Mozambique: Heavy Fighting in Macomia and Near Mocimboa da Praia

A woman stands in field where clothes are dried after washing in Metuge, Cabo Delgado Province. Make shift displace person camps have formed after a series of attacks has forced thousands to flee the north region.

The past month saw the occupation of Macomia town with major destruction and continued fighting along the N380 road that runs through Macomia, as well as major fighting in the coastal areas of Mocimboa da Praia district as mercenaries dislodged insurgents from one or more bases, and incidents on the coast of Macomia district. This report is based mostly on Cabo Ligado and Intelyse.

There appear to be five different insurgent groups, probably based along the coast south of Mocimboa da Praia and near Quiterajo, and inland, at Bilibiza, south of Macomia, and near Miangelewa.

Insurgents are better equipped and on 27 May Interior Minister Amade Miquidade,said insurgents were using drones for reconnaissance. This had been reported by local people. On 26 May the World Food Programme (WFP) said it had shut some of its warehouses in areas affected by insurgency.

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) announced on 5 June that it is withdrawing from the Macomia as a result of the destruction of its health centre in an attack; it had 27 staff. MSF had closed its operation in Mocimboa da Praia after the insurgent occupation there in March.

Private military contractor Dyke continues operations, but with problems On 15 June a Dyke micro surveillance Bat Hawk aircraft crashed near Miangalewa, Muidumbi district, in dense forest near the N380 main road (see below). The pilot was seriously injured but, using the locator beacon on the plane, was located and rescued by helicopter. The plane was probably trying to find insurgent bases hidden in the very dense forest.

There are 211,000 internally displaced people due to the Cabo Delgado civil war, UNHCR estimated in an 18 June statement. This is 10% of the province's population. More than 5000 of them are in Nampula province, according to INGC on 19 June.

Macomia and the N380.

The N380 is the only paved road from Pemba north to Mueda and Mocimboa da Praia and the gas fields. The section from the Montepuez river through Macomia district town up into Muidumbe district has been attacked repeatedly. Insurgents had occupied Miangalewa and Xitaxi in Muidumbe and finally withdrew on 22 May. Soldiers dismantling a barricade found two bodies. Insurgents attacked a village south of Macomia on 24 May.

Around 100 insurgents attacked Macomia district town and at least five villages along the N380 road, including Chai north of Macomia and Koko south of Macomia, on 28 May. The attackers were dressed in Mozambican security force uniforms and armed with rocket-propelled grenades and a Chinese-built armored personnel carrier equipped with a W85 heavy machine gun captured from government forces. After a brief but intense battle with Mozambican forces stationed in the town, government troops fled.

There was organised destruction of homes, government buildings, shops, and other sites associated with government and religious authority. Targets included the central market, jail, town hall, health centre, primary and technical schools, police station, World Food Programme office, agricultural extension office, and a mosque. Insurgents are now sabotaging electricity and telecommunications infrastructure, and they destroyed the Movitel and Vodacom installations and a major electricity transformer on the outskirts of town, plunging surrounding areas into darkness on the night of 28 May. State electricity company EDM said the districts of Macomia, Meluco, Quissanga, Ibo and Muidumbe were left without electricity

Defense forces regrouped and supported by helicopter gunships from Pemba by private military contractors Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) recaptured Macomia on 31 May. But Chai was occupied until 1 June, and almost all buildings in the village were burned down, except the Catholic church. The town is now mostly abandoned.

Local people report 29 civilians and 10 member of the UIR riot police were killed in Macomia, 6 in Chai and 5 in Litamanda by insurgents. Defense Minister Jaime Neto  claimed that the Macomia operation killed 78 insurgents, but Cabo Ligado notes that returning civilians found no insurgent bodies and the government has produced no evidence to back up their claims.

Macomia was already hosting 30,000 displaced people for surrounding villages, and many fled southwest toward Montepuez.

On 29 May insurgents were ambushed in the town of Nova Zambezia while they were travelling through the town with looted goods taken from Macomia that day. Insurgents responded by attacking the village the next day. Of 52 villages in Macomia district, insurgents have attacks 37.

Intelyse (3 June) writes: "The capture of Macomia arguably supplants the 23 March sack of Mocimboa da Praia as the insurgency’s most significant victory to date. While insurgents have frequently launched attacks in Macomia district, the capital was largely perceived as secure, with thousands of IDPs from areas impacted by the insurgency fleeing to the town in recent years.  Macomia was also garrisoned by significant numbers of police and military personnel, which had been bolstered in recent months as the government has slowly moved to counter the insurgency. Warnings of an attack were also reportedly relayed to security forces in the town days before the insurgent assault, a sufficient amount of time for security forces to have further strengthened their defences in the town."

Attacks along the N380 continued. On 3 June the village of Imbada, south of Maomia, was attacked and three people beheaded. insurgents fired at a group of refugees who were attempting to return to Macomia. On 13 June security forces clashed with insurgents in the Chinda area. On 16 June houses were burned in Koko, which had been attacked on 28 May. On 19 June Xitaxi was attacked again, shops looted and houses destroyed. There was fighting with government security forces.

Mocimboa da Praia

Fighting continues to control the strategic 100 km coastal strip from Mocimboa da Praia south to Pangane and Mucojo. On 9 June government and mercenary forces began a major offensive in the northern part of the coastal strip, against insurgents in areas surrounding Mocimboa da Praia, and residents reported insurgents fleeing through Mocimboa town and moving north. But further south insurgents seem to be maintaining their control of the coast of Macomia district. This section of coast is one of the top fishing grounds, and Minister of the Sea, Interior Waters and Fisheries, Augusta Maita said on 8 June that 5,000 fishermen were affected by the insurgent attacks - most ceased activities.

Insurgents issued warnings that no one should enter the coastal areas between Ulo and Lucete (Lucete. Luxete), saying militants control this 30 km swathe of territory hidden behind islands. Many local residents are avoiding this area, and many local farmers have also stopped tending fields in this area as well. On 5 June, insurgents killed two fishermen on a beach near Ulo, as they tried to reach their fishing boat that had been stranded by a low tide.

On 5 June, insurgents kidnapped girls in the Nabubussi neighborhood of Mocimboa da Praia as they drew water from a local well.

On 9 June government forces overran an insurgent base in Marere (Narere), about 40 km south of Mocimboa, which seems to have been important for controlling the coast. Three helicopters "bombed" insurgent positins. (It is not clear what "bombed" means.)  Insurgents fled north through Mocimboa town, but attacked some villages along the way. Security forces on 10 June set up checkpoints and blocked the Mocimboa da Praia-Palma road to halt the insurgent flight. There was fighting between insurgents and Mozambican defense forces. On 11 June insurgents occupied the villages of Makulo and Cabaciera, 15 and 20 km north of Mocimboa da Praia, but were driven back by South African mercenary helicopters. Then on 14 June 40 insurgents entered the village of Malinde, northeast of Mocimboa da Praia town and just south of Cabaciera, setting fire to the local market as well as homes. Insurgents also reportedly killed 4 civilians. Insurgents then attacked a nearby Mozambican military base, but were repelled by Mozambican soldiers, who reportedly killed 15 militants

Some of the insurgents moved west and kidnapped at least 10 girls from parts of Mocimboa da Praia on 12 June, three of whom were sent back to the Chinda and Oasse (Awassi) to inform the villagers that the insurgents would return the next day. As a result, both villages have been deserted. The attack happened on 17 June when insurgents attacked a farming centre between Mocimboa and Oasse (about 15 km south/west of Mocimboa): 4 casualties reported.


The coastal area of Quiterajo and Mucojo of Macomia district is under insurgent control and has been the scene of a separate set of insurgent attacks, apparently without response from defence forces. Carta de Mocambique (22 June) reports that in the last two weeks, 27 people have been kidnaped. They include 14 young women. Of the 13 men kidnapped, six have been killed.

On 10 and 11 June ten heads of families were decapitated in Cabor near Quiterajo. Voice of America (12 June) claims they were picked out because they were Macondi. But this seems not to be true and local people say most were, in fact, Macua.

Pangane, a port on the Macomia coast south of Quiterajo, was attacked again, by insurgents on motorbikes on 15 June. Mefuze, Nanjaba and Nacotuco on the road from Pangane to Macomia town were also attacked 12-15 June. Ingoane just north of Pangane on the coast was attacked 12 June.


Villages of Tapara and Torono near Bilibiza were attacked 8 June. In Tapara insurgents clled out the villagers and askew who was Christian; one from Nampula was identified and killed. Three women were abduted and another person killed. Insurgents burned all the hosues in the village and told villagers to go to Bilibiza, which they conrol. In Bilibiza, insurgents are allowing travel along the mian road west to the N380 at the "ADPP-junciton", named after the sign there pointing to the recently destoryed ADPP training college. But locals are banned from taking the minor road west along the Montepuez River though Tapara.

Insurgents seized the village of Ntapuate south of Quissanga on 19 June. They instructed villages to leave, which they did. Houses burned but no casualties. ( Victor Novela, police operation commander told Noticias (19 June) that a group transporting 50 machetes had been neutralised near Cagemba near Quissanga. He added that, in operations in the regions of Ruarua, Rio and Ngure, the police seized firearms, uniforms and motor-bikes used to transport the terrorists. One of the motor-bikes had a Tanzanian number plate. Among the goods seized in this offensive was a military bed which, according to Novela, belongs to the army of a country in the Great Lakes region.

Comments on Cabo Delgado

Pemba bishop sees a resource curse

"So far, the resources have been a curse. Families have been removed from their homes; they have lost their fields, part of their culture and history because cemeteries have been devastated. Many people have still not been compensated and have nowhere to stay. And it seems that the whole province is being divided up and concessioned to big multinational companies. How much land is left in Cabo Delgado for cultivation, for people to plant and make a living? The province is looking like a Swiss cheese, full of holes because of these mines. If there is no control and fair distribution of the income, then the population will never benefit," said Luiz Fernando Lisboa, Catholic Bishop of Pemba, in a lengthy interview in Savana (15 June). The Bishop has become increasingly outspoken and come under increasing attack from Frelimo apologists and President Nyusi's praise singers who accuse Lisboa of inciting violence, hatred, disrespect for national symbols, and provoking division and racism in the diocese.

"Mozambique is very rich in resources. Here we have a few millionaires, but we are one of the poorest countries in the world. All the wealth has to be distributed. A person, a group of people or a company cannot profit alone from the impoverishment of others. Any resource must be turned to the benefit of the entire population, who are the first owner of the resource," Lisboa continues. "If we think, for example, of the Montepuez rubies that are said to be of the best quality in the world and of auctions millions of dollars, we ask ourselves: what is the population benefiting from? We are here and we are not seeing the benefits for the population."

The province is being forgotten, he says. "Look at a district like Chiure, the most populous in Cabo Delgado, with only 3 secondary schools, for a district with many inhabitants. In the Mazeze region, with dozens of villages around, pupils only have up to 7th grade."

"If there is no job creation policy, especially for the youth, we will continue to lag behind and our youth will be co-opted for delinquency, for drugs, for the insurgency. Because of low schooling, lack of employment, lack of prospects, many young people are taken with insurgent groups."

"If there is no investment in youth employment, in youth training, investment in health, it is clear that we will continue in the worst human development rates not only in Mozambique, but in the world."

And he attacks President Nyusi's campaign promise of a hospital in each district, and corporate social responsibility gifts of ambulances. "Don't talk to me about hospital and ambulances, that's almost a joke to me. … There is very little access to health yet. They say 'Ah, but lately hospitals have been built'. They have been. But hospitals are not enough. You need doctors, nurses and medicine. It's not enough to have a health unit if there's no medicine."

"But I'm not saying resources are always a curse; they should and can be a blessing. We have examples from various countries here in Africa," in particular citing Botswana. The full interview, in Portuguese, is on

Women are active insurgents

Some women "are active in the insurgency. They are not only being dragged and kidnapped. .. Some of them have been really active from the very beginning," says Liazzat Bonate, a Lecturer in African History at the University of the West Indies and a researcher on Mozambique and the Cabo Delgado war. And she points out that "a lot of women have been arrested" - sometimes to find their men, and sometimes because of their own activities.

Bonate stresses that the regional mix of matrilinearity and Islam has existed for centuries in coastal Cabo Delgado. "A particularity of Islam in this region is that there are traditional chiefs who are women and Muslims. Women are very important in this society and very influential, but they tend to be ignored by researchers and policy makers."

And she argues that having women fighters in the new insurgency should not be surprising. "We should not forget that this region area was in the liberated zones in the anti-colonial war. The women's detachment [Destacamento Feminino] also emerged in this region. Historians and researchers tend to downplay or not report that Muslim women made a very significant part of the first contingent of the female detachment." Muslim women were armed fighters.

Liazzat Bonate was a speaker at a Chatham House (London) webinar on the war in Cabo Delgado on 16 June. The webinar was part of series on the aar organised with the World Bank. All sessions were closed except this one, where a video has been posted on Bonate's intervention on women is at 1 hour and 10 minutes.

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