Ongoing insecurity and an unfolding humanitarian crisis in northern Mozambique need a strategically planned response to deal decisively with the insurgency that has plagued the area since October 2017.
The insurgents, known both as Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ) and the Islamic State Central Africa Province, have displaced more than 745 000 people.
“In northern Mozambique, there needs to be a commitment to the long haul for counter-insurgency forces to deal with the insurgents. There also has to be a real commitment to dealing with local issues that, in many ways, set the scene for the conflict,” Piers Pigou, Project Director Southern Africa International Crisis Group. He adds that a tough security response must be linked to an effective development agenda.
Internally displaced women collecting water in Marrupa IDP site, Chiure district, Cabo Delgado, Northern Mozambique. Credit: UNHCR
By August 2020, insurgents had taken control of the port city of Mocimboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado province, with devastating impact.
“As of November 2021, over 745,000 people were displaced in northern Mozambique. Among those displaced, 59 per cent are children, 19 percent are women, 17 per cent are men, and 5 per cent are the elderly,” Juliana Ghazi of the United Nation Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) says.
Save the Children said in March 2021, militants beheaded children, some as young as 11. In the same month, they seized Palma, murdering dozens of civilians and displacing more than 35,000 of the town’s 75,000 residents. Many fled to the provincial capital, Pemba.
Ghazi said the agency was concerned “over the regional consequences of the ongoing displacement and protection crisis in Mozambique for Southern Africa, particularly the spillover of violence and refugees to neighbouring countries.”
She says the situation had “seemingly improved in Cabo Delgado since the intervention of regional allied forces in July 2021. It remains volatile with attacks taking place in some districts”.
“In the past months, the neighbouring province of Niassa also experienced attacks, and additional financial support is needed to assist the new displaced. UNHCR stresses the need for the security situation to continue to improve in hard to reach and partially accessible areas in Cabo Delgado to enable the provision of humanitarian assistance to those in need.”
At the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit, held in Lilongwe, Malawi, on January 12, it was agreed that SADC troops would stay in Mozambique for at least another three months. While it indicated a commitment to peace and security, besides ‘welcoming’ an initiative to support economic and social development in the Cabo Delgado Province – it was vague on long-term strategy and support.
Pigou says the security response needs to be linked to an “effective development agenda. The counter-insurgency efforts also need to be beefed up. Currently, there is not enough support for the forces fighting the insurgents. The SADC troops, drawn from special forces units, must be commended for their success, but they need far more support if their successes are to be sustained. There can be no counter-insurgency on the cheap.”
According to the website Cabo Ligado – a conflict observatory launched by ACLED (Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project) Zitamar News and Mediafax – between October 1, 2017, and January 7, 2022, there have been:
- 1111 organised political violence events
- 3627 reported fatalities from organised political violence
- 1587 reported fatalities from civilian targeting
In response to the insurgency, Dyck Advisory Group, a private company specialising in demining and anti-poaching activities, initially aided the Mozambican forces. This relationship was terminated in early 2021 for many reasons, including allegations of indiscriminate use of firepower and discrimination regarding evacuating or protecting people in favour of whites over black people.
Since then, soldiers from SADC have, together with Mozambican forces, established SAMIM (SADC Mission in Mozambique). Rwandan troops have also been deployed. Recent efforts, while successful, are far from delivering a coup de grace to the insurgency.
Money is a factor in continuing, refining, and escalating the counter-insurgency effort. SAMIM’s special force capabilities have helped to mute the insurgents, but the problems of limited support for these troops have to be addressed. Currently, SAMIM is only being supported by two Oryx helicopters and troops are hampered logistically.
Mozambique’s government has stated that the Rwandan army has established a safety zone for the Liquid Natural Gas project run by Total Energies, a French company. This zone is 50-km-long (31-mile-long including strategic centres of Mocimboa da Praia and Palma, vital for the Total Energies project.
“This approach was probably negotiated at the highest political level between Mozambique, France and Rwanda,” says Elisio Macamo, an expert on African politics at the University of Basel.
“Paris was even prepared to send troops, but the French military was not welcome. Rwandan troops filled the void and will be paid handsomely from both a financial and political perspective.”
While the UNHCR is working with the Mozambique government and partners, there was a need for assistance in the humanitarian crisis.
“The most urgent protection needs are the provision of assistance to vulnerable groups, particularly unaccompanied and separated children, separated families, gender-based violence survivors, people with disabilities and older people, as well as the provision of civil documentation, Core Relief Items (CRIs) and shelter materials to displaced families,” says Ghazi.