Mozambique: Growing Violence Keeps Northern Schools Shut

(file photo)
4 February 2020

Cape Town — Unknown gunmen have attacked six communities and torched a teacher training college in Quissanga district, in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, in the space of less than a week, a development that marks an escalation in attacks on the gas-rich province.

Armed militants attacked the village of Bilibiza at approximately 17:00 (local time) at the end of January, setting its technical college on fire.

The alarm was raised during a spate of attacks nearby, allowing people from a nearby village and the school in Bilibiza time to flee before the militants reached them, Director of the Teacher Training School of Bilibiza (EPF) Ernesto Agostinho Parivo said.

"When it was around 5pm, the village of Bilibiza was attacked and the insurgents burned and destroyed all the infrastructure that existed in the area.  When I noticed the people stampeding outside my house, I soon got in touch with a colleague who was at the EPF, making sure they immediately leave.  They joined me to hide near the river, from where we crossed by canoe."

The attack went on until the next morning, forcing residents, students, and a few police officers to flee.

Birgit Holm, director of ADPP Mozambique, said the military arrived after the militants left.

"The lucky thing was that our school year hadn't started yet, so there where only five students, a few teachers and other staff. The attacks continued throughout the night. They burned half the houses in the village - about 1 500 houses, some buildings and equipment. A few students and staff spent the whole night in the bushes and only left in the morning. Only after that the military support came. No military came during the night," Holm said.

ADPP is a national NGO working in education, health, agriculture and renewable energy in Mozambique for more than three decades.

"We've graduated more than 20,000 primary school teachers, most of them working in primary schools around the country. We have tested and treated thousands of people with HIV and TB, Malaria and also worked a lot with small farmers to improve their income and livelihoods . So our approach has always been holistic to see how we can work shoulder to shoulder with people on the ground to improve their lives," she said.

The charity also aims to promote peacebuilding in Mozambique by training teachers to install and support young people's participation in democracy.

"We train teachers and really try to install in young people to learn about democracy, to learn about peacebuilding also because we were here during the war and the whole process of rehabilitating, reconstruction has been a strong part of our history and this country's history. We are building peace... with a lot of young people but also adults and people in the community."

As civilians have been the main targets of attacks by the militants in the region, Parivo says President Filipe Nyusi's government should do more to provide the safety of law and order, and to protect students and citizens.

"We ask, even if the school is not in Bilibiza, that the government needs to ensure the safety of the people because now they are killing people. At first they just burnt it down. They came back and killed six people. In the Bilibiza area, they found people working the fields and killed them," Parivo said.

Unidentified fighters emerged in 2017, the insurgence worsened over the years, and they are now claimed as an affiliate by the Islamic State (IS).

The brunt of the impact is being felt by the local population, who risk being abducted or even beheaded in attacks on villages and the province's roads.

allAfrica.com's reporting on peacebuilding is supported by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York.

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