Since 2017, Cabo Delgado, Mozambique’s northernmost province, is the scene of a deadly insurrection. While foreigners have joined in the name of jihad, most of the Mozambican rank and file militants are motivated by their perceived socio-economic exclusion amid major mineral and hydrocarbon discoveries in the region. The conflict threatens national stability, just as Mozambique is fulfilling a peace deal with the country’s main opposition group in the center of Mozambique, and risks becoming a new frontier for global jihad to exploit. Crisis Group advocates for bespoke military support from external actors, dialogue with the Mozambican rank and file and measures to address the underlying frustrations that led these militants to take up arms.
Rwandan and southern African troops have helped authorities fight an Islamist insurgency in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique’s northernmost province. The threat is greatly lowered but not yet gone. Maputo will need more military assistance as well as a nudge to address the conflict’s political roots.
Originally published in World Politics Review
Sustained attacks across far north Cabo Delgado province showed continued struggle to contain Islamist insurgency; militants targeted food supplies as hunger precipitated surrenders. Islamist militants early May launched series of attacks in Nangade district: one person killed and three wounded 1 May in and around Litingina town; several people reportedly beheaded 3 May in Muhia village near Tanzanian border and several others captured 8 May in fields around Rovuma village; food raid reported 10 May in Nova Familia village. Amid violence, Nangade-Mueda road temporarily closed 1 May, leaving Nangade town cut off from supplies. In Palma district, insurgents 6 May attacked Olumbe village, notably targeting foodstuffs; unconfirmed reports said joint Rwandan and Mozambican forces killed 20 insurgents while three Mozambican soldiers were also killed. Small squads of insurgents 17 May reportedly launched food raids on Palma’s Quifuque island. Meanwhile, Islamic State (ISIS) 9 May claimed killing three Mozambican soldiers in 7 May raid on Quiterajo military base in Macomia district, for first time attributing attack to “Mozambique Province”. Violence from mid-May intensified in Macomia as militants allegedly tried to make their way to Minhanha zone of Meluco district. Local sources reported insurgents 20 May beheaded between two and six people near Nova Zambézia and Nkoe villages north of Macomia town; ISIS 23 May claimed attacks, said four Mozambican soldiers killed, next day said militants 21 May also killed three people in nearby Nguida village. In Meluco district, suspected militants 26 May ambushed health officials near Muaguide village, leaving one missing, and ISIS 26 and 29 May claimed attacks on Pitolha and Namituco villages. Dozens of insurgents throughout month reportedly surrendered to authorities amid lack of food, including around 70 in Nangade district 15-17 May and 40 in Macomia district 17 May; others reportedly surrendered in Ibo and Muidumbe districts. Hunger also prompted insurgents to release captives, including three men and two women who arrived in Nangade town 7 May. Amid minimal return of displaced people in Cabo Delgado, authorities 12 May reported 3,700 people displaced by violence in late 2021 have returned to their home villages in neighbouring Niassa province.
Deadly conflict in Mozambique’s ruby- and natural gas-rich northernmost coastal province feeds on a mix of colonial-era tensions, inequality and Islamist militancy. To tame the insurrection, Maputo needs to use force, with bespoke assistance from outside partners, and to carefully address underlying grievances.
The question is whether [the insurgency in northern Mozambique] can be nipped in the bud at this juncture without spreading further.
Originally published in Le Point Afrique
Online event, in partnership with the South African weekly newspaper Mail & Guardian, to discuss how to prevent the Cabo Delgado insurrection from escalating into a new frontier for global jihadism.
This week on Hold Your Fire!, Richard Atwood and guest co-host Comfort Ero talk to Crisis Group’s Deputy Africa Director Dino Mahtani about the violence in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado region, Maputo’s response and prospects for a regional intervention.
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