Security measures implemented earlier this month on the Sena Railway in Mozambique have allowed Brazilian mining giant Vale to resume coal transport. The country’s state-owned transport utility Empresa Portos e Caminhos de Ferro de Moçambique (CFM) took responsibility for ensuring security on the line, after a string of attacks by Renamo forces.
Renamo assaults in northern and central Mozambique over the past two years have forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes, and caused the shutdown of some transport links. Trucks travelling along the north-south highway have had to travel in convoys with military escorts this year, and even then there have been some attacks.
Yet the scale of the impact on Mozambique’s nascent coal industry was only recently when the government confirmed that coal trains did not run on the Sena line between the end of July and mid-November because of fears of Renamo violence. Attacks on trains in May and June had resulted in temporary stoppages but after another assault in Sofala Province in July left several railway employees injured, operations on the line were suspended for several months.
The nature of the new security measures has not been revealed, partly in order to avoid giving information to potential assailants, but it is likely that armed guards have been put on the trains and patrols stepped up along the route of the line, particularly in Tsangano district.
Rising coal production
The Sena line is one of three railways that are being developed to transport coal from the Moatize Basin in Tete Province to the Indian Ocean coastal ports of Beira and Nacala. It runs to Beira and handled 22 trains a day in each direction prior to the July attack.
The government hopes that the three lines will jointly carry 100m tonnes of coal a year, which would enable Mozambique to overtake South Africa as Africa’s biggest coal exporter. Recent improvements on the Sena Railway have increased its annual coal carrying capacity from 6.5m tonnes a year 20m tonnes a year.
Much longer trains can now operate on the line, with six locomotives pulling 100 coal waggons. At the same time, Vale is pressing ahead with doubling its mining capacity in Tete to 22m tonnes a year. It had looked like such investment could be misplaced because coal prices crashed in 2015 but they have recovered strongly this year.
Similar measures may have to be put in place on the new line that runs from Moatize to Nacala, which passes through Malawi en route. The construction of this line has been largely financed by Vale. Coal trains bound for Nacala were assaulted at least twice in October.
Transport connections in this part of Mozambique are very limited and so it is relatively easy for Renamo fighters to attack trains and then melt away into the forest. It is hoped that access to the new railways for general cargo will boost wider economic development in the region. Nacala, which is reputed to have the deepest natural harbour on the east coast of Africa, now hosts a modern container terminal.
Renamo fought a long and devastating civil war against the government from independence in 1975 until 1992, backed by white supremacist governments in Zimbabwe and South Africa. The movement has contested every national election since then but has become disenchanted with its lack of success. The likelihood of substantial coal and gas income for the government may have encouraged its leaders to make a grab for power.