Mozambique: Nation Stares Into Uncertain Future After Insurgent Attacks

Refugee numbers in northern Mozambique are growing, and there are concerns over malnutrition and hunger (file photo).

Attaining peace and stability for northern Mozambique has been an arduous task for members of the civil society, with violence on the rise in the region.

Defence minister Jaime Pedro, who recently toured the region following insurgent attacks in the town of Palma, says all is under control and that it is now time to create conditions for the resumption of State services.

For the locals, however, it appears there is still not much reason to smile.

According to local media reports Friday, hundreds of people gathered in the village of Quitunda, close to the camp of French energy giant Total, waiting for sea transport to leave the district of Palma due to insecurity.

Islamic State-linked militants launched attacks on the northeastern coastal town of Palma on March 24, ransacking buildings and maiming civilians.

Thousands of people have fled into the surrounding forest, with the attack resulting in a surge in the number of refugees.

The raid, said to be one of the worst acts of Islamist militancy in southern Africa, caused Total to abandon a gas project nearby.

Radicalisation

Known locally as Al-Shabaab - but with no relation to the Somali-based group of the same name - the militants in Cabo Delgado have launched a series of brazen raids on towns and villages in an apparent bid to establish an Islamic caliphate.

This seems to be a clear indication that peace and stability for Mozambique, mainly in the north, is still far from its practical effectiveness.

But the instability in the region is not new.

"In the past 10 years, the group has set up mosques, attracting young people and promising them credit for business in northern Cabo Delgado", said Mr João Feijó, researcher at the Rural Observatory and coordinator of the research and debate programme on violence in Cabo Delgado said.

"Through mosques with radical ideas, they encourage people not to join State schools, causing locals to expel them from their communities", he added in an interview with the Nation.

"In Mocimba da Praia, a village with a history of ethnic, political and regional tensions, the group found a fertile space for mobilisng and recruiting young people and later became a violent group. They explored local contradictions and capitalised young people for these religious purposes."

This group has grown over the past three years, acquiring international support from formations including the Islamic State, which have financial, ethnic and military capabilities, Mr Feijó said.

Regional cooperation

Mueda district in Cabo Delgado province, was attacked by rebels Thursday afternoon, an incident which saw communication lines cut off.

The attack was later confirmed by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data, a non-governmental organisation which closely follows the conflict. Sources which confirmed the attack to VOA Radio spoke of beheadings but authorities have not confirmed this.

That same day, English media said the UK government is facing fresh calls to abandon its £750m (approximately $1 billion) plan to support a gas export terminal in Mozambique over fears the fossil fuel project is stoking the insurgency in the north of the country,

According to The Guardian newspaper, lawyers for the environmental group, Friends of the Earth, have warned that the huge natural gas project has worsened the conflict in Cabo Delgado.

Despite increasing attacks and the possibility of significant economic effects, Mr Feijó said peace and stability for Mozambique are possible.

"Regional and cross-border cooperation, the sharing of intelligence among countries in the region, criminal investigations, strengthening justice and creating special [forces] capable of dealing militarily with the group are some ways to attain peace," he said.

"There is also the need to invest in the economic development of the region, socially inserting excluded young people without a job and without training," he added.

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