Mozambique: 1100 Deaths in Cabo Delgado Civil War

Entering Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique (file photo).

The death toll of the Cabo Delgado civil war to 25 April is 1100, according to ACLED (Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project).  Of the 1100 deaths, more than 700 were civilians. This year, up to 25 April, there were  101 incidents and 285 deaths (of whom more than 200 were civilians). The US-based ACLED has the most accurate incident and body count.

Insurgents pushed back in Cabo Delgado

Mozambican police and army and South Africa mercenaries finally responded to the two month long push south by insurgents in Quissanga district, and there has been some serious fighting. Insurgents have controlled much of Quissanga for more than a month, and were pushing south toward Metuge, just across the bay from Pemba. This push was halted last week by a major military response. But insurgent attacks continue elsewhere.

Details remain scarce, in part because of severe pressure on the press which has been successful in imposing self-censorship. There have been public appeals by journalists' group MISA Mocambique on Press Freedom Day (3 May) to end "attacks and persecutions of journalists" (English and Portuguese, and on 28 April by 16 international bodies including Reporters San Frontieres to end "intimidation" of journalists. Both cite the kidnap of Palma journalist Ibraimo Abu Mbaruco, who has not been seen since he was taken by the military on 7 April.

Troop and police movements from Pemba to Metuge, and major use of the South African drone and helicopters, has been publicly visible, and there has been some reporting. Large numbers of people have fled to Metuge and Pemba.

This is low-tech warfare, with insurgents communicating on mobile telephones but advancing on motorcycles, bicycles and on foot. Two of the South African helicopters simply have a machine gun mounted, but a drone is also being used. Nevertheless, Portuguese TV footage shows the aircraft simply flying low to frighten and break up groups of insurgents and villagers talking to insurgents. (SIC, Leste/Oeste com Nuno Rogeiro, 3 May)

Insurgents had moved southeast from Macomia attacking Bilibiza on 29 January and occupying Quisssanga town on 25 March, which gave them effective control of the Quissanga district north of the Montepuez river. They attacked Qurimba island on 9 April. They then began to move south down the road from Quissanga toward Metuge, across the bay west of Pemba. In late April they moved south, first to Nacoba, from which they spread out and burned villages including Arimba on the coast and a Qurimbas park tourist camp on 27-30 April. This finally led to a military response. (See newsletter 484, 30 April)

Distances are not large. Moving south, it is 15 km from Quissanga to the junction of the Bilibiza road: another 15 km south to Nacoba, which became a staging point. From Nacoba it is 15 km east to the coast and Arimba, as well as 15 south to Napuda, which appears to have been as far south as the insurgents were able to move. From there it is only 27 km to Metuge.

This is what we can piece together from Intelyse (4 May), Carta de Mocambique (4 May) and trusted local sources about the most recent week of fighting, from south to north. (There is a map in the attached pdf version of this bulletin.)

Napuda is on the border between Quissanga and Metuge districts and is the formal gate to the Quirimbas park. It still had 40 or more insurgents Saturday (2 May) - the southernmost concentration - but they were pushed north. They are said to have killed 14 villagers in Natugo, between Napunda and Nacoba on 2 May, probably as they were retreating north.

Nacoba, at the junction of the road toward the coast at Arimba was an insurgent position. Insurgents had burned part of the villages on 28 April and been attacked by the South African mercenaries. Insurgents killed 20 villages on Saturday (2 May) before being pushed further north.

Quissanga town was reoccupied by the police five weeks after it was occupied by insurgents. It appears there was no fighting and the town had been abandoned by the insurgents. There are photos of the security forces posing in front of the burned police post in precisely the same way the insurgents posed there. With access now possible, Mozambique Telecom (Tmcel) yesterday (5 May) re-established fixed and mobile telecommunications in the districts of Quissanga and Ibo and the Quirimbas archipelago. Service had been unavailable since 21 April.

An insurgent base between Quissanga and Bilibiza was attacked on Sunday (3 May). But Cagambe (or Cajambe), Quissanga district, a military camp 10 km west of Quissanga and 10 km north of Bilibiza, has been captured by insurgents, according to ISIS (@emorier 6 May). The insurgents may have been moving out of Quissanga. [unconfirmed]

Outside Quissanga, the war has also intensified:

Insurgent bases are being attacked. In addition to the base base between Quissanga and Bilibiza, bases in Muidumbe District near the Messalo River, and in the Mbau forest area in Mocimboa da Praia, have been attacked. There are reports yesterday of an attack on a base called Siria (Facebook Nuno Rogerio 5 May). [There is a serious problem of lack of information. There are no details as to what "attack" means, and Carta refers to "bombing", which seems unlikely. The location of Siria is confused; some say Mocimboa and others Quissanga, so it is probably one of the three bases mentioned above.]

Litingia (Nangade district) was attacked on 4 May, with food supplies looted but no casualties reported, (Pinnacle news 5 May)

Natuco (Macomia) on the coast near Mucojo and Pangane: One person decapitated, houses burned, goods taken, 30 April. (Carta 4 May)

Responses: motorcycles and cotton support

Recent attacks have been led by insurgents on motorcycles. Much of the fighting in Cabo Delgado is being done by the riot police (Rapid Intervention Unit, Unidade de Intervencao Rapida, UIR). Police Commander Bernardino Rafael announced that 80 motorcycles would be given to the UIR to make them more mobile. Half are already in Quissanga and half in Metuge.

The only cotton concession company in Cabo Delgado is Plexus, a British company, which has been in financial trouble. In February its 100 workers went on strike because they had not been paid for four months. And Plexus owes money to 48,000 growers whose cotton has not been paid for. In all, Plexus said it was $1.5 mn in debt. Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Celso Correia, went to Montepuez 13 February, and promised he would find a solution in two weeks. (Noticias 14 Feb) Finally Monday (4 May), seven weeks after the visit, government agreed to give $2 mn to Plexus to pay the producers. (TVM, Carta 4 May)

Comment: With a growing war in Cabo Delgado fuelled by rural discontent, it is clearly not wise to have another 48,000 angry farmers. Celso Correia is clearly right that the most sensible thing is to pay the farmers. Ending the war requires getting money to many more rural people. But it is a mark of the government's non-functioning that it appears to have taken Correia seven weeks to get agreement to something so obvious. No wonder the war continues. jh

New Cabo Delgado map folder

It is hard to follow and understand the Cabo Delgado war without maps, so we have set up a special folder of the best Cabo Delgado maps, most at district level, on Most of these maps come from Relief Web (UN OCHA). There are important differences between maps in how village names in local languages are spelled in Portuguese, and there are some errors.

To show how useful maps can be, we suggest a short tour. Start with the Mueda plateau terrain (relief) map The map shows clearly how the Mueda plateau extends east into neighbouring districts. (All maps contain errors and the black dots and labels "Nampula" and "Mueda" about one-third up this map are there in error. The map was developed by MSF for Cyclone Kenneth and we ignore that as well.)

Next look at a population map of Cabo Delgado which shows population concentrated in the south of the province and the Mueda plateau, and large areas with very few people.

Finally, look at the language map by Translators Without Borders which shows the huge diversity of home languages in the coastal areas, that Makonde is the home language of the plateau, and that the southern two-thirds of Cabo Delgado is almost entirely Makuhwa speaking.

We also have two new maps showing attacks so far, ACLED's own map showing the number of attacks since the start of the war, and a map for attacks so far this year by ACLED's African analyst, Jasmine Opperman

Research again point to local factors

Three thoughtful and important studies have been just been published by Mozambican think tanks on the Cabo Delgado war (all in Portuguese only). They all point to history, and underlying differences and inequalities.

Joao Mosca, director of OMR (Observatorio do Meio Rural, Observatory of Rural Environment), looks closely at the evolution of the military conflict and its political and social context. (Destaque Rural 86) He concludes (jh translation):

"It is necessary to foresee and combat conflicts with inclusive development, with greater social, territorial and ethnic equity in the distribution of resources (small businesses, self-employment, increasing access to more and better public services, greater priority to food production and security and generation of income in agriculture). Military solutions are not possible and, if they are, they entail high human, material and financial costs, without development processes being generated. …

"Conflicts always have internal and external factors that, combined, reinforce each other. Since national authorities have little influence over external reasons, it is important to eliminate the internal factors. In this case, it is poverty, based on different accessibility and control of power, resources, basic services to citizens, and small scale business opportunities and investments to create jobs and incomes.

"Conflict resolution is not limited to silencing weapons. It includes an effective reconciliation, where political, social, economic, spatial, racial, ethnic differences must form the foundation of the wealth of plural societies unified by processes of inclusive global development, building unified states of several nations.

But he ends with a harsh critique of both Mozambique's government and the international community: "Finally, it is known that wars create wealth for national and foreign interest groups and often the reasons and motivations are for accessing resources. The Cabo Delgado conflict will be no exception. Conflict resolution necessarily involves putting national and people's interests first and only. Unfortunately, conflicts articulate geostrategic and economic interests where the main beneficiaries are other countries and international capital. Local elites benefit from 'peanuts', playing roles against their people. In this perspective, it is important to weaken states and their defence and security forces and, in some cases, to create failed States where the institutions begin to serve the interests of domestic banditry organized in dominant gangs of the State."

Salvador Forquilha, IESE director, and Joao Pereira, assistant processor at UEM (Universidade Eduardo Mondlane) compared the current war to the 1976-92 war against Renamo. They conclude: "The State's response needs to address and give due place to the internal factors of armed violence, crystallized in the multiple ethnic, social, political and economic tensions that exist at the local level, to prevent the conflict from not only intensifying, but also, eventually, spreading to other areas of northern Mozambique."

They argue that from the first the Renamo's war was linked to external actors and the Cold War. On the other hand "in Cabo Delgado, at least at the beginning, there is no evidence of the involvement of external state actors and the domestic group, which carries out armed violence, with clearly religious pretensions, has local origins, although with contacts outside Mozambique and the participation of radical foreigners who settled in locally via marriage. In this sense, one cannot look at the Al-Shabaab in Cabo Delgado as a mere external creation, as the official rhetoric wants us believe, as was the case with Renano." The claims of Islamic state only began to appear in June 2019.

Sergio Chichava, IESE Scientific Director, details the emergence of "Al Shabaab" in 2015 in Macomia district up to the start of the war on 5 October 2017. In November 2015 there were press reports in both Noticias and Domingo about a confrontation in Pangane, on the coast in Macomia. Muslim leaders attempted to prevent sale and consumption of alcohol. The police arrested one religious leader, which was opposed by local people. In the ensuring confrontation, one policeman was killed. Local people rejected the authority of the locality head (the lowest level government appointment), in part because he was Christian and Makonde. In some areas in 2016, the influence of "Al Shabaab", as it was already called locally, increased, to the point that parents stopped sending their children to state schools.  Many attempts were made in the those two years to alert government to the problems of "Al Shabaan", but they were ignored.

Press articles:  There is an interesting article just published by Paolo Israel, associate professor in history at the University of the Western Cape, in the Mail & Guardian (4 May) A BBC report by Andrew Harding with a 3 minutes video is on Harding notes: "Observers say the evolution of the insurgency in Mozambique is remarkably similar to Boko Haram's emergence in northern Nigeria, with a marginalised group exploiting local grievances, terrorising many communities, but also offering an alternative path for unemployed youths frustrated by a corrupt, neglectful and heavy-handed state."

More From: Mozambique News Reports And Clippings

Don't Miss

AllAfrica publishes around 800 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 500 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.