Tawanda KaromboJuly 28, 2021
Displaced Mozambicans gather in a camp in the country's Cabo Delgado province in this 2019 photo. (CNS photo/Alessandro Grassani, courtesy AVSI)

Educators and humanitarian workers in Mozambique are expressing mixed feelings about a deployment of multinational forces to confront an intensifying Islamist insurgency in Mozambique. Troops under the regional Southern African Development Community’s Standby Force are expected to deploy soon, joining other African soldiers already on the ground to respond to the increasingly violent Ansar al-Sunna militant group that has been terrorizing Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province.

The Ansar al-Sunna insurgency began in 2017. The ISIS-affiliated militant group has conducted multiple attacks this year on villages and infrastructure in Cabo Delgado.

The militants launched a massive assault in April that killed scores of people, some of whom were beheaded, in the town of Palma. More than 732,000 Mozambicans have been displaced by the violence, according to a report released in June by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

The economic dislocation created by the ongoing crisis in Cabo Delgado could lead to more young people being “recruited to join the ranks of terrorists in the future,” said Alberto Maquia, S.J., who is preparing a report on the crisis for the Jesuit Province of Southern Africa.

The East African country of Rwanda is also deploying troops to Mozambique, and the European Union has resolved to set up a military training mission.

But Father Maquia remains opposed to the deployment of S.A.D.C. forces. He argued that once a country enlists outside support, it can be difficult to persuade foreign troops to leave after a conflict comes to an end. The East African country of Rwanda is also deploying troops to Mozambique, and the European Union has resolved to set up a military training mission.

Father Maquia cited the examples of Somalia, Mali and Chad, where, according to a report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, “military interventions temporarily weakened their opponents” but “without achieving long-lasting” stability.

Conditions in Mozambique are aggravated by economic inequities, said Father Maquila. He worried that the government lacks the means to assist the hundreds of thousands of displaced people across Cabo Delgado who are at risk, another reason why humanitarian aid would be preferable to military intervention.

Father Maquila worried that the government lacks the means to assist displaced people across Cabo Delgado, another reason why humanitarian aid would be preferable to military intervention.

Representatives from international relief agencies like the Lutheran organization Bread for the World also expressed concern over the growing international involvement in the Mozambican conflict.

Dr. Dagmar Pruin, the president of Germany-based Bread for the World, has called on the German government to persuade France and Portugal to refrain from their plans to deploy technical and advisory support to Mozambique, citing the danger “that the [European Union] will be drawn into the conflict and become one of [its] parties” instead of helping to resolve it.

Mozambique’s young people need economic and social interventions, she said, “so that due to poverty, lack of education and unemployment they don’t seek their salvation in armed struggle.”

Dr. Dagmar Pruin: Mozambique’s young people need economic and social interventions “so that...they don’t seek their salvation in armed struggle.”

But Tendai Matare, S.J., the administrator of Escola Secundária Inácio de Loyola in Mozambique’s northwest region of Tete, welcomed the deployment of S.A.D.C. forces, arguing that “the army in Mozambique is not well prepared to fight against terrorism.”

Mozambique’s army has been struggling to contain the insurgency as Ansar al-Sunna militants have overrun towns and villages in Cabo Delgado, killing civilians, abducting young people, and abusing and raping women, as well as destroying infrastructure.

Major oil companies operating in the region began suspending operations this year. The French energy giant Total opted to withdraw completely from the development of a $20 billion liquefied natural gas facility, a loss of foreign investment, among many others, that have diminished the prospects for the southern African country.

Humanitarian and Catholic aid agencies like Caritas and Catholic Relief Services are working in some of the affected areas, but they are often unable to reach some of the most adversely affected villages and towns. C.R.S. is hoping that the military intervention by S.A.D.C. will help restore stability in the country, its country manager for Mozambique, Ana Ferreira, told America by email.

Humanitarian and Catholic aid agencies like Caritas and Catholic Relief Services are working in some of the affected areas, but they are often unable to reach some of the most adversely affected villages and towns.

“We are hopeful that the S.A.D.C. intervention will focus on bringing peace and security to the communities and provide hope,” Ms. Ferreira said. “Most humanitarian aid is being provided to internally displaced people when they have reached a safe location and this is of grave concern because often the most vulnerable are unable to flee and are left within communities which cannot be reached.”

The government in Mozambique initially resisted the idea of an S.A.D.C. deployment, “likely concerned that a S.A.D.C. intervention will significantly reduce its ability to independently determine policy in Cabo Delgado,” said Alexandre Raymakers, a senior Africa analyst at the risk consultancy firm Verisk Maplecroft.

The Terrorism Analysis Forum, which analyzes terrorism trends in Africa, has expressed concern that “many S.A.D.C. countries don’t understand” the complexities in Cabo Delgado fully. “Without proper Intelligence...any force deployed to combat militants in Mozambique is bound to lose,” the T.A.F. wrote on Twitter on July 5.

And the presence of multiple military missions will likely lead to conflicting priorities and friction at the command level, hindering the overall effectiveness of regional assistance, Mr. Raymakers said in an emailed statement.

Father Maquia also suggested that it is “unwise at the moment” for Mozambique to work with regional or international troops to end its crisis.

Father Maquia also suggested that it is “unwise at the moment” for Mozambique to work with regional or international troops to end its crisis, instead noting an initiative by neighboring Tanzania to broker peace talks between the government of Mozambique and Ansar al-Sunna.

“Tanzania’s initiative, through the Foreign Minister, Liberata Mulamula, in offering herself to mediate the conflict between the Mozambican Government and the terrorists fighting in Cabo Delgado would be a significant step towards reaching consensus and seeking to find the reasons for insurgency,” Father Maquia said. He said that economic inequality and government neglect of social and economic development in Cabo Delgado are the main factors giving rise to the insurgency.

Fatima Suleman is among those internally displaced from Cabo Delgado who are hopeful that a lasting solution can be brokered to end the crisis.

“I had eight children, the eighth died along with his father; now I remain with seven. My husband, my son and my sister-in-law’s son died. That’s a total of three that I lost,” Suleman said in an interview with the Red Cross.

Virgilio Domingos, S.J., country representative for the newly established Jesuit Province of Southern Africa, is concerned that “more than half of the displaced people from Cabo Delgado are children, and they are living in deplorable” conditions. Worse still, they “do not know the whereabouts” of their parents after escaping attacks.

“The terrorists’ attacks in Cabo Delgado are tearing family members apart and creating trauma in children. Some of them have witnessed the mutilation and the killing of their parents,” he said.

Although he supports the S.A.D.C. deployment, Father Domingos believes that it will be “long way to go before [the mission] begins any activity” against the insurgency in Cabo Delgado.

“Mozambique expects a technical, logistic assistance and not necessarily soldiers fighting on the ground,” Father Domingos said. “The country needs all kinds of help.” He said he prefers to see more military support for the Mozambican army, similar to the European Union’s recent decision to set up a training mission to help the army counter the insurgency.

 

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