Maputo — The representative in Mozambique of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Cesar Guedes, has argued that the traffic of heroin from Mozambique to Europe via Mozambique is one of the main reasons for the conflict in Cabo Delgado province, where the Mozambican forces are fighting terrorists inspired by islamic fundamentalism.
Interviewed by the Portuguese news agency Lusa, Guedes said that Afghan heroin production has tripled in the past ten years, and Mozambique lies on one of the corridors used to take the drug to consumer nations.
He argued that the Kenyan and Tanzanian authorities have increased their vigilance in recent years, pushing traffickers who might once have used the Kenyan or Tanzanian coast further south, to Mozambique "in search of new routes and new markets".
"Here (i.e. in Mozambique) they apparently find a country with a unique strategic location to facilitate trafficking in drugs", said Guedes. "What these countries offer is facilitated passage. It's nothing sophisticated, but the borders are enormous and the authorities are not everywhere. And the traffickers know this".
After Mozambique, the heroin goes by all possible paths to Europe, notably via the richest country on the African continent, South Africa. Diverting the heroin via Mozambique does not add significantly to the traffickers' costs, argued Guedes. 10 kilos of heroin may cost as little as five dollars to produce and can be sold in a European city for 20,000 dollars.
The UNODC official argued that, in Cabo Delgado, the traffickers "prefer a situation of instability, because they can then choose better their space and time" to transport the drug.
Since the defence and security forces are occupied with the terrorist raids, "they don't pay attention to drug trafficking. That's even more the case now, with Covid-19", said Guedes.
UNODC, he continued, wants to support the Southern African Development Community (SADC) so that the region "may be safe and free of armed groups, because what we are seeing with these actions in Tanzania and Mozambique (Cabo Delgado) is not normal".
Guedes described events in Cabo Delgado as "an external situation with infiltrated groups who want to cause damage to countries which always lived peacefully". They interfere because they have the money to do so. Guedes said "they have a dangerous agenda, not aligned with the reality of the countries".
"In moments of crisis the traffickers and those who are linked to the illegal economy are more prepared to develop their illicit business", he added.
Guedes opened the UNODC office in Maputo a year ago, after a request from the Mozambican government. He had previously worked for UNODC in Bolivia and Pakistan. It is from Pakistan that boats laden with Afghan heroin cross the Indian Ocean to the Mozambican coast.
"Drug trafficking routes open and close in accordance with the actions of the transit countries", said Guedes. "If the Mozambican government takes strong and decisive actions, as we are seeing, it is likely that the traffickers will divert their traffic elsewhere".
The main problem with the theory advocated by Guedes is that heroin smuggling via the northern Mozambican coast long predates the appearance of islamist terrorism in Cabo Delgado. The first terrorist raids occurred in October 2017, but investigative journalists had been writing about the heroin transit trade through Mozambique since the mid-1990s.
Nor is there, as yet, any empirical evidence for a connection between the islamists and drug traffickers. Such a connection may exist, but Guedes has not provided any evidence for it.