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Overseas Security Advisory Council
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Mozambique 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Maputo. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Mozambique. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Mozambique-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

 

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Mozambique at Level 1, indicating travelers should exercise normal precautions. Reconsider travel to some northern districts in Cabo Delgado Province due to violent extremism. Exercise increased caution in the capital Maputo due to crime. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

 

Crime Threats

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Maputo as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. The rate of violent crime is comparable to most other African countries. Assailants occasionally use forceful tactics, operate in organized groups, and carry weapons that increase the possibility of physical harm.

 

Foreigners are frequent victims of crime due to their perceived wealth. The majority of crimes against foreigners are non-violent crimes of opportunity (e.g. pickpocketing, theft of unattended possessions, vehicular break-in, bag snatching). Thieves often attempt to distract a victim by asking questions, begging for money, bumping/jostling the individual, or offering to sell items. While the victim is distracted, an accomplice may take a piece of luggage or pick the victim’s pocket or purse. Criminals frequently target people walking the streets alone, especially at night, with purses, bags, or backpacks, especially for electronics they can sell easily on the black market. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

 

While crime statistics are not readily available, Mozambique has a high level of robbery and theft, spiking during the holiday season. One type of robbery involves several assailants who brandish weapons (e.g. knives, machetes, firearms). In most cases, victims escape unharmed after giving up their wallet or cell phone. This type of crime increases in frequency in December and January.

 

The “Marginal” (coastal) Road in Maputo (south of the Southern Sun hotel) is an area of increased violent criminal activity. Avoid walking along Avenida Friedrich Engels and Rua Caracol because assailants can disappear into the dense greenery alongside the road. Muggings have occurred at all hours of the day in these areas. Avoid isolated areas and walking at night, even in well-known tourist areas. Do not walk on the beach in Maputo at night. Avoid walking along roads bordered by wooded areas, where criminals may hide.

 

Instances of credit/debit card cloning are on the rise. Complaints of financial fraud and identity theft are increasing slightly, as is the use of counterfeit currency. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit

 

Porous borders, endemic poverty, and proximity to South African markets make Mozambique vulnerable to organized crime. Narco-trafficking, human smuggling, and trade in illicit/endangered animal products represents a growing threat to stability and security in Mozambique and across the region.

 

Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security

 

Cybersecurity Issues

 

Mozambique’s cybersecurity capabilities are still developing. The National Institute of Communications is working to improve the cybersecurity infrastructure and awareness by hosting the annual MozCyber, a national cybersecurity conference, for the past two years. Banks and other public institutions are beginning to modernize and digitize their information. 

 

Use dating apps with caution. The anonymity of the platforms may be used by criminals to lure victims to an unfamiliar or dangerous part of town near an ATM, where they will threaten harm unless they are given money. Scammers can also use dating apps as a pretense for baiting the victim into a prostitution scheme. Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

 

Transportation-Safety Situation

 

Road Safety and Road Conditions

 

One of the greatest threats to personal safety is motor vehicles. Driving is often a challenging and dangerous activity. Major cities like Maputo have paved streets that are narrow, crowded, and in constant disrepair, despite recent road improvement projects. The lack of streetlights, stop signs, traffic signals, sidewalks, and guardrails increase the risk of injury or death for drivers and pedestrians. Local drivers may exhibit little consideration for pedestrians, other motorists’ right-of-way, and general safe driving practices. Motorbikes or three-wheeled taxis weave in/out of traffic, will drive on any flat surface or section of the road, and rarely adhere to traffic rules. Drinking and driving is a continuing concern at all hours of the day and night.

 

During the rainy season (December to April), mud, deep puddles, flooding, glare from oncoming headlights, and occasional near-zero visibility present even greater challenges. Roads and bridges, especially outside Maputo, wash out frequently during the rainy season. Depending upon the destination, add several hours of travel time to an overland trip. During the dry season, dusty conditions can also impair visibility.

 

After a vehicular accident, a large crowd may gather and may become hostile and aggressive. If this happens, get away from the scene and contact local police and Embassy personnel, as you are able.

 

Traffic law enforcement consists of stationary traffic police on foot, typically wearing a white, short-sleeve shirt, randomly flagging down vehicles to conduct inspections or to request identification. The lack of proper documentation can lead to bribe attempts from police, trips to the police station, and in some cases, vehicle impounding.

 

Roads outside of Maputo are poorly illuminated and poorly maintained, and can be hazardous to drive. Fuel stations and police assistance, especially outside of Maputo, are rare. The risk to drivers outside Maputo increases due to locals driving at high speeds and the presence of disabled vehicles in the road. U.S. Embassy personnel may not drive outside of Maputo (or other major cities) at night.

 

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

 

Public Transportation Conditions

 

The U.S. Embassy recommends avoiding using “tuk-tuks,” “My-Loves” (large, open-bed trucks), or “chapas” (local minibuses) as a method of transportation due to frequent, often fatal, accidents involving these vehicles. Avoid yellow and green taxis, in which passengers have reported thefts; only use registered taxis from reputable providers, preferably arranged through your hotel. Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

 

Terrorism Threat

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Maputo as being a HIGH-threat location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. Since late 2017, Mozambique has experienced a steady stream of attacks in the northernmost districts of Cabo Delgado Province, between Macomia and the border with Tanzania. The ten districts most at risk in Cabo Delgado are Mueda, Muidumbe, Nangade, Mocimboa da Praia, Meluco, Palma, Macomia, Ibo, Ancuabe, and Quissanga. While the attacks have occurred in the abovementioned districts, there remains a possibility that such violence could spill over into other districts bordering or near Pemba.

 

Extremists have burned villages, raided police stations, shot and killed dozens, and beheaded villagers. The vast majority of the victims were Mozambican, with estimates of more than 300 killed. There are reports of foreign fighters in the area, possibly crossing the porous border from Tanzania. In the summer of 2019, the Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP) began claiming responsibility for lethal attacks. ISCAP is an affiliate of ISIS, although there is no proof of any command or control between ISIS leadership and attackers on the ground in Cabo Delgado. The violence has attracted international attention, as multinational companies have been increasing their footprint in the region in pursuit of natural gas reserves discovered offshore.

 

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

 

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Maputo as being a LOW-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

 

Civil Unrest

 

Maputo is firmly under the control of Frelimo, the political party that has ruled the country since its independence in 1975. Frelimo candidate Filipe Nyusi won a second five-year term as President of the Republic in a nationwide election in October 2019. Relations between Frelimo and Renamo, historically tense and full of distrust, seem to be improving overall, with Frelimo gaining the upper hand after their dominant electoral victory in October.

 

Beginning shortly before the election, there have been occasional violent attacks on vehicles driving along the main highways in Manica and Sofala provinces (central Mozambique). Some of these attacks have involved the Renamo Military Junta, an armed faction that split from the Renamo political party. This splinter group has declared that it will not participate in the disarmament and reintegration process to which Frelimo and Renamo party leadership agreed in 2018. The vehicle attacks increased in frequency and intensity following elections. Avoid non-essential travel along portions of the EN1 highway from the Chibabava district to Gorongosa, and along the EN6 from Tica to Inchope.

 

Avoid any large crowds, public gatherings, or demonstrations. These scenarios have the potential of becoming unruly, which could result in serious physical injury. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

 

Post-specific Concerns

 

Environmental Hazards

 

Maputo experiences seasonally torrential rains and lacks the drainage infrastructure to accommodate storm water runoff. As a result, low-lying parts of Maputo and major vehicle thoroughfares experience flash floods during the rainy season (November-April). Consider using a 4x4 vehicle for overland travel.

 

Economic Espionage/Intellectual Property Theft

 

Weak regulation and law enforcement, vast uninhabited spaces, dilapidated infrastructure, lack of capacity/resources, and widespread corruption (including alleged involvement of government officials) make trafficking of illicit wildlife products, illegal logging, and unregulated fishing major concerns. The rhinoceros nearly became extinct in Mozambique in 2013 due to poaching, though the situation has improved recently. Elephant poachers killed 80% of the elephant population in the Niassa National Reserve in the north. Traffickers move rhino horns from South Africa to Maputo, and smuggle ivory from Cabo Delgado and Niassa to Pemba, bound for international destinations. Unregulated and illegal logging and fishing are serious in Niassa, Cabo Delgado, and along the country’s 1,430-mile coastline. The purchase of rhino horns, ivory, and other animal products is illegal, but corruption makes criminal investigations and prosecutions difficult.

 

Money laundering is also a significant concern in Mozambique. One international governance NGO assessed that in 2019, Mozambique had the highest risk of money laundering and terrorist financing out of all 125 countries surveyed. While the government has taken steps to improve Mozambique’s laws, attorneys, judges, and police lack the technical capacity and resources to combat money laundering successfully. 

 

Authorities generally recognize the importance of a working intellectual property rights (IPR) protection regime for economic development and creation of wealth, but struggle to identify and enforce IPR violations. With a small domestic market, limited manufacturing capacity, high transportation costs, and limited transportation infrastructure, Mozambique has limited potential as a gateway for the production or distribution of counterfeit goods into the region. 

 

Personal Identity Concerns

 

The law criminalizes rape, including spousal rape. However, authorities do not effectively enforce this law, especially in rural areas, where the majority of rapes occur. Penalties for rape range from two to 24 years’ imprisonment, depending on the age of the victim. Domestic violence against women, particularly spousal rape and beatings, remains widespread. Abuse of a spouse or unmarried partner is punishable with one to two years in prison, or a greater penalty if conducted in conjunction with another crime. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

 

Mozambique is a tolerant society. Consensual same-sex relations are legal, and public conversation regarding LGBTI issues is increasingly more common. There remains, however, some societal stigmatization and room for progress regarding equal treatment, such as in the registration of LGBTI groups. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

 

Although the government mandates access to public buildings, transportation, and government services for persons with disabilities, few buildings are accessible. Restaurants, hotels, and residential buildings have stairs at the entrance without wheelchair ramps, with the exception of a few major hotels and retail areas. Pedestrian paths and transportation are extremely difficult for persons with disabilities. Sidewalks are not commonplace and, if they exist, are poorly maintained and dangerous to walk on at night. Pedestrian crossings are infrequent and drivers seldom obey traffic signals. Buses and taxis do not have special accommodations for disabled persons. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

 

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

 

Drug-related Crimes

 

Narco-trafficking is a major problem in Mozambique, a country with suspected links to international organized crime syndicates and terrorist organizations. The considerable wealth associated with the drug trade, aided by corruption and involvement of some government officials, negatively impacts security. Two high-profile maritime interdiction of drug shipments off the coast of Cabo Delgado captured headlines in December 2019. Authorities arrested a few dozen foreign sailors and seized more than a ton of heroin, leading some to speculate that Mozambique’s international narcotics trafficking is worse than previously thought.

 

Kidnapping Threat

 

Though there are no statistics released by the government to prove or dispute this, the perception is that the number of kidnapping incidents is on the rise again in Mozambique. In the early part of the last decade, kidnapping for ransom was a serious concern, particularly among persons of South Asian descent. The threat dissipated in recent years, but in late 2019, media reports of kidnapping have begun to reappear. Some kidnappings presumably go unreported, and suspicions of police involvement in some cases have proven true. In most cases, the goal of kidnappers is a ransom payment, which families frequently pay. In some cases, wealthy families have taken their children out of school and fled out of fear after receiving kidnapping threats. In some cases, bank employees may have been involved in identifying and targeting wealthy individuals. To date, kidnappers have not targeted U.S. citizens in Mozambique. There has also been a rise in “virtual kidnapping” extortion attempts. SMS messages and phone calls from unknown numbers claiming to have kidnapped family members are common. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics

 

Other Issues

 

Always ask permission before taking a photograph. Do not photograph government buildings, embassies, military installations, airports, harbors, or other locations/items of a possible security or intelligence interest. This will attract attention from police and security forces, and they have the authority to confiscate cameras and images. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

 

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

 

Police Response

 

Corruption is a problem throughout police ranks. Tolerance of corruption encourages complacency. Police officers are often guilty of economic crimes against foreigners and those perceived as wealthy. In response to a sour economic outlook, some Mozambican police have sought to supplement their income via extorting drivers and pedestrians, threatening detention and the confiscation of identity documents or vehicles if drivers do not pay fines or bribes on the spot. Low wages and morale create an environment in which even bribes of a few dollars can make allegations disappear.

 

Maintain certified copies of important documents and remain calm, firm, and polite with police. Show original documents to police, but keep them in your possession. Do not turn over official documents, as corrupt authorities may hold them for ransom. Attempt to cooperate and follow the instructions of police at checkpoints to avoid problems.

 

If police threaten you with a fine, indicate your willingness to accept a ticket and pay the fine, and apologize for any wrongdoing (even if you have not done anything wrong), then report the incident to the Embassy. OSAC constituents have reported detentions of up to eight hours because of not paying fines/bribes. Remind the police that it is illegal in Mozambique to bribe officers, and that you do not want to break the law. The Embassy does not recommend paying bribes to police.

 

The most important rule during police detainment is to remain courteous but firm. Keep copies of all important identity documents on you, and provide as much documentation as possible when asked. Remain calm and ensure to have contact numbers of friends, co-workers, and the Embassy. If police continue to detain you for an inordinate amount of time, advise them that you have the right to contact your Embassy.

 

The emergency lines in Mozambique are 112, 119, or + 258 21 325 031. Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

 

Receiving police assistance can be especially difficult for foreigners for several reasons: local police stations do not have consistently working landline telephones; most police officers rely on private cell phones for communication, and these numbers are not public; police rarely understand/speak English; and the police frequently lack transportation to respond to the scene of an incident. If transportation is available, fuel often is not, especially outside of Maputo.

 

Police/Security Agencies

 

The Mozambique Police Force (PRM) suffers from limited resources, lack of human capacity, and widespread corruption. Police are under-funded, under-staffed, poorly trained, and poorly equipped. Most PRM officers lack conventional police equipment, impeding their ability to be effective. Police response is often slow and unreliable; the quality of service declines as one moves farther from Maputo. Loose security protocols, lack of capacity, and corruption-related issues in the security services exacerbate terrorism threats.

 

Investigators with SERNIC, the investigative law enforcement agency of the PRM, have better training and resources, but cannot keep pace with the volume of criminal activity and are often face their own suspicions of corruption. Cases under SERNIC jurisdiction often remain unsolved. SERNIC cases frequently require pressure and repeated inquiries in order to achieve progress. SERNIC, as well as PRM generally, relies heavily on paper documentation, with little use of modern computer systems, online databases, or electronically archived information.

 

In Maputo, police squadrons maintain geographical jurisdictions; which squadron responds depends on your location. The best course of action is to contact the Embassy, provide your location, and ask for assistance. Local businesses may also be able to provide additional assistance in contacting police.

 

Medical Emergencies

 

Medical facilities fall critically short of U.S. standards and care is inconsistent. People with serious medical conditions that require medication or frequent treatment should not travel to Mozambique. Despite the advancements in local facilities, many expatriates still travel by road to Nelspruit (or fly to Johannesburg), South Africa, for treatment of most medical issues. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

 

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

 

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Mozambique.

 

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

 

OSAC Country Council Information

 

Maputo has an active OSAC Country Council. To reach OSAC’s Africa team, email OSACAF@state.gov.

 

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

 

Av. Kenneth Kaunda 193, Maputo

 

Hours of Operation 0730 – 1730 Monday-Thursday; 0730 – 1130 Friday

 

Website: http://mz.usembassy.gov

 

Embassy Operator: +258 21 492 797

 

Emergency calls after normal business hours: +258 84 306 6480 

 

American Citizen Services Section: +258 2149 2797

 

State Department Emergency Line: +1-202-501-4444

 

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

 

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