The narcotics business is one that is extremely lucrative and dangerous too. It turns out to be one of the most innovative, yet, still relying on the conventional means. To meet Europe’s ever-growing and insatiable demand for heroin, the drug routes have changed, with Mozambique proving to be a good point for the supply of these drugs. As a result, heroin is now believed to be the second largest export for Mozambique.
According to a new report uncovering the dealings of this underground trade, heroin exports are estimated to be at around $20 million per ton, with almost 40 tons passing through Mozambique each year. The top exports for Mozambique are coal, valued at $678 million, and raw aluminum, valued at $378 million. Electricity exports also account for some of Mozambique’s top exports. Heroin has become profitable at great lengths, it is now estimated to be at around $600 to $800 million.
The heroin is produced in Afghanistan, intended for the huge European market, although some will still find its way into South Africa. In order to avoid direct routes from Afghanistan to Europe, which have become tightly regulated, the drug now makes its way to Mozambique, where it will proceed to South Africa, before making the final destination to Europe. The heroin goes from Afghanistan to Pakistan's south-west coast, and from there it is taken by motorized 20m wooden dhows to close to northern Mozambique's coast.
The top figures in the FRELIMO party have always overseen the heroin trade in Mozambique for a long time. The trade has metamorphosed into a tightly regulated network since the end of the war, controlled by the connected families, who have their protection from the senior political members to avoid conflicts between the trading families. This political involvement can no longer hold though, and the grip which these families possess over the trade is fast loosening.
A new breed of freelancers are emerging, strongly aided by messaging services such as WhatsApp, and thus fostering the growth of the heroin business in Mozambique. Freelancers are easily disrupting the tight control of the families’ hold on the heroin trade through the use of encrypted messaging services. Mobile coverage in northern Mozambique has greatly improved, and so is the heroin trade growing too because of the freelancing fishermen, and drivers who follow anonymous instructions from the United Arab Emirates.
Trust seems to be something which is a little bit abundant in this highly clandestine, yet corrupt business. A driver or boat owner will receive a WhatsApp message telling them where to pick up and deliver a package of heroin, and how to be paid. The clandestine nature of the network means that no one knows who these people are who send the messages, or their locations. Previously, corrupt police officers would accompany with shipments of heroin on the north-to-south Mozambique route, to make sure that they were not stopped at police checkpoints. Nowadays drivers are just given a number to contact in cases where they are stopped. They travel with a pile of money to bribe the officers, whatever that is left after the journey to South African is theirs to take.
The heroin still comes to Mozambique in a not-so-modern manner. The heroin comes in motorized dhows, which leave the Makran coast off Pakistan and Iran with product produced in Afghanistan. Police spokesman Inacio Dina said the authorities were investigating these findings. He said the police were doing their best to stop the drugs trade but admitted it was a huge challenge. "We must understand that the country's geographical location, with a lengthy coastline, and long land borders, opens various scenarios."
The trade is all easy now. With the help of the encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp, Telegram and others, a user can order heroin from Europe, and the distributor could be anywhere in the world. The distributor puts together enough orders to make up one ton on a dhow, and arranges collection in Mozambique and delivery to a warehouse, contacting local coordinators using WhatsApp or a similar app. In the warehouse, the ton is broken up again into the different orders which are sent to Johannesburg.
Raids in Mozambique are on a low, but in South Africa they are quite high, since the authorities are concerned with the high use of the drug in Cape Town and other big cities. One thing is clear – heroin trade has grown exponentially and it is now very easy to conduct – and thus, heroin has become the second largest export in Mozambique.