Mozambique boom draws investors - and violent crime

Reuters News
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Posted: Jul 26, 2012 12:27 PM
Mozambique boom draws investors - and violent crime

By Marina Lopes

MAPUTO (Reuters) - The four men who burst into Maputo's Campo de Fiori restaurant were well-armed, ruthless and intent on their target - the wallets of wealthy foreigners drawn to Mozambique by an unprecedented resources boom.

Toting AK-47 rifles and handguns, the gang shot dead two unarmed security guards at the entrance to the restaurant in the upmarket Sommerschield neighborhood before robbing those eating and drinking inside.

A Reuters reporter having dinner at the time narrowly escaped being robbed.

Last week's incident was the latest in a string of crimes against foreigners - a nasty wake-up call for a war-scarred capital changing rapidly as billions of dollars flood into the southern African nation's coal and natural gas sectors.

Before last year, kidnapping was unheard of in Maputo but 22 people have been snatched since November, many of them Indian businessmen held for hefty ransoms, according to Justice Minister Maria Benvinda Levi.

Five men, including the son of a deputy police commissioner, were arrested earlier this month in connection with the abductions, but the detentions have done little to calm foreigners' nerves.

"Having gone through this particular experience, and also knowing about the kidnappings targeting Indians, I feel the threat of organized crime is increasing day by day," said Aya Ishizuka, a World Bank employee who was at Campo de Fiori on the night of the hold-up.

INEQUALITY AMID RESOURCE BOOM

Such assaults are relatively common in African cities such as Johannesburg or Nairobi but are new to Maputo, a relaxed coastal capital previously accustomed only to petty crime.

The arrest of the son of a top policeman has raised fears rogue security forces may be involved.

Maputo police spokesman Arnaldo Chefo blamed "opportunists" for the attacks and said the situation was "being monitored carefully".

The ruling Frelimo party has kept a tight lid on politics since civil war ended 20 years ago. But with the country of 23 million still awash with weapons and administered by a haphazard bureaucracy, analysts say it will be hard to crush well-organized criminal outfits.

"The overall environment is vastly improved since the 1990s, but there does seem to be a criminal element emerging amongst the security forces that the government will have to take seriously," said Tara O'Connor, director of Africa Risk Consulting.

The crime wave has coincided with an influx of foreign investors eager to secure a slice of a natural resource boom.

One of Mozambique's largest foreign investors is Brazilian mining giant Vale, which has poured $2 billion into developing a coal mine in the northern province of Tete, thought to be home to some of the world's largest untapped reserves.

An estimated 4,000 Brazilians have arrived to work in Mozambique, making Maputo their temporary home alongside aid workers dealing with the fallout from a 1977-1992 civil war.

In a city with extremes of wealth and poverty, the thriving expatriate population has become an easy target.

"In recent years we've had exciting news about natural resources and gas, but unfortunately we have not felt the impact of those discoveries on Mozambican society," said Aly Lala, author of an Open Society Foundation crime report released this week. "The inequality is still large."

(Reporting by Marina Lopes; Editing by Ed Cropley and Alistair Lyon)