International Relations

Insurgency in Mozambique

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On October 5, 2017, a group of armed men associated with Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo(ASWJ)/Ansar al-Sunna (Shabaab) attacked three police stations in Moçimboa da Praia, starting nearly three years of violence and insecurity that still show no sign of ending. On 12th of August, this year, the Islamic State Central Africa Province(A sub-group of Islamic State of Iraq and Levant of which ASWJ is a part of) captured the port town’s reigns[1], 2 months after having done it before in June, 2020 but shortly forced to withdraw back then. The group uses local narratives to promote a transnational radical ideology and exploits Islam and local grievances to recruit members and uses its regional and global links to train and arm them.  The Northernmost part of the country has been in the crosshairs of either the Mozambique State troopers or Radical Fundamentalist for a long time now, and it is pertinent to note how civilians inevitably become the most harmed stakeholder in the conflict[[2]][[3]]. In July 2019, the Government in Mozambique released an indictment which claimed that the ISCAP wanted an independent fundamentalist State consisting of Northern Mozambique, primarily the province Cabo Delgado and parts of Tanzania under the Sharia Law.

After the attacks on Mocimboa da Praia, large numbers of Internally Displaced Persons have undertaken the voyage by boat to the provincial capital Pemba. Yet, according to sources in both government and aid agencies, government fears an internationalization of attention on the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado and thus has refused to recognize their IDP status in order to authorize humanitarian assistance which would be available through UN agencies. The important aspect to be seen from this scenario is the kind of attack that was drawn out by the militants. It was coordinated with one group arriving by speedboats from the sea, and others via access roads, occupying six entry points and taking positions in the Milamba bairro before the attacks on the garrison, public buildings, banks, etc., in the early hours of the morning. Capturing of arms, robbing of banks, and even freeing of inmates were some of the initial acts done by the group to demonstrate their authority.

Government’s characterization of manipulation of youth against something bigger?

From the initial years of the insurgency, Mozambican Government has stuck to its narrative of the ISIL or putting an ambit of foreign malfeitores radicalizing and manipulating the muslim youth of Mozambique into taking up arms against the sovereignty and more specifically, to appropriate the Liquefied Natural Gas and other natural resources, targeting the ongoing LNG project in the district of Palma. The State’s narrative has some lacunae which remain unanswered, as to why did the attacks take a route towards the Provinical Capital of Cabo Delegado, Pemba sacking the coastal town of Quissanga in between instead of Palma, which is on a very northern part of the country.   

On a contrary to this theory, Dr. Joan Swart[4], there exist apprehensions against neo-colonial norms in Mozambique, where Exxon and Anadarko have established strong footholds for LNG and such programs, according to Dr. Swart, are of a very little benefit to the locals. This can be further emphasized upon by the fact that the employment produced is mostly for the South African Expatriates and a myriad of natives were forced to resettle to make space available for  Anadarko’s Area 1 gas development construction[5]. Systemic inefficiency is thus, capitalized upon by the leaders of radical factions which further attracts more and more recruits aligned under a common cause. This cause can be interpreted either in a religious nature espousing fundamentalist system of governance or in a way to establish a better system of Governance by armed warfare. A large number of the youth recruited by radical organizations under religious blankets have a legitimate grievance against their Government[6] .

Factors shaping the situation:

The Northern Province of Mozambique suffers from high unemployment and rate and economic bottlenecks when compared to the State Capital and when Multinational Companies capitalize on the national resources, it is likely to have an outrage among the locals.

What might be one of the primary issues country faces is the rampant corruption. Due to the pre-existing use of heroin across the country and its trade, it becomes very easy to have State Machinery’s protection against exactly what it opposes. One of Mozambique’s most prominent judges, Augusto Paulino, said in a speech in Portugal that, “the various drug trafficking groups and networks are well-organized enterprises, perhaps better organized than state structures. There are indicators that point to profits in the order of millions of dollars per year, coming from that traffic, which explain the mansions and luxurious cars in Maputo(Mozambican Capital) and in some other cities”. The Mozambican ‘oligarchs’ appear to be the wealthy organized criminal networks that have secured political protection and that operate parallel to the state with relative impunity[7].  Coming back to how this aids armed radical groups, the case is largely the same as it would appear that the officials are involved smuggling of people across Mozambique, usually to South Africa, Local smuggling barons incorporate the militant young men into their networks and pay them well. Using incomes made from smuggling, religious networks, and people-traffickers, the extremist cells pay to send young men to Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia for military training and radicalization[8].

Potential end to the instability:

The most affected group by the insurgency requires urgent support in Humanitarian sector, which essentially requires the acknowledgment of the IDPs and how the situation is increasingly escalating, regardless of the State efforts. Furthermore, addressing what perhaps is the one of the most prominent reason for any internal disturbance is the socio-economic element. Of course, as easy as it may sound; even a small progress in this sector is always deemed to be a major step.

The Mozambique State Machinery is doing whatever it can to tackle the insurgency, yet it stays a speculation for what it could eventually turn out to be.  

– Osho Dubey, Writer, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata.


[1]Mocimboa da Praia: Key Mozambique port ‘seized by IS’, BBC, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-53756692

[2] ACLED, “Dashboard,” Armed Conflict and Location Event Database, https://www.acleddata.com/dashboard/

[3] https://acleddata.com/2020/08/25/cabo-ligado-weekly-17-23-august-2020/

[4] https://itct.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Countering-Ahlu-Sunnah-Wa-Jamo-Insurgency.pdf

[5] Anadarko. “Resettlement Plan Draft for Public Disclosure: Mozambique Gas Development Project.” Document No. EA-MZSR0000-RRG-U14-00006-27, November 25, 2015.

[6]  United Nations Development Program. “Journey to Extremism in Africa: Drivers, Incentives and the Tipping Point for Recruitment,” 2012. Accessed on December 12, 2018. Retrieved from http://journey-to-extremism.undp.org/

[7] Peter Gastrow and Marcelo Mosse, “Mozambique: Threats posed by the penetration of criminal networks”, Institute for Security Studies Regional Seminar – Organised crime, corruption and governance in the SADC Region, Pretoria, 18-19 April 2002.

[8] Hanlon, Joseph. “How Mozambique’s Smuggling Barons Nurtured Jihadists.”BBC News. Accessed on December 12, 2018. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-44320531

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