How safe is it to visit Mozambique?

Joe Jegat, Regional Security Coordinator for Africa at Healix International comments on the risks involved when visiting Mozambique.

Situation report

We assess Mozambique to be a MODERATE security risk country, rated three on a five tier scale (one being MINIMAL, five being EXTREME). Despite the overall MODERATE risk rating, the north of the country is deemed to be a HIGH risk environment, owing predominantly to the presence of a nascent Islamist extremist group with roots in Cabo Delgado province. The rural north of the country has also been the most affected by years of insurgency. Despite the indefinite extension of a ceasefire by the Mozambican National Resistance (RENAMO) in May 2017, many key issues remain unresolved and tensions persist, increasing the risk of sporadic clashes between government and rebel soldiers.

Most business travellers are likely to be visiting the capital Maputo, but there are increasing numbers of workers in the oil and gas sector visiting the higher risk north of the country following the discovery of significant natural gas reserves in 2010. Tourists are most likely to be found on the Indian Ocean islands off the east coast, and, to a lesser extent, in some of the national parks.

Primary risks

There is a HIGH risk of crime throughout Mozambique, especially in major urban centres such as Maputo. The majority of crime is of a petty, opportunistic nature. Pick-pocketing and bag-snatching are common, with foreign nationals more likely to be targeted due to their perceived wealth. These types of incidents tend to occur in crowded and/or touristic areas such as marketplaces, transport hubs and busy beaches, and can occur at any time of day. It is worth noting that many of the east coast islands are not policed, therefore response times can be slow.

Although less common, violent crime is on the rise. Among the most common violent crimes are knife-point robberies, which are often carried out by street gangs in isolated areas after dark. Car-jacking is sporadically reported in Maputo, as well as on several of the roads leading to border crossings with South Africa and Swaziland. Criminals are known to stage car accidents in order to bring vehicles to a halt, before armed assailants emerge from hiding. There have also been reports of criminals posing as police officers and erecting fake road blocks in order to stop vehicles. These types of incidents occur disproportionally after dark.

A rise in the number of kidnappings has been noted in recent months, especially in Maputo. The majority of these incidents target comparably wealthy locals, but foreign expatriates (especially those from the south Asian community) have also been victims. Kidnap syndicates tend to be sophisticated and well-practised in the negotiation process, meaning most kidnaps are short in duration, with victims being released upon payment of a ransom. Kidnapping of short-term business travellers is rare. Burglaries and home invasions do occur, but rarely target the types of accommodation that business travellers or tourists would be staying in.

There is a LOW risk of terrorism in most parts of Mozambique, including in Maputo, Beira and the east coast islands. However, the risk is deemed to be HIGH in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, where a nascent terrorist group known locally as ‘al Shabaab’ or ‘Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’ah’ has conducted a string of attacks since October 2017. The group, which has no known connections with the Somalia-based terrorist organisation of the same name, has coordinated several unsophisticated but brutal attacks against civilians and the security forces alike. Although the group has limited operational capabilities, they are an active threat actor and have demonstrated a willingness to act without discrimination. Future attempts to target foreign owned oil and gas assets cannot be discounted.

Civil Unrest
Civil unrest is relatively uncommon in Mozambique, but protests and demonstrations can occur without forewarning, and are liable to quickly deteriorate into violence. Protest activity is usually centred in Maputo; the east coast islands are rarely affected. Socio-economic issues are the main trigger for protest; but political events, local disputes, and vigilante justice mobs are all catalysts for unrest. Protesters have been known to engage in vandalism and opportunistic crime, and the security forces typically respond in a heavy-handed manner; in extreme cases using live fire to disperse crowds. The risk to foreign travellers remains incidental. In the run up to general elections set for October 2019, there is likely to be a countrywide increase in civil unrest.

Additional risks

Road safety is an often overlooked risk in Mozambique. Road quality is variable, with many roads outside of Maputo being unpaved and in poor condition, especially in the north of the country. Driving standards fall well short of European/American standards, vehicles are often poorly maintained, street lighting is inadequate or non-existent in many places, and there is still a low risk of landmines in the most rural areas. During the November to April rainy season, many roads flood and become impassable, necessitating the use of a four-wheel-drive vehicle outside of Maputo. Fuel supplies are limited outside of urban centres, as are professional breakdown recovery services. The risks associated with driving increase substantially after dark, when obstacles in the road can become almost impossible to see and there is heightened criminal activity.

Healix advice

Maintain a low profile. Avoid overt displays of wealth such as expensive jewellery and clothing. Exercise increased levels of vigilance in public spaces, especially in crowded areas and beaches. Avoid carrying non-essential valuables, and be wary of over-friendly strangers or individuals posing excessive questions. Minimise pedestrian travel over an extended period, and avoid walking alone after dark. Only share accommodation, employer and family details with trusted individuals. In the rare event of being accosted by a criminal, try to remain calm and compliant, and do not resist. Assume that the aggressor is armed, and be prepared to hand over your personal belongings.

Seek itinerary specific advice. Sharing a copy of your trip details with your assistance provider will allow them to offer you personalised security advice, based on numerous factors such as your profile, destination and dates of travel. They will be able to let you know about upcoming events such as planned protests or anniversaries that could trigger unrest. Your security provider should also be able to advise you of the comparatively safer areas of the location(s) you are visiting, in order to assist you when making accommodation plans.

Use accredited providers for ground moves. It is not advisable to self-drive in Mozambique, a trusted local driver should be utilised. This is especially important if travelling outside of Maputo, where a four-wheel-drive vehicle is often required. Your host company or assistance provider will be able to recommend accredited drivers. If travelling to more rural areas, ensure that vehicles are in good working order, and that they are adequately stocked with emergency supplies such as spare fuel, food and water, a first aid kit, and basic maintenance equipment. For longer duration trips involving several days of overland travel, it may be worth considering the use of GPS tracking devices.

How Healix can help employers with their duty of care

Employers should ensure that they have a detailed understanding of the operating environment that they are sending their personnel to; usually, this means breaking down areas of exposure by geographic region and delegating responsibility to specific individuals in accordance with operational and cultural expertise. Alternatively, and perhaps preferably, employers can outsource this task to an organisation such as Healix, which has dedicated intelligence and operations teams, each with a direct regional focus.

Building on from this, employers should ensure that their employees are briefed on the predominant security risks associated with their operating environment before travel, and advised how best to mitigate these risks. Where necessary, this should encompass a detailed travel security briefing and location-specific security training. They should also ensure that employees have a robust means of communication in order to communicate with their designated point of contact throughout the trip and that there is a robust travel risk management program in place covering all eventualities.

Healix can provide employers with support in all these areas through our comprehensive range of Security Services.

What are the health risks in Mozambique?

Contributed by Dr. Simon Worrell, Head of Medical Communications, Healix International.

For those intending to visit or work in Mozambique, preparation is essential. An early review by a Travel Medicine professional will be required to establish which vaccinations will be necessary – especially the need for typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis A immunisations. Malaria is a disease of great concern in the country, affecting almost 10 million patients in 2017. As those visiting Africa are often at the highest risk of developing the most serious complications of malaria, taking antimalarial medication is essential. A discussion with an expert will be required to establish which medication is right for you. Mosquitoes are well known to harbour several other infections, so the practice of avoiding mosquito bites by wearing appropriate clothes and regularly applying a DEET-containing insect repellent is also strongly encouraged.

For those intending to stay or work for long periods in Mozambique, consideration should be paid to on-going medical issues that you may have: if you regularly take medication it is important to take supplies with you, as they are not likely to be available when you arrive. Furthermore, if you need to attend an outpatients centre for a medical issue, you may need to travel to South Africa for a dependable consultation, or to arrange a hospital check-up when you’re back in your home country. As with many countries in the region, paying attention to food and water safety when you are in Mozambique is important if you are to reduce the risk of diarrhoeal diseases: eating in hotels and reputable restaurants, and drinking only bottled water and carbonated drinks, are some precautions that will help enormously. Lastly, if medical conditions crop up whilst away, Maputo does now have some private medical facilities that may be able to help initially, but for anything serious, a trip out of country to either South Africa or Kenya is very likely to be required. As this might involve the need for a costly air ambulance, having adequate travel insurance before you leave for Mozambique is of some importance.

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