3 Years Into Insurgency, Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Remains Vulnerable

A growing Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique entered its fourth year this week, with experts saying there is no end in sight for a conflict that has killed and displaced thousands of people.   Since the first attack in 2017 by al-Shabab in the province of Cabo Delgado, militants have taken control of territory in the northern province, including a strategic port, and burned down dozens of villages. Al-Shabab is considered the Mozambique affiliate of Islamic State. The United Nations says the violence has forced over 300,000 people to flee their homes, seeking refuge in safer parts of Cabo Delgado and neighboring provinces. More than 2,000 people have been killed since the beginning of the conflict.   Over the past three years, there have been at least 600 attacks across the restive province, according to the conflict monitoring group Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (A woman holds her child while standing in a burned out area in the attacked village of Aldeia da Paz outside Macomia in Cabo Delgado Province, in Mozambique, on Aug. 24, 2019.Experts believe it is important for Mozambican authorities to view the insurgency not as something from abroad.   “We can see people coming from Tanzania trying to establish some kind of radical groups through local mosques in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa [provinces],” Forquilha said. “But at the very beginning, there was a strong internal dimension linked to the insurgents in the sense that most of the people joining the group were actually recruited locally, not from abroad.” Weak response   Since the beginning of the conflict, Mozambican armed forces have had difficulties providing adequate security in Cabo Delgado. The current situation in the region requires move effective strategies by the government to curb the insurgency, experts said.   “I don’t see a clear strategy to tackle the insurgency,” said Fatima Mimbire, a Mozambique-based researcher. “The government has resorted to Russian mercenaries, and now we have South African mercenaries, but the situation tends to escalate.”   “I don’t understand why the insurgents are always ahead [of the government] in action. And how do they get information about the positions of the armed forces?” she told VOA. “It seems there are structural issues within the army that require investigating.”   Increased attacks Militant attacks in Cabo Delgado grew by 300% in the first four months of 2020, compared to the same period last year, according to Amnesty International. In March, the militants attacked an army outpost in the district of Mocimboa da Praia, taking control of its armory. In August, they captured the entire town and its strategic port, which is still under their control.   Opperman said the security forces’ failure to recapture territory taken over by the insurgents “motivates them and makes them more brazen in their attacks.”   The militants “are controlling and directing how government forces respond and run around, and because of that, they are exploiting all available opportunities to attack,” she said.   Torture by security forces   While Islamist militants have been responsible for much of the violence in Cabo Delgado, Amnesty International also blamed Mozambican authorities for carrying out unlawful actions in the region.   The rights watchdog said “there have been undisputed reports of torture and other crimes under international law committed by security forces in Cabo Delgado. In recent weeks, Amnesty International said it has verified footage of government prison guards torturing and dismembering alleged armed group fighters. “There is evidence the security forces have also committed crimes under international law and human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings,” said Amnesty International’s Muchena.   Impact on health services Local health experts say the three-year conflict has also destroyed the already weak health infrastructure in Cabo Delgado.   “Out of the 17 districts in the province, 11 have been attacked by insurgents,” said Dr. Jorge Matine of the Citizen Observatory for Transparency and Good Governance in the Health Sector, in Mozambique.   “The population has fled, health centers have been vandalized, and there is no clear information about reconstruction,” Matine told VOA. “But we know that there are problems with accommodation and food [for the internally displaced people]. The province has a profile of diseases such as cholera and other diseases caused by poor hygiene. With the beginning of the rainy season, Cabo Delgado will suffer more.” 

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