa. Two recent official reports also do not throw much light on the subject. One, a cabinet report dated April 2000, does not say much about the trafficking of drugs such as cocaine or hashish but focuses on issues relating to drug consumption. The second report, dealing with crime in the country during the past five years and produced by the General Command of Police of Mozambique, contains very little information about drug trafficking.8


The cocaine traffickers appear to have been singularly successful. It is estimated that during 2001 more than one tonne of cocaine and heroin passed through Mozambique.9 This illicit trade is not targeted at the Mozambique market but is mainly aimed at re-routing the cocaine to markets in developed countries. While some consumption does take place in Mozambique, the country is too poor to provide a profitable consumer market for cocaine. However, Mozambique does offer a relatively low-risk transit area for the onward distribution of the cocaine to other parts of the world. The monthly retail value of this drug is about 50 million US dollars. Some of the profits arising from this transaction, an estimated 2.5 million US dollars, remain in Mozambique.10

The cocaine originates in Colombia and is transported via Brazil to Mozambique, mainly by aircraft. Airport and harbour controls are weak. Some of the cocaine is then transported on smaller executive jet planes via other African countries such as Nigeria. Sometimes diplomats in official cars meet the arriving executive jets. Senior politicians and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are allegedly also involved. A reliable source interviewed in Mozambique referred to a court case in which the evidence showed that an embassy post box was used as the receiving address for the cocaine. In this particular case, half a kilogram of cocaine was involved.11

Most of the onward trafficking of cocaine from Mozambique appears to be run by Nigerian criminal networks. They allegedly have their own planes and are connected with senior people in the Mozambican political establishment.12 Reference was made to a very wealthy Nigerian who resides in New York but is involved in cocaine trafficking in Mozambique. From Mozambique the cocaine is shipped on, mainly to Europe and East Asia and to a lesser extent South Africa, which has an expanding market for cocaine. This expanding market has encouraged some of the international cocaine smugglers to establish operations in South Africa.


Heroin is transported from Pakistan to Dubai, then to Tanzania, and from there to Mozambique, from where it is trans-shipped, mainly to Europe. More particulars could not be obtained.

Hashish (Cannabis resin)

A well-organised criminal group, consisting mainly of Pakistanis and Mozambican citizens belonging to the local Pakistani community, dominates the hashish smuggling market in Mozambique. They operate sophisticated criminal enterprises involving importers and exporters, transporters of the drugs, field operators, and those who supply them with information. Details are not available about the size of these criminal groups or their structures. The use of violence is not common. It appears to occur not against the authorities but mainly within the criminal groups when law enforcement authorities have intercepted a consignment of drugs. Such interventions by the police seem to lead to suspicion within the groups that an insider has supplied the police with information or is dissatisfied with his share of the profits. Violence is therefore used as a form of revenge.

These groups have been active since the early 1990s and have been expanding their operations since then. Most of the hashish is re-routed and only a very small proportion remains behind for consumption in Mozambique or elsewhere in southern Africa. Although still minimal compared to the volumes that are trans-shipped, consumption in the region, particularly in South Africa, has gradually increased, resulting in some members of Mozambican criminal groups becoming increasingly involved in trafficking hashish in the southern African region.

The most dramatic example of the extent of hashish trafficking was the 1995 seizure of 40 tonnes in northern Mozambique.13 The hashish was offloaded from a ship with an Asian flag at a beach in the Macomia district in Cabo Delgado. The coastal Swahili towns in this northern part of Mozambique have been linked to drug traffic in the Indian Ocean area for centuries - even before Portuguese colonialism. The consignment allegedly belonged to a known trader who is thought to be in Portugal. A transporter from Nampula, whose identity is known, took the hashish from Cabo Delgado to Nampula, where it was put into storage in buildings that are said to belong to a local Nampula business enterprise. At this location the hashish was packed into boxes normally used for exporting cashew nuts. The person allegedly associated with the exporting of hashish, one Rassul, runs a company in Nampula called Moti Commercial, which is still in operation. Rassul was arrested and imprisoned on drug trafficking charges but was released during 1996 without standing trial. At the time there was speculation that Rassul was being protected by Marcelino dos Santos, formerly a key figure in the ruling Frelimo party.14

According to well-informed sources, the modus operandi followed in the case mentioned above is typical of what happens in other hashish smuggling operations. The traffickers use the northern port of Nacala and the hashish is generally not offloaded in the harbour itself. The ship anchors offshore and small boats are then used to transport the consignment to the shore, where it is stored in various buildings. The drugs arrive in small boxes, for example chicken food boxes, and are then repacked into boxes intended for cashew nuts or tea before being re-exported to Europe and elsewhere. The Mozambican members of the criminal network specialise in getting the licence to export cashew nuts or tea and then bribe the authorities not to examine the boxes. During the mid-1990s there were at least four large shipments of hashish out of Mozambique. Of the four, one shipment is believed to have gone to Mexico and another to Poland.15

To date there have been two arrests in the case involving the 40 tonnes of hashish. The person escorting the truck was taken into custody and a second person arrested was soon released because it appeared to be a case of mistaken identity. The fact that none of the drug traffickers have been prosecuted serves as an indictment of the policing, prosecutorial and judicial services involved and reinforces the widely held belief that the drug traffickers enjoy political protection. When the hashish was landed in Cabo Delgado, its arrival was known locally and the authorities were notified. However, they appear not to have acted against the suspects directly linked to the trafficking. Individuals who formed part of the criminal network involved included some well-known traders from Maputo. One of them, who was subsequently assassinated, allegedly used to buy stolen vehicles in the Maputo area and then sell them to members of the hashish network in the northern parts of the country.

The trafficking involves people who are connected with importing and trading businesses. They have a good knowledge of local and international trading practices and are also associated with traders who are linked to, or are based in, the north of the country, mainly in the provinces of Nampula and Cabo Delgado. Members of these criminal groups are well connected with powerful politicians in Maputo, who protect them from the police and the courts.


Finally there is mandrax (methaqualone) which is consumed almost exclusively in South Africa. The mandrax is either transported through Mozambique or is produced in the country. South African criminal groups with contacts in Maputo often acquire mandrax in exchange for vehicles stolen in South Africa and delivered to Maputo. The mandrax is then taken to South Africa for distribution, mainly in the Western Cape.

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Moçambique on-line - 2002

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