Amidst a global pandemic, Mozambique has been hit with an Islam Insurgence of warlike proportions. At the worst possible time in modern times, an Islamist led rebellion that usually occurs in low-intensity attacks has revived with greater aggression and a clear resolve, to upset the balance of power in Mozambique and take over the territory.
The Islam insurgency has been recurring in the northern parts of Mozambique for over 2 years. It is not known if the insurgency is linked to any other Islam movements including the Somali based Jihad group with al-Qaeda ties. The group of insurgents is locally known as al-Shabab “the youth”. Earlier attacks were claimed by a group known as Ahlu Sunnah Wa- Jama. More recently Islamic State has claimed several attacks.
In the past, the group has been attacking remote villages. The attacks were more discreet, and spontaneous. The operations of the insurgents have always been in the shadows. The insurgents never indicated their motives, leadership, or demands. In April insurgents killed 52 villagers in Xitaxi in the Muidumbe district after the villagers refused to be recruited to their forces. In response to the killings, the Mozambique security forces killed at least 129 insurgents in the northern Cabo Delgado region. The interior minister Amade Miquidade said the 129 killings were a retaliation for the attack in Xitaxi. Security forces are struggling to contain the attacks. Since clinching re-election President Filipe Nyusi vowed to dedicate more resources to fighting the insurgency.
In the last 2 years, the insurgents have killed 900 civilians and caused the displacement of over 200, 000, as people fear for their lives and their families. They are also posing a threat to business ventures of companies like Exxon Mobil and Total who are engaged in developing gas projects off the shore of northern Mozambique thought to be worth over $60 billion. It is suspected that the increased efforts in the last 2 weeks could be an attempt to establish an Islamist Caliphate in the gas-rich region. The insurgents’ campaign in the north has been ongoing for about two years now.
The insurgents now seemingly have a clear resolve. They have ceased operating from the shadows and have revealed a video explaining their actions. Eric Morier-Genoud a Belfast based academic and expert on Mozambique indicated that the video was of great significance. The men in the video did not wear any masks to shield their identities which he sited as a “clear gain of confidence.” The video addressed how the state discriminates against the poor and how the government continuously fails the people. Many have drawn similarities between the insurgents and Boko haram’s emergence in northern Nigeria through tactics of exploiting local grievances, terrorizing communities but at the same time offering an alternative path for unemployed youths.
The insurgents briefly seized the strategic port of Mocimba da Praia on 24th March 2020, two days later they seized another important town, Quissanga. The seizure of these towns is a radical change of strategy. The insurgents now want power and control of the territory in the northern region. They are also trying to establish relations with the locals whilst demonizing the government. In Mocimba da Praia the insurgents were distributing free food to families in their houses and giving away the money they looted from local banks.
The insurgency is now getting decisive direction and leadership. The initial attacks by the insurgents commenced in October 2017 and remained low-intensity attacks until mid-2019. From the beginning of May 2019, the intensity of the attacks increased as well as geographical range, the attacks expanded to cover nine of the province’s 16 districts. The attacks are more sophisticated and daring. The insurgents now want to upset the balance of power.
African countries have pledged assistance including Tanzania, which is near the region of the attacks and risks a spillover into its territory if the insurgency continues to grow. The Mozambican government needs to act swiftly and decisively with the conflict within their territory.
The coronavirus pandemic is not a top threat in Mozambique right now, the virus has not caused any fatalities whereas the insurgency has caused over 900 deaths. Many analysts believe the root of the uprising lies in bad governance, lack of transparency as well as entrenched social and economical inequalities with require urgent attention. The Mozambican government should seek to get the better of the insurgents and invite them to a diplomatic table to end the uprising. The Mozambican armed forces should, however, show power, because if the insurgents think they have the upper hand there will not be much that they can be offered.