Mozambique, like many of its African neighbors, has seen its fair share of violent history. When the 1994 elections came, however, many saw democracy as the cure to the political and social wounds left from its decades-long civil war. And while Mozambique has steadily advanced on its democratic path, political and economic troubles have become minor roadblocks. The latest Cabo Delgado insurgency, which staged its first coordinated attack in October 2017, is yet another roadblock that could bring about wider, regional setbacks.
The insurgency is being waged by an Islamist militant group known by several names, depending on the language used, Portuguese, Swahili, or the local language of the region, Kimwane, thus, showing the regional characteristics of the insurgency itself. Ansaar al-Sunna, also known locally as al-Shabaab (not related to the Somalian militant group) and Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo, has been around Cabo Delgado since 2015 and has increased its followers in tandem with the growth of Salafi mosques in eastern Africa. However, it was only more recently that the group began to change its social welfare tactics to convert followers to violent ideals, with a growing emphasis on establishing “liberated” areas. The group’s strength in the area is directly reliant on exploiting the deep distrust that many locals in the area feel for the centralized Mozambique government and for foreign firms looking to harness the area’s natural resources. Indeed, while corruption is an issue endemic to the country, from a local level all the way to the national level, the inhabitants of Cabo Delgado have felt increasingly disadvantaged, even with the discovery of a large ruby deposit in 2009 and the world’s fifth-largest natural gas field in the area. Thus, the solution is to change the narrative from one of neglect to one of empowerment, especially through local actors and leaders.
In a TBY interview, NneNne Iwugi-Eme, the UK High Commissioner to Mozambique, stated, “From a more long-term perspective, it is key to address the socio-economic inequalities in the north to mitigate tensions and limit the spread of the insurgency.” It is precisely for this reason the government established the Integrated Development Agency of the North (ADIN) just as the group launched its most coordinated attack to date. By ensuring sustainable management of the area’s natural resources and harnessing their power to provide jobs and drive local economies, the government stands a much better chance of minimizing the group’s appeal to locals. The agency’s presence might also ensure a much more coordinated CSR approach coming from firms looking to invest in the infrastructure needed to exploit the resources present. With a strategic plan, the government can focus efforts on improving the area’s agriculture and agri-business economies, a sector specifically highlighted by Iwugi-Eme.
At the same time, while coordinating a national effort, the government plan must also involve local players, both in civil society organizations already working on the ground and with local religious leaders. This is not only important for fighting the narrative of revenge used by the group, but also as a way to limit the destruction the insurgency can wreak on the area itself, which has witnessed growing internal displacement of peoples. Not to mention, the violence has forced international companies to put their major investments in the area on hold, further endangering the area’s economic future. While the insurgency could have a large impact on the country and the region itself, it also serves as a threat to the region’s general stability by serving as a gathering point for extremists from neighboring countries like Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Accordingly, the government response to the insurgency should involve international players, such as the African Union and SDAC. Tanzania, in particular, would make an excellent regional partner given that the group’s violence has been concentrated in areas bordering the country.