As the extremist attacks in Mozambique’s Palma in Cabo Delgado were raging on, the rescue efforts for those compelled to scurry for refuge at Amarula Palm Hotel were subjected to overt racism. Witnesses have since narrated accounts of how White workers were airlifted to safety first by a private military company while Black nationals were left to fend for themselves.
According to a report by Amnesty International that documents the testimonies of survivors (about a dozen witnesses) of the deadly attack, White contractors were prioritized for evacuation ahead of Black locals. When the attacks by the militant group known as al-Shabaab started on 24 March, an estimated 220 civilians found refuge in the Amarula Palma Hotel in Palma. 200 people were Black nationals of Mozambican origin while the other 20 were White contractors.
The Mozambique security forces sought assistance from Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), a South African private military company. As DAG helped to mitigate the lethal conflict, “racial discrimination jeopardized rescue efforts,” according to the report by Amnesty International. While White workers were airlifted to safety first, Black nationals were left to resign to their miserable fate, fending for themselves. After the White workers and affluent Black nationals were rescued to safety (including the Administrator for Palma), those who were left behind tried the risky and morbid route of escaping by ground convoy – which only led to them being ambushed by the extremist insurgents.
The insurgency in Mozambique has taken ghoulish turns since it started four years ago – painted with horrific details of murderous debauchery and soaked in the bigger and darker schemes of global geopolitics and capital dominance. Liquified natural gas projects in Cabo Delgado have attracted giant foreign multinationals who have since invested billions of dollars in these projects while northern Mozambique languishes in abject poverty.
Palma is a convenient base for foreign contractors who are working for a multi-billion dollar liquified natural gas project by Total – a French energy behemoth. This explains the presence of white contractors in Palma, Cabo Delgado.
As it stands, thousands of lives have been taken and about half a million people have been displaced. The attacks on March 24 forced tens of thousands to flee, and witnesses recounted dreadful first-hand experiences of seeing beheadings, indiscriminate shooting at civilians, and mass abductions as the militants ran completely amok through the small port town. It was a merciless purging of human life.
The witness accounts recorded by Amnesty International reveal a disgruntled populace. They initially thought that DAG would prioritize the evacuation of women, children, and people with disabilities. One witness said, “We were about 220 people trapped there in the hotel – we [local Black people] were the majority, and the whites were supposed to be about 20. After the rescue and escape, we were about 170 people still alive. Most of the whites were rescued by helicopters before we left the hotel by car.”
Another survivor recounted, “We didn't want all white people to be rescued, because we knew that if all the whites left, we would be left there to die. We heard them talking about the plan to take all the whites and leave the Blacks.”
To rub salt to the injuries, spitting in the face of Black nationals, the manager of Amarula Palm Hotel decided to put the lives of his two German Shepherd dogs those of Black nationals. As Amnesty reports, the hotel manager “took advantage of the chaotic situation to take his two German Shepherd dogs to safety via helicopter, leaving people behind.” The helicopters could only transport six people at a time.
“The fact that the hotel manager chose to rescue his dogs instead of people is also extremely shocking, and further proof of the lack of respect for human life that has characterized the Cabo Delgado conflict,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.
A survivor expressed their dismay, “If the dogs hadn't gone, about two or three more people could have gone on the helicopter. That dismayed people because some women didn't get in the helicopter because of the dogs.”
When the helicopters ceased returning, those left behind devised a treacherously risky plan to escape the hotel via a convoy of cars, but they were immediately ambushed by the extremist fighters. One survivor said, “The insurgents – when they saw the cars coming out in the backyard – started shooting. The road was full of holes that the insurgents had dug to prevent the cars from passing.”
Another one complemented this account saying “They shot at our car; [it] flipped over. I was injured, the bazooka almost hit my head. We left the road and stayed in the woods for six days, without eating or drinking water. We managed to get to the beach and catch a boat to go to Afungi, where we got help.”
Deprose Muchena strongly rebuked the “inhumane approach” coordinated by the Mozambique security forces and DAG. “Terrified locals knew that the rescue of white people first would mean they were abandoned to face ‘Al-Shabaab’ by themselves,” she said.
“The total lack of coordination between the Mozambique security forces and Dyck Advisory Group resulted in evacuations that were racist and must be thoroughly investigated.”
“Once again during the Cabo Delgado conflict, the inhumane approach taken by both the Mozambique authorities and DAG has caused untold harm. Despite similar previous attacks by ‘Al-Shabaab’, this is the first instance we are aware of a rescue mission being attempted – and it was only when white contractors were deemed to be at risk.”
“Abandoning people during an armed assault simply because of the color of their skin is racism and violates the obligation to protect civilians. This cannot go unanswered.”
All this reveals the genuine desire for global capital – a total disregard for the sanctity of life, even in times of deadly perils, in favor of the continuance of resource exploitation. As factions affiliated with the Islamic State are growing in size across Africa, it is time to approach conflict resolution with a more humane approach that strives for equality before anything else.