14 Tons of Gems Illegally Exported From Mozambique in 2021 Amid Cabo Delgado Insurgency - Report
The conflict in northern Mozambique has created a situation enabling a huge volume of gems to be smuggled out of the country, including gold and rubies, the latter of which Mozambique produces half the world’s supply.
Since the beginning of 2021, 14 tons of gold, rubies, garnets, and tantalite, alongside other gems, have been illegally exported from Mozambique, according to Fernando Maquene, a senior official in the country’s Ministry of Mineral Resources, as he told Radio Mozambique on Monday.
"We are looking for ways to fight the expansion of criminal networks that plunder our territory and our strategic resources, so that these resources can generate income to develop local communities," he added, according to AFP.
The southern African country’s mineral wealth is extensive, but concentrated largely in the northern Niassa and Cabo Delgado provinces and the central Manica Province.
In Cabo Delgado, the UK-based company Gemfields operates a huge ruby extraction site at Montepuez, which produces more than 40% of the world’s rubies. According to a 25-year mining concession granted by the Mozambican government in 2011, Gemfields has sole right to export rubies from the region, which now yields revenues of between $100-120 million per year and has extracted some $600 million in rubies in the course of its operations.
© RIA Novosti . Anastasia MarkitanElizabeth Taylor’s Crown Jewels exhibition
Elizabeth Taylor’s Crown Jewels exhibition
© RIA Novosti . Anastasia Markitan
The massive open pit mine is guarded by hired security forces, who protect it from poor local artisanal miners who would sell the gems they find to other buyers who are often smugglers. However, those guards have been widely accused of brutalizing Cabo Delgado residents, including physical and sexual abuse and murder. In 2019, Gemfields agreed to pay $7.8 million in damages to local residents in a “no admission of liability” settlement on the claim.
“I am mining for rubies without documentation because we don’t have another choice,” a 26-year-old miner, who gave their name as Roselio, told the UK Telegraph in July. “We trusted the government, but they're the ones that treat us badly.”
“The stones cause problems,” he added. “White people want the stones. We want them too.”
“As you can see, these people around us are very angry,” another illegal miner, a 25-year-old man who gave his name as Janito, also told the paper. “We blame the bosses of our country. If they didn't want their children [their people] to suffer, they wouldn't give the best of our country to foreigners. They would leave it to us.”
Gold concessions have been granted in Cabo Delgado in recent years, but the center of gold mining in Mozambique is in Manica, where Xtract Resources, a diversified metals and minerals producer based in London, was given a concession in 2016 believed to have some 2.97 million ounces of gold.
Last month, Xtract said its alluvial mining concession in Manica had produced 427 of gold since June, equivalent to $780,000.
Guards have also been blamed for brutalizing the population around massive gas concessions in Cabo Delgado given to Total, ExxonMobil, and other petrol giants. The operations are some of the largest in Africa, but unlike Montepuez, which sits some 200 kilometers inland, the Afungi concession sits on the Pacific coast, near the heart of the raging conflict between the Mozambican government, its allies, and an Islamist militant group called Ansar as-Sunnah that has pledged itself to Daesh*.
French non-governmental organization Les Amis de la Terre France noted in 2019 how these projects have helped fuel discontent in the region, which Ansar as-Sunnah has happily exploited.
“The militarization of the area and gas activities contribute to fuel the tensions that feed it. Human rights violations are on the increase in communities, caught between insurgents, private military and paramilitary forces, multinationals or their subcontractors,” they wrote. Thousands of families have been evicted by the gas and ruby extraction projects.
© AFP 2023 / ALFREDO ZUNIGAPeople wait on the outskirts of the seaport of Pemba on March 30, 2021 for the possible arrival of their families evacuated from the coasts of Afungi and Palma after the attack by armed forces against the city of Palma on March 24, 2021. -
People wait on the outskirts of the seaport of Pemba on March 30, 2021 for the possible arrival of their families evacuated from the coasts of Afungi and Palma after the attack by armed forces against the city of Palma on March 24, 2021. -
© AFP 2023 / ALFREDO ZUNIGA
The insurgency has steadily swollen since 2017, grabbing the world’s attention in August 2020 when they captured the port city of Mocimboa da Praia, and in April 2021 when the militants attacked the port of Palma, driving tens of thousands from the city in terror and convincing Total to declare force majeure on the project.
Soon after, President Felipe Nyusi appealed to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional bloc to send military assistance. Some 3,000 soldiers arrived beginning in July alongside Rwandan troops from a separate force also invited by Maputo. A smaller number of instructors from the European Union have also arrived to work with the Mozambican military, including from Portugal, the country’s former colonial ruler, against whom it fought a bloody war for independence.
More than 800,000 people have been made refugees by the conflict, and more than 3,000 civilians have been killed.
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other nations