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Mozambique: Cumulative Shocks, Local and Global
April 13, 2020 (2020-04-13)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
As of April 10, Mozambique had registered only 20 cases of covid-19, and
was carrying out an active program of screening, testing, and contact
tracing for all entering the country. The success of containment was still
fragile, however. In addition, 10 of the tests were traced to a worker at
the multinational natural gas company Total in Cabo Delgado province, in
the far northeast. In that same province, reminding us that the pandemic
comes on the top of other urgent crises, jihadist insurgents are now
expanding their offensive and extending their attacks inland.
Crises are rarely experienced singly and represent a complex mix of external shocks and internal weaknesses. Mozambique´s history is a particularly intense illustration of this sober reality. In previous decades, as well as in the last year, Mozambique´s people have experienced a succession of wars, the epidemic of HIV-AIDS, and, most recently, unprecedented storms including Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth. In each case, as all who know Mozambique will recognize, Mozambicans have shown enormous strength and creativity in responding to the most difficult circumstances.
Both the pandemic and the war in Cabo Delgado are tests of the Mozambican government´s capacity to respond. As of now, the response to the pandemic provides some encouragement from the prompt action. But in Cabo Delgado, Mozambicans for now face an even greater threat with no effective response in sight. The latest counter-insurgency initiative, apparently involving South Africa-based mercenaries, will almost certainly risk escalating rather than curbing the insurgency.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes a variety of links, first to videos
helpful in understanding Mozambique´s current situation and its history,
and then to specific sources on the Covid-19 epidemic. In the reaction to
the pandemic, health authorities and civil society are being proactive and
creative, as illustrated in the links below to the official Covid-19 site
and to a leading civil society organization now providing both popular
education and critical analysis of government actions.
It also includes a long article by Joseph Hanlon analyzing the deadly
insurgency in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. I opted to include
this article rather than only excerpts because it well illustrates the
complex interaction of local and global factors, country-specific in
detail, which is common in crises in other African countries or indeed in
any part of the world. From fossil-fuel companies to jihadist networks to
Covid-19, global forces have profound negative impacts on countries and
local communities. National and global responses of solidarity are also
real, but local communities are still left bearing the burdens and finding
the strength to survive.
Mozambican health educators after installing a "tippy-tap" for handwashing. Credit: Carlos Serra
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Mozambique, visit
For current news on Mozambique, visit https://allafrica.com/mozambique/
For an extensive April 10 interview (in Portuguese) with the Bishop of Pemba on the situation in Cabo Delgado, click here.
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++
First, a set of videos for inspiration and background
From PBS 2008, Mozambique Guitar Hero – 11-minute report on a musician and health campaigner in Niassa province, in the far northwest of Mozambique
The organization Estamos Mozambique, featured in the video, is still active. Their Facebook page is here: https://www.facebook.com/estamosmozambique/
Mine-Sniffing Rats - 5 minute video – inspiring film about about mine detection in Mozambique.
Two coronavirus music videos
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q59BB-xIcA8 – Jo Choneca – Tudo vai dar certo; Everything is gonna be all right – 4 minutes
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yhp9GrYD7Ak – GranMah – It´s in Your Hands – 1 minute
And another by GranMah (not virus-related)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SP2cDeL7Wdg – I Got to Move
GranMah channel https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCMb-CQSHBccWGhxiK2_QgmQ
And, for more background, several longer videos portraying different periods of Mozambican history
A Luta Continua - 34-minute video by Robert Van Lierop - classic film shot in 1971 and released in 1972.
Mozambique: The Struggle for Survival (1988) – 55 minutes – nuanced picture of the post-independence war.
A Luta Continua – 2014 (in Portuguese with English subtitles - by Spanish television) - 40 minutes, emphasis on health - some of it may seem overdramatic, but useful commentary.
Samora Machel: The Struggle Continues - 30 minutes - summary account from liberation history to the present – 2015 – CCTN (Faces of Africa) – thoughtful, not uncritical.
Background on Covid-19 in Mozambique
Worldometers page on Mozambique
AfricaCDC Summary updates for African continent
Mozambique government page on Covid-19
Updated daily, in Portuguese.
Center for Democracy and Development page has critical analyses and educational messages (including short videos in Portuguese and nine other Mozambican languages - see screenshot below - clickable links to videos available on site).
Press release on April 10 statement by civil society groups (in Portuguese)
The Google translation of the statement into English is very well done for a machine translation, and quite adequate for getting an overview of this very comprehensive statement.
Custom google news search on Mozambique Covid-19
Custom google news search on Moçambique Covid-19 (in Portuguese)
Notes on the evolution of the Cabo Delgado war
Although the global should not be forgotten, the local is most important
Mozambique News reports & clippings 469, 27 February 2020
Editor: Joseph Hanlon (email@example.com)
To subscribe: http://tinyurl.com/sub-moz
[AfricaFocus editor´s note: For the full set of these newsletters, which appear regularly, including later reports from Cabo Delgado, see http://www.open.ac.uk/technology/mozambique/news-reports-clippings-2020.
For updates on the war in Cabo Delgado in Portuguese, see this custom google news search: https://tinyurl.com/cabo-delgado-pt-news.
There is also a newly established FB page, edited by historian Paolo Israel, which also posts updates: https://www.facebook.com/LutarCaboDelgado/]
Full pdf of this report available here.
These are personal notes drawn from published sources and an http://www.iese.ac.mz/ conference 5-6 December
2019 in Maputo. The conference was conducted under the "Chatham House Rule"
that "participants are free to use the information received, but neither
the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other
participant, may be revealed." No sources are cited in this article even if
these sources were not at the conference as it is impossible to identify
sources without suggesting that people were at the IESE conference. I thank
the various researchers for the words and insights I have used. These
notes, interpretations and errors are entirely my responsibility.
The best background paper is the September 2019
have not repeated much of their material here, and assume some background
knowledge of the Cabo Delgado war.
What are labelled as Islamic fundamentalist insurgencies are occurring in
several Africa countries, and there are overlaps. But in each country the
armed conflicts are different and are "path dependent" - that is, they
follow a trajectory that is shaped by local history and context more than
external factors. In these notes I look at the roots and evolution of the
Islamic insurgency or civil war 1 in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. I will
• The antecedents of this war go back decades. and that there are a very
large number of external and internal actors and contexts.
• Externally, Cabo Delgado has been a playground for a wide range of
religious missionaries, global natural resource companies, and traders in
legal and illegal commodities. World Bank and IMF policies have set the
• Internally, poverty and inequality are growing. Greed and corruption have
exacerbated the inequalities and caused a growing discontent, especially
from marginalised young people.
• External and internal actors work together. The local elite (internal)
works with the natural resource companies and illegal traders (external).
But at a lower level some people respond to the crisis of poverty and
inequality by looking to religious leaders and sects for an explanation and
solution, while religious leaders (both internal and external) try to
interpret their doctrines and teachings as a solution to these crises, in
order to recruit followers. Religion is presented as an answer to a
• The distrust of local elites is greater that many realise and there is a
history of violence, from cholera riots two decades ago to a mass invasion
of ruby mines in February 2020. Following this history, it is less
surprising that marginalised young people will join a violent group pledged
to redress inequality.
I argue that the local is most important, but the global should not be
forgotten. The growing civil war does not have a military solution. Civil
war is fed by grievances, which must be resolved to end support for
insurgents. But external factors must also be controlled to end the war,
and it needs to be remembered that external factors are not just foreign
Islamic militants, but also natural resource companies and illegal traders.
History matters and is a living presence in Cabo Delgado. Alberto Chipande
fired the first shot of the independence war on 25 September 1964, in Chai,
Macomia district, Cabo Delgado. Chai and Macomia are at the centre of the
new civil war. Chipande (born 10 October 1939) remains a powerful and
active politician and is still a member of the Frelimo Political
Coastal Mozambique has a long history of Islamic influence and KiSwahili is
an understood language along the coast from Nampula province north to
Somalia. The Cabo Delgado coastal zone is traditionally occupied by a
Muslim KiMwani- and KiSwahili-speaking community. As fishers, traders and
seafarers along the coast, their links are as much to Zanzibar as to the
provincial capital Pemba. But many Muslims backed Frelimo's independence
struggle and in 1965 several leaders were executed by the Portuguese
colonial power. Local leaders have always been annoyed that their role in
the independence struggle was not recognised, and they see the largely
Christian Makonde speakers from Mueda and Muidumbe districts dominating
Frelimo and moving into the coastal areas. The KiMwani speakers have tended
to vote for Renamo against Frelimo, and elections in Mocímboa da Praia have
been close; when Renamo lost a close by-election in 2005 there was violence
in which seven people were killed. This very local internal factor often
interacts with the Cabo Delgado-wide and national factors set out below
(all referred to here as "internal"), and a wide range of external factors
from outside Mozambique.
Frelimo at independence was strongly secular and Frelimo members were not
supposed to attend religious services, although a welcome remained for
those Protestant groups and a few Catholic orders which had supported
Frelimo during the independence war. Frelimo nationalised religious schools
and hospitals. In 1982 President Samora Machel met with leaders of all
faiths to try to rebuild relations; the Mozambique Islamic Council
(Cislamo) was created in 1983 and the Catholic Church regained some of its
property which has been confiscated at independence. After Machel's death
in 1986, the new President Joaquim Chissano improved relations further. The
Pope visited Mozambique in 1988 and 2019. Mozambique joined the Saudi
Arabia-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in 1994, and with
government support, students were sent to study in Saudi Arabia.
Foreign religious groups such as Christian missionary Heidi Baker's Arco
Iris and the Aga Khan Foundation have built significant presences in Cabo
Delgado. In the 1990s Christian fundamentalist missionaries were free to
visit from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Brazil, the US and elsewhere, and
Islamic preachers came from Tanzania and further north. The re-opening of
the main north-south EN1 road after the 1992 peace accord led to
substantial movements of people including many migrants trying to reach
South Africa, as well as others looking for work in Mozambique, for example
as artisanal miners. Within that traffic, little note was taken of
fundamentalists Christian and Islamic missionaries.
The border between Tanzania and Mozambique is porous and people have
family, business and religious contacts on both sides of the border. The
1990s saw a religious revivalism in Tanzania with both Christian and
Islamic fundamentalists. Indeed, in a play on the well known term "born
again Christians", Tanzanians refer to "born again Muslims".
There was a two-way traffic, with Mozambicans going to Tanzania to study
and even further north to Kenya, Somalia and the Great Lakes, while
preachers from Tanzania and beyond came south to Cabo Delgado. These
networks, in turn, had links with leaders from Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan
and Algeria. Videos were increasingly widely circulated.
Islamic fundamentalist preachers were noted in Nangade district, on the
border in Tanzania, in 1990, and later in Balama and Chiure districts in
the west and south of Cabo Delgado. In 2000 in Memba and Angoche in Nampula
province it was noted that unemployed youth were under the new influence of
"al-Sunnahs" who refused to participate in ceremonies and who organised
agitation. Then, the Islamic issue was not raised because government
wanted, wrongly, to blame Renamo. In reality, this was a protest led by
unemployed youth who saw no future for themselves, and whose actions had
the tacit backing of their elders. An interview subject identified only as
"an influential person", in a prescient warning, said "there will be a war
in Mozambique, a war without a leader or president, because young people
feel abandoned in their own land and by their own government."
By 2005 more Mozambican preachers were returning from Tanzania, along with
preachers of other nationalities, and opening mosques and madrassas in Cabo
Delgado. The new teaching included not going to state schools and
hospitals, which was leading to open confrontations with the authorities.
In several places there were meetings with the Mozambique Islamic Council,
in which the new fundamentalist preachers called for religious reform. They
tried to convince traditional Islamic leaders to change he way they
interpreted the Koran, and challenged the Islamic Council's links to the
state and Frelimo.
A doctrinal issue became symbolic of the confrontation: wearing shoes in
mosques. The Prophet prayed in his shoes, in part to be different from Jews
and Christians who did not pray in socks or shoes. But the shoes should not
have dirt on them. Later, as mosques had carpets, worshipers took their
shoes off, to avoid dirtying the carpets, and this became normal custom.
Thus fundamentalist preachers insisted on wearing shoes in mosques.
After these meetings with local authorities and the Islamic Council, some
preachers were expelled and even arrested and mosques were forced to close.
Fundamentalist religious leaders and their followers went elsewhere in Cabo
Delgado or to Tanzania. In other places tacit agreements were reached and
fundamentalist mosques and madrassas were allowed to continue.
Videos and CDs of speeches by radical preachers in Tanzania began
circulating in Cabo Delgado and increasingly radical material was available
on the internet. By 2013 there were already reports of jihadi sects in
Mocímboa da Praia. There were the first references to "al Shabaab", which
simply means "the youth" in the local Arabic; it is used by both members
and the general public and has never implied a link to al Shabaab in
Somalia. In 2015 there was a local confrontation in Pangane, on the coast
of Macomia district, as militants tried to prevent the sale of alcohol.
There were increasing reports of parents not sending their children to
state schools and instead sending them to madrassas.
The challenge to the state was becoming direct, in a way that had not
happened since 1976. Then, at the height of the anti-religion period,
Jehovah's Witnesses had demanded to be allowed to be separate from the
state; many were arrested and forced to move to remote areas of Zambézia
and Tete. With the opening to religion in the 1990s, the flood of
missionaries were careful not to challenge the state. The Brazilian Igreja
Universal do Reino de Deus (IURD, Universal Church of the Kingdom of God)
has become powerful by not challenging the state. Members gained important
posts in the state administration, notably in justice; IURD has a TV
station and had sent missionaries to Cabo Delgado by 2000.
Like the Jehovah's Witnesses four decades earlier, some fundamentalist
preachers wanted a society separate from the Mozambican state, with a
caliphate under Islamic law. By 2015 there was a consensus among some of
the radical sheikhs that discussion would not shift the Islamic Council,
Frelimo and the state, and that more militant action was required. Some of
the new mosques were on normal housing compounds with a house at the front
and mosque and madrassa of local construction behind. There was an open
space between the buildings which began to be used as a training ground for
future guerrillas. In some districts, training camps were opened in the
forests. Religious groups were creating military cells.
The radicalisation of followers was built on the changing situation of
young people in Cabo Delgado. The saying "dry grass burns more easily" is
cited. Education had improved and most young people had at least primary or
madrassa schooling, and saw themselves as educated and did not want to be
like their parents - farmers with nothing but a hoe, or fishers standing in
the waves with a net. Corruption was increasing, and the presence of
wealthy people and mining and gas contractors in 4x4s stressed the rising
By 2015 there were major land concessions for the gas and mines; farmers,
fishers and artisanal miners were pushed off land. Resettlement proved
unexpectedly difficult because huge land concessions to the resource
companies meant there was actually a shortage of good farmland and of land
along the coast. Nice resettlement houses have been built with electricity
and piped water, but the resettled farmers and fishers have no way to earn
a living to pay the electricity and water bills. And the mine and gas
projects produce few formal sector jobs. Young people argue that they were
being deprived of a share of the province's natural wealth.
Cabo Delgado is Mozambique's most marginalised province. It is not the
poorest province, but it has the highest inequality. highest illiteracy
rates, highest child malnutrition, lowest access to health facilities,
worst housing, and fewest children in school. There is severe poverty and
inequality, especially group inequality, and unequal access to land and
jobs, which was being made worse by displacement cause by mining and gas.
It was easy for radical preachers to say that a Frelimo elite was eating
the wealth, and that traditional Muslim leaders were part of a Frelimo-
linked elite. Fundamentalist Islam was presented as more egalitarian.
Mosques and churches are important social support centres for communities
across Mozambique, helping those in need. Some of the new mosques in Cabo
Delgado began to give money to local people who could not get finance from
banks or government to start businesses; some were successful and created
desperately needed jobs. In Chiure young people were given sacks of onions
or potatoes. Children attending madrassas received food and sometimes
money, which was important for poor large families.
3. Cholera, vampires and lions - 'they' want us dead
In 1999 there were angry local demonstrations against cholera-prevention
and treatment teams, who were accused of spreading the disease rather than
treating it. In Cabo Delgado province, in Montepuez two health workers were
killed and in Mecufi a crowd attacked and burned a cholera treatment and
isolation tent. In neighbouring Nampula province, there were attacks in 5
mainly coastal districts. In 2001 there were more cholera riots in Nampula.
In Memba a local chief (regulo) was beaten and accused to having been paid
to put cholera in the water to kill local people. In Nacala-a-Velha, 66
houses were burned, many belonging to local leaders who had attended an
anti-cholera meeting and who were accused of having been paid at the
meeting to spread cholera. Researchers were sent to coastal Nampula and
they were shocked to find that many people believed the local elite wanted
them dead. This linked in with the common local beliefs in vampirism - the
elites want to drink their blood (shupa-sangue) or at least sell it, and
that elites want to kill them to steal and sell their organs.
Muidumbe district, Cabo Delgado, is one of the areas affected by the
current civil war. Back in 2002-3, 24 people were lynched. They were
accused of magically commanding 7 lions who ate 46 local people. All
accused were important people – district administrator, chiefs, members of
Frelimo, and a local businessman. What is important here is that many
people believe that local elites don't just want to exploit them, they want
to drink their blood and steal their organs. They command lions. They want
"us" dead. And the protests are against authority figures who are often
only a little bit richer and more powerful than those protesting, but seen
as distant, arrogant, and, most importantly, not delivering.
Then in early 2009 there was another outbreak of the cholera war. In Cabo
Delgado in coastal Mecufi, angry local people attacked an anti-cholera
team. A nurse, a driver, and six others were beaten. In Pemba, local people
burned down three tents which had been set as a cholera treatment centre -
accusing the local elite of bringing cholera to Pemba to kill them. Further
south but still along the coast, in Nampula province, in Moma district one
person was killed by police and three injured as a crowd of 300 attacked a
health post. A man called Folgado, wounded by the police, said he was proud
of destroying the health post because it stopped health workers bringing
cholera into the area - "we are tired of dying of cholera". In Mogincual,
two Red Cross volunteers were beaten to death, and in Angoche a policeman
was brutally killed. Finally police arrested 48 people and packed them into
single tiny cell; 13 died of suffocation. To local people, it was a vivid
demonstration that police and elites wanted them dead.
Thus, in looking at the Cabo Delgado civil war, it is important to recall
this violence and the sincere belief of many people that elites want them
dead and they are acting to defend their lives and those of their families.
In 2016 police evicted thousands of artisanal miners from the ruby fields
that had been given to Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM). The entire value chain
was broken and thousands lost their income - traders, suppliers and farmers
as well as the actual miners. The repression led to a radicalisation. In
January 2019 Gemfields, majority owner of MRM, agreed an US$8.3 million
out- of-court settlement to settle 273 claims of death, beatings and other
human rights violations by mine guards. But the violence continues. Twice
in February 2020 there were coordinated invasions by very large numbers -
estimated 500-2000 - of artisanal miners of the huge MPM ruby mining area
near Montepuez. An MRM patrol car was burned and its occupants badly
beaten. MRM director Asghar Faqhr said the attackers seemed to have
"military style preparation and command".
4. Rapidly changing violence
The first shot of the new civil war was a large attack on Mocímboa da Praia
on 5 October 2017. The date was carefully chosen - it was the day after the
Peace Day holiday, and most officials were away at a Frelimo rally in
Pemba, so there was no resistance. The raid targeted 3 police stations and
was led by 30 armed men who killed 17 people, including two police officers
and a community leader. The attackers took firearms and ammunition and told
residents that they rejected state health and education, and wanted a
separate Islamic state. The attackers were not all young men, and leaders
included businessmen with Tanzanian links and two Tanzanian religious
leaders. Funding came from illicit local networks and trade in timber,
charcoal, rubies and ivory. Some attackers were people who had received
money to set up businesses and were told they had to join the attack.
Al Shabaab used the publicity of the Mocímboa da Praia attack for
recruiting, locally through friends and informal networks. Recruitment went
further afield, to poor areas of coastal Nampula, including Memba and
Nacala-a-Velha, and north into Tanzania. Artisanal miners evicted from ruby
and other mines joined. Initially these were young people who thought they
could change Mozambique through al Shabaab. Later, recruiters made promises
of cash, employment and even scholarships abroad.
Al Shabaab expanded rapidly from a small group of perhaps 50 militants in
local mosques to an armed force of about 300 people. This group had the
ability to attack the state and sow panic among local communities. There
were small attacks on villages, especially targeting people who had dropped
out of al Shabaab or who had been given money but failed to join the war.
The attacks sometimes targeted the richest person in the village, perhaps
the family with a motorcycle or even a bicycle. Initially these were
religious groups that had formed guerrilla cells. Young people whose
families had lost land or suffered extreme poverty joined, sometimes with
support of their families. The militants built up an intelligence network
with families, giving mobile phones and small amounts of money to report on
troop movements. Local safari guides showed them the best local routes.
Market traders told them when soldiers were being paid so that they attack
that night when soldiers were drunk in the market. Similarly they were able
to time attacks after deliveries of food and weapons. Local people were
paid to make replica government military uniforms so that the guerrillas
could stop traffic on roads and move in disguise.
The response was a large presence of the army and special police units -
Special Operations Group (Grupo de Operações Especiais - GOE) and the riot
police (Unidade de Intervenção Rápida - UIR). But it became a classic anti-
guerrilla operation, in which slow moving military groups try to catch
rapidly moving groups of three or four people communicating by mobile
telephone. Indeed, slow-moving large military and police units were
increasingly tied down trying to protect themselves and villages from
attack. Violence by the police and army against communities had a
radicalizing effect, building support for the insurgents. Hundreds of
people were arrested in late 2017 and early 2018, held for months, and
tried (illegally) in secret. Journalists were also arrested and held
illegally. There is considerable fear and mistrust in Cabo Delgado. But as
happened with cholera, taking up arms seems sensible to some who see no
future and feel that elites want them dead.
The war by "al Shabaab", as it is called locally, has shifted rapidly over
two years, from religious groups turned guerrillas into a much more
organised military guerrilla presence. This includes: A shift to a semi-
territorial strategy, in which it dominates, but does not attempt to
control, growing parts of rural areas and their roads and small towns. This
allows the control of trade and the ability to tax. Control of northern
Macomia district and the small coastal fishing ports such as Quiterajo
allow the insurgents to control or at least tax the illegal timber and
other trades from the interior to the coast. Powerful men linked to al-
Shabaab already controlled much of the illegal timber trade in Macomia.
There are bases but for the most part groups are small, often three or four
people, living in the bush or in a community, who are brought together for
military actions. Training was initially ad hoc, in part using foreigners
with military experience in the Great Lakes and Tanzania, as well as people
who had been dismissed from the police and border guards. But there is now
evidence that demobilised Renamo and government soldiers are being paid to
provide training. Some al-Shabaab recruits have been told to join the army
to get military training.
Recruits were initially disaffected youth, such as street traders in
Mocimboa da Praia. They were joined by others, including displaced
artisanal miners and army deserters saying they were not prepared to die
for a miserable army salary. But it appears that the supply of willing
local recruits may be drying up, and there has been a move into
neighbouring provinces of Nampula and Niassa to recruit young men with
promises of jobs. The government's response has been to say people should
never believe such recruiters, because there are no jobs - itself a
shocking admission that points to the core of the problem.
Much is made by government of the insurgents being "faceless", not
identifying themselves or stating demands. This could reflect the Islamic
concept of Taquiyya, or deception, which is permitted in war or situations
of persecution to avoid fatalities. This could include not making clear
that a target of the insurgency is a separate Sharia state, and not
exposing leaders and representatives to capture or attack.
The war has created a large number of refugees - more than 100,000
according to UNHCR in February 2020 - many of whom have lost everything
including their identity documents. The displaced complain of having no
food, houses, and livelihoods. To some extent the refugees support Frelimo
because government is giving them a little food and shelter - although
there are continued complaints of hunger among the refugees; corruption is
sometimes blamed, with refugees saying they see aid food being sold along
the roads. But refugees are not trusted and sometime harassed by police and
military. A repeated lament is a total lack of trust - within families and
groups, and between individuals and the state and elites.
5. Global or local?
Global forces have had unchecked influence in Cabo Delgado in part because
it is so far from the capital, Maputo. The mining and gas companies have
almost unquestioned power. Missionaries have free reign. Foreign heroin,
timber and ivory traders work openly. The neoliberal economic model imposed
in the 1990s and IMF spending caps have led to no support for domestic job
creation and limited spending on education.
At the local level, Cabo Delgado is one of the most "corrupt" provinces
because local officials and local elites have more unchecked power. This
has led to growing wealth and inequality. And the conflict between elites
and ordinary people is demonstrated by belief in vampires and elites
spreading cholera, and the willingness to take violent action to defend
themselves against the belief that elites want them dead.
And on both sides there is a convergence of interests and collaboration
between local and global. The 1990s global message that "greed is good" is
still the motto of many in Frelimo and the elite, who act on a view that
the free market which makes them rich will also lead to development
"trickling down" to the poor. And to a small group it does, although not to
the poorest. The close links between global business, legal and illegal and
from gas to heroin, benefit the elite but money passes down the chain in
contracts and sub-contracts and bribes to officials and police. At the
lowest level, some in Frelimo and with low civil service jobs gain enough
money to be seen by their neighbours as better off even though they are
relatively poor. In attacks, this is enough to make them targets.
Meanwhile people facing hardship or crises often turn to churches or
mosques. Fundamentalist preachers provide support and answers. The message
from local and foreign sheiks is that fundamentalist Islam will support
them against the elites taking all the wealth. And calls to join armed
action follow the pattern of responses to cholera and vampires. Islamic
State (ISIS) has claimed several of the attacks by the local insurgents,
and government blames foreign forces for the attacks. There is no evidence
for any involvement of Islamic State, but it seems to suit Islamic State,
the insurgents, and the government to foster the belief that there is a
There are a number of Islamic insurgencies in Africa, some of which have
continued for up to two decades. They are constantly changing, but the
roots are more often local than foreign. For example, recent research shows
that the drivers of Boko Haram and Islamic extremism in Nigeria are
poverty, regional inequality, environmental stress, migration, youth
unemployment, and state corruption and human rights abuses - exactly the
same drivers as in Cabo Delgado. Some fundamentalists preachers have been
called religious entrepreneurs - looking for poverty, inequality,
corruption and other local grievances which can be used to mobilise and
make Islam the flag to fight for truth and justice.
It is useful in this context to look at military tactics and strategy. Hit
and run attacks on villages and roads, and attempts to cut traffic and
commerce, are reminiscent of early Renamo. This has been followed by the
use of these tactics to expand the area of influence, creating large
numbers of refugees and pushing out communities and government. The tactics
are to attack villages and small towns to gain dominance over rural areas,
and to use rare attacks on larger towns for publicity. The January 2020
attack on Bilibiza follows this pattern with a large force moving across
40km in an important area and heavily damaging government installations,
without serious military challenge. Where people remain they sometimes
support the insurgents, which leads to military repression and forcing
people to become refugees, which in turn creates new supporters. This is
the Renamo model, a domestic model of military actions. So far there have
been none of the hallmarks of Islamic attacks, such as suicide bombers.
Foreign mining and gas companies and heroin and ruby traders have all
distorted the local economy in ways that increase inequality and
discontent. Foreign fundamentalist preachers have used that discontent to
promote an insurgency with the goal of creating an Islamic state. Thus
there is undoubtedly a foreign role in the insurgency.
But the inequality is fuelled by Mozambican greed and corruption and
economic policies that increase inequality. And the sheiks organizing
guerrilla forces appear to be Mozambican. Young Mozambicans are fighting
for food, housing, land, dignity and a more just society, against an elite
that they believe wants them dead. Islam has become the flag to follow, in
their quest they see fundamentalist Islam as the way to regain dignity and
redress their poverty.
In 2019 there was a tendency in government to blame ISIS and argue that
this was a war being waged against Mozambique by Islamic State or other
"external forces". But in 2020 there has been a subtle change in rhetoric.
The new Interior Minister Amade Miquidade said on 24 February that he had
no doubt that "somebody from outside is financing these activities." He
added that the attacks were done with "sophisticated resources" and
involved "people of other nationalities". He seemed to accept that this is
a local civil war, with foreign support.
Is the government coming to understand that although the global cannot be
ignored, the local is most important? And when it looks at the global, will
it remember that the global is not just Islamic militants, but mining
companies and timber traders as well?
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