7 February 2019

Mozambique: U.S. and France Jostle Over Mozambique Channel

Photo: Le Pays
President Emmanuel Macron and President of Togo Faure Gnassingbé .

There has been a burst of interest over the Mozambique Channel. The United States is conducting a naval exercise in the Mozambique channel off Pemba and the gas fields. The exercise, with Mozambique and 15 other partners, called Cutlass Express 2019, ends Thursday 7 February.

It is intended for training to combat smuggling of drugs and wildlife products, illegal fishing, and piracy. (O Pais 29 Jan; US embassy press release) Speaking at a meeting in Maputo as part of the exercise, acting Ambassador Bryan Hunt stressed that the US wants to increase maritime cooperation with Mozambique. And he said the US is ready to help Mozambique combat armed groups in Cabo Delgado.

And in September France reopened its military mission in Maputo which had been closed 20 years ago. The French Foreign Ministry explained that "the main objective of the defence attache in Maputo will be the development of bilateral defence cooperation with Mozambique, particularly with regard to maritime safety, for which France has undeniable assets in the area [including] armed forces in the southern zone of the Indian Ocean, 1600 military based in Reunion, with five ships and two air force transport planes and a parachute regiment." Naval cooperation is being stepped up. The defence attache, Navy Captain Arnaut Lacote, was transferred from Pretoria to take up residence in Maputo.

Mayotte, an island 500 km off the coast of Pemba, is an integral part of France and has an important French military base. Mayotte and the nearby Comoros may have gas, linked to the gasfields now being developed off the Mozambique coast. France also claims several islands in the Mozambique Channel.

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