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The Global Fragility Act in Mozambique: Small-Scale US Peacebuilding Policy

The new plan represents a step forward for US policy in Mozambique, but will face the same pressures that all other donor country programs face in Mozambique, and with a fraction of the financial resources

The US Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on a visit to Mozambique in January 2023. Photo: Faizal Chauque / Zitamar News

By Sam Ratner, Policy Director, Win Without War

The Global Fragility Act (GFA) is a United States law passed in 2019. It aims to use US funds and technical expertise to mitigate violent conflicts and to prevent new ones from appearing without the kinds of large-scale military interventions that characterized the preceding two decades of US foreign policy failures. Last year, the US government declared that Mozambique would join Haiti, Papua New Guinea, Libya, and coastal West Africa as a GFA priority country, meaning that US diplomats would develop a 10-year plan for programming to address conflict in Mozambique. Last month, after lengthy delays, that plan was transmitted to Congress, and an executive summary was released to the public.

In theory, GFA programming across all five priority sites is supposed to be supported by combined appropriations of $230 million annually – so, if spending were evenly distributed, programming for Mozambique would receive US$46m per year. In reality, funding may be even lower than that. Last year, the two accounts that fund GFA programming received a combined $195m budget. Funding at that level would make GFA programming small potatoes compared to the rest of the $560m worth of bilateral aid the US provides Mozambique yearly, and the combined €106m ($117m) the European Union has appropriated to support SAMIM and Mozambique’s Defence and Security Forces operations in Cabo Delgado. Even if it does not change the funding landscape in Cabo Delgado though, the new GFA plan is still worth examining as a measure of both how the US understands the conflict in the north and how it intends to involve itself in peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts going forward.

The most important positive feature of the plan is that it embraces a focus on local political disenfranchisement in Cabo Delgado as a key conflict driver – a narrative the relentlessly centralizing Mozambican government has sought to suppress. The plan outlines programming to address the lack of local political power through training and financial support for local civil society organizations and community resource management councils in northern Mozambique, as well as through diplomatic pressure to push Maputo to allow northern communities a greater say in reconstruction and resource distribution policies.

This approach is closely tied to another positive feature of the plan – a focus on supporting short-term humanitarian response and long-term climate resilience. Both of these are crucial, underfunded needs in northern Cabo Delgado, and the plan prioritizes both as areas where US assistance can contribute to peaceful outcomes. The plan also envisions a tangible role for local organizations in making decisions about prioritizing and implementing humanitarian programs and climate adaptation projects, thereby reinforcing the plan’s focus on reducing local political disenfranchisement.

But the plan also demonstrates crucial blind spots in US policy toward Mozambique. The first is that the plan’s budget does not line up with its ambitions. On climate, for example, the World Bank estimates that Mozambique will need to spend $35.8 billion in the next seven years on climate change mitigation measures. Even if we narrow the scope of climate mitigation to Cabo Delgado, a fraction of $46m annually will be a drop in the bucket compared to the need. This budgetary mismatch also extends to the plan’s ambitions to place the US at the centre of joint donor community efforts to pursue peace, security, and reconstruction in northern Mozambique. Funding through GFA pales in comparison to World Bank and EU commitments, both of which have their own priorities in Mozambique that do not necessarily align with US interests.

The plan is also astonishingly credulous about the extractive industry’s claims to be a valuable partner in peacebuilding efforts. The prospect of liquified natural gas (LNG) development created the very democratic decline that the plan identifies as being a crucial driver of the conflict, but the plan still lists LNG development as being an asset in ending the conflict. LNG development, the plan argues, will pay into a sovereign wealth fund that can be used to address conflict drivers and bring peace, and in the meantime, it will provide widespread, long-term employment opportunities to local people in Cabo Delgado. Neither of these contentions is true.

First of all, the size of the national sovereign wealth fund is shrinking all the time, both because returns from gas investment keep being kicked further down the road and because the Mozambican government keeps pre-plundering the fund for budget support. Second of all, even if the fund were used to redistribute resources to the north, centralizing constitutional reforms in Mozambique means that the redistribution would only reify southern political control. A promise to spend 10% of government revenue from gas at the provincial level does not mean provincial control, it means a slush fund for a provincial secretary of state who is appointed by and serves at the pleasure of the president. Finally, contra self-serving claims from energy majors, the massive education gap that Cabo Delgado youth have suffered from since before the conflict means that there is little chance of skilled extractive industry employment for them in the short or medium term. Instead, the best jobs will continue to go to workers from outside the province, increasing local dispossession. The US risks a serious credibility gap at the local level if it cannot come to terms with the challenges extractive industry poses to its agenda of increasing local political power.

There is also a real question as to whether the plan’s laudable focus on growing people’s capacity to advocate for themselves at the local level will survive contact with the central government in Maputo. Recent donor attempts to acknowledge local disenfranchisement as a conflict driver and to put donor-funded resources in the hands of local communities through the proposed Northern Resilience and Integrated Development Strategy (ERDIN) for reconstruction in the northern provinces have been stonewalled by the Mozambican government bent on centralization at all costs. With the US bringing significantly fewer resources to the table than the $2.5bn promised as part of ERDIN, it is hard to see Maputo changing its tune to accommodate GFA programming.

Indeed, the plan’s attempt to align its efforts with the central Mozambican government only underscores the challenges it faces in this regard. The plan frequently restates the US commitment to aligning with the Northern Resilience and Integrated Development Program (PREDIN), the successor plan to ERDIN, endorsed by Maputo, that centralizes reconstruction in Maputo’s hands and dismisses the idea that local disenfranchisement is a major conflict driver. Aside from the inherent tension between the plan’s ideas about conflict drivers and PREDIN’s, the focus on aligning with PREDIN elides the reality that PREDIN is nearly a dead letter. With the ERDIN donors reducing their commitments after President Filipe Nyusi rejected their vision for reconstruction, it is not at all clear that PREDIN will be able to move forward in order for the US to align with it.

In all, the plan represents a step forward for US policy in Mozambique, but not a sea change in the conflict. GFA programming will face the same pressures that all other donor country programs face in Mozambique, and with a fraction of the financial resources available to conflict-related programs from the EU and international financial institutions. But the US remains an important partner for the Mozambican government and a valued voice in Maputo. Hopefully, this plan is a declaration of intent for the US to use that influence to make real progress toward ensuring that people in Cabo Delgado and across Mozambique have a real say in the decisions that affect their political and economic lives.