A seizure of drugs on a beach in Nacala Porto district shows that the Cabo Delgado war has pushed the trade south to the coast of Nampula.
For two decades Mozambique has been an important transit route for heroin, in effect licenced by senior figures in Frelimo.
The heroin is produced in Afghanistan, taken south to the Pakistan coast, and put on dhows to be shipped to Mozambique. A dhow will carry 500 kg or more of heroin. The dhow stops 30-50 km off the coast, and the load is broken into smaller packages which are collected by local boats and dropped on the beach. The packages are collected from the beach, and taken by road to South Africa to put in containers to ship to Europe.
Until recently, the drugs were unloaded on beaches in northern Cabo Delgado. But insurgents have cut the roads south. It appears that the insurgents have not taken over the drug trade, but instead it has moved south to Nacala and Angoche.
Increasingly the Mozambique part of the trade is intentionally fragmented, with boatmen and drivers receiving messages on WhatsApp or other messaging service to collect a parcel from one place and deliver it to another. They are paid but have no idea who is running the network.
Another recent change in the trade is that Afghanistan is now also producing crystal meth (methamphetamine) using ephedrine which comes from a common local plant. Crystal meth has simply been added to the heroin shipments.
On 23 January police seized drugs being unloaded on the beach and arrested the man receiving the drugs; 61 kg of heroin and 5 kg of crystal meth were captured - typical of what would be carried by small boat from the offshore dhow. The man said the drugs were to be transported to South Africa by road. And he said he had been doing this business for some time.
The National Criminal Investigation Service (Sernic) said local people had alerted them to strangers looking for houses to rent and strangers arriving by sea and unloading goods that were supposed to go on to Maputo, (Lusa 28 Jan, AIM 29 Jan)
Meanwhile a Pemba businessman, Minoj Hassam, was arrested on 3 February for having 180 kg of ephedrine. His lawyer claims it was intended for using in baking cakes for one of his cafes.
The lawyer claims that ephedrine is sold for baking by VIP, Recheio and Shoprite supermarkets in Maputo. [ Comment: I can find no reference to the use of ephedrine in baking, but the process of cooking ephedrine to produce crystal meth is sometimes called "baking". jh ) Carta de Mocamique (5, 8 Feb) reports that Hassam has been under investigation for some time for money laundering and smuggling. He previously worked for the Aga Khan Foundation and had been the municipal finance minister ( vereador ) in Pemba.
Cocaine has never been regulated by Frelimo, so there is a "free market" and "wild west" culture, with both growing local use and an increasing transit trade. Heroin is rarely seized because it is protected, but cocaine apparently has no such official cover. Recently five cocaine sellers were arrested in Maputo when they were caught torturing a Nigerian who was claimed to have failed to pay for 18 kg intended for South Africa. ( Carta de Mocambique 19 Jan)
Joint maritime drug patrol
Mozambique, South Africa and Tanzania are to set up a joint maritime security body based in Maputo with technical support from the United Nations Office for Drugs and Organised Crime (UNODC), Cesar Guedes, the UNODC representative in Maputo, told Lusa (8 Feb).
The project would link the three navies to increase patrolling of the Indian Ocean coast and the Mozambique Channel. Guedes said the initiative already has a dedicated budget and is receiving financial support from Japan, the United States, France, Germany and the European Union.
But Guedes admitted to Lusa that the project has been slow to bring to fruition. The three countries signed a memorandum of cooperation in the area of maritime security in 2018, but nothing happened - Guedes says because electoral calendars in each country hindered developments.
Two questions stand out. First, to what extent will there actually be more patrols and will they also try to control the insurgency in Cabo Delgado? Second, for two decades the heroin trade has been controlled by Frelimo, so will Frelimo allow Mozambican navy patrols to go after drugs?