Following its independence in 1975, Mozambique has struggled with security issues, which is evident in the recent upsurge of violent events. The insurgency began in 2017. Since then, more than 2,500 people have been killed, a large portion of which are children. The militants involved are believed to be from the Muslim majority region of Cabo Delgado. They claim to be part of the Islamic State (IS) group, going by the names of Ansar al-Sunnah or Al-Shabaab. Despite identifying themselves as members of IS, it remains unclear whether there is any relationship with or control by the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq.
The motive behind the gruesome crimes is related to socio-economic reasons, particularly dissatisfaction by the Mozambican youth with the government, foreign investors, and the disproportionate allocation of wealth in the country. Mozambique has one of the world’s largest reserves of key metallic sources, such as iron-ore and ruby. It also has significant natural gas resources and is a leading nation in refining imported crude oil, attracting foreign investors.
There are claims that the national government party Frelimo has been illegally benefiting from the country’s industries and foreign investments. These claims have raised support and increased recruitment for the Islamist group. In fact, recruiters target mostly the northern region of Mozambique, which happens to be the land with the richest resource potential, yet paradoxically, with the highest unemployment rates.
Recently, the militants attacked a town near a $20 Billion project of the French oil company Total SE. The company was forced to evacuate all its employees and seek help from the Mozambican government. The importance of this project for the government is immense. The profits are expected to trigger the revival of Mozambique’s economy. Together with discovering the ruby deposit in Northern Mozambique, these new economic prospects had many locals hoping for more jobs and better living conditions. However, they were soon disappointed to hear that only a small group of people would benefit from these findings—only members of the government’s political party Frelimo. In addition, there are many other multinational companies such as Chevron, BP, and China’s CNPC entering the gas projects in Mozambique, making it a potential 60-billion-dollar project.
Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi has been extremely receptive to foreign intervention and has preferred to seek Russian and South African private contractors. On Nyusi’s part, such receptiveness is claimed to be rooted in fear of disrupting Mozambique’s sovereignty. However, other sources claim that Nyusi is apprehensive of what the foreign troops might find in Mozambique, notably the drug smuggling routes from which the Frelimo party members allegedly receive payoffs. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) called for an urgent meeting, where they appealed to neighbouring African nations to help in defeating these militants and scheduling talks on the 29th of April to assess the developments of the situation. The African Union, together with SADC, supported this message and expressed its willingness to help the region.
Ultimately, Nyusi needs to place his concerns aside and rapidly appeal for foreign intervention. It is evident that the insurgents are extremely dangerous and are even expanding towards other countries such as Tanzania. The situation needs to be contained so that Mozambicans can live without fears of persecution.
Commentary – Rita Lobo, April 2021