Mozambique: Intensifying Argument Over Roots Of War - And Response

Entering Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique.

As the civil war in Cabo Delgado intensifies, so does the argument about the roots of the war and the appropriate response. The US State Department, the Tony Blair Institute, much of the international community, and the government of Filipe Nyusi call it Islamic State terrorism. This points to a military response, probably involving private military contractors (mercenaries) operating under the flag of the EU, African Union, or SADC.

But the researchers on the ground actually studying the war point to local roots in the growing inequality between an elite and young people feeling increasingly marginalised and with no future, at a time when some become wealthy from mineral resources and corruption. The roots of the insurgency are local, but more recently have gained support from international fundamentalist Islamic groups. Supporting groups are treated a bit like aid agencies, not unlike the NGOs and UN agencies which for decades have provided technical assistance and financial support to Mozambicans in exchange for flying their flag and reading statements praising them.

The debate is becoming more intense, and last week Alex Vines from Chatham House in London called on Frelimo to look at its own history in the liberation war.

The new civil war is centred around Chai, exactly where the current Cabo Delgado "big man" Alberto Chipande fired the first shots of the liberation war 64 years ago. Is that war being fought again, but this time with Frelimo following the Portuguese line that they faced a foreign insurgency and the solution was military? Frelimo won 54 years ago because it gained the support of the local people. Why does it think a military and mercenary solution will work this time?

Unequal access to state resources fuels insurgency

Unequal access to state resources and marginalisation of the poorest are behind the insurgency in Cabo Delgado, according to an important new research study by João Feijó of the Observatorio do Meio Rural (Environment Observatory). High poverty rates are widespread and similar in all three ethno-linguistic groups, and the insurgency is fuelled by post-independence changes related to unequal access to state resources. "The Muani and Macua populations see the State as partisan and captured by specific ethno-linguistic groups (mostly Macondes in alliance with elements from the South)."

Five factors have combined to cause support for the insurgency:

+ Youth trapped in "waithood" - a growing young population who cannot find the jobs or income sources to become independent and move on to adulthood.

+ Group or horizontal inequalities, in which Muanis and Macuas (largely Muslim and supporting the opposition) are disadvantaged with respect to Maconde (Christian and Frelimo). But,

+ Growing class divisions within the Maconde, which are promoted by

+ Corruption and nepotism in the state, in turn fuelled by

+ The mining and gas boom.

I have done an English translation of the summary and conclusion.

Has Frelimo forgotten the lessons of liberation?

"In this centenary month of his birth, it is worth reading Eduardo Mondlane’s book, Struggle for Mozambique. It is a reminder that insurgency succeeds when there is a governance and developmental deficit. The Portuguese failed because they had neglected the far north and responded solely with violence. Relearning the science of liberation would help Frelimo to stabilise the conflict of Cabo Delgado," writes Chatham House Managing Director of Ethics, Risk & Resilience, Alex Vines, in the Mail & Guardian (24 June): It is a surprisingly critical article, headlined "As conflict in Cabo Delgado increases, will Frelimo learn from its mistakes?"
US State Dept says "ISIS attacks" threaten gas

"ISIS attacks in this area have threatened employees of an international liquid natural gas consortium, in which a US company is a participant, and have prompted the consortium to approach further investment in Mozambique with caution," warns the US State Department in its annual "Country Reports on Terrorism 2019" published 24 June.

The report is explicit in calling the attacks "terrorist activity" and saying the attackers are "ISIS’s affiliate in Mozambique". There is no mention of local grievances or local causes of the insurgency. The report is also highly critical of the division and lack of coordination between police and military, and of "access constraints" restricting information. If the US intervenes, it expects to stay, Ambassador-at-Large Nathan Sales, Coordinator for Counterterrorism, made clear in response to a question at a special briefing on 24 June to launch the report

Illicit economy is shaping the war

"Criminal networks have become socially, economically and politically embedded in northern Mozambique," and there has been a major increase in illicit traffic, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GI) says in a new report. And it warns "the illicit economy in northern Mozambique helped shape the conditions that led to the current insurgency in Cabo Delgado and may drive future instability."

Insurgents may be trying to capture or tax the illicit economy. "The locations of recent attacks - which include coastal landing sites, transport hubs and areas rich in natural resources - suggest that the insurgents may be targeting the illicit economy as a more substantial source of future revenue. Over time, control over the illicit economy may begin to shape the actions of the group."

Press crackdown: journalists detained, editors charged

Two journalists have been detained and two editors charged in what appears to be a crackdown on the press. Carta de Mocambique journalist Omardine Omar was arrested Thursday afternoon (25 June). Palma (Cabo Delgado) community radio journalist Ibraimo Mbaruco is still missing after he was kidnapped, apparently by military, on 7 April. The last anyone heard from him was a short text message to colleagues saying he was “surrounded by soldiers”. And Canal de Mocambique director Fernando Veloso and executive editor Matias Guente were charged last week with violating state secrets for reporting improper contracts between gas companies and the ministries of defence and interior.

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