African Reserves

The Many Roots of Mozambique’s Murderous Insurgency – Eurasia Review

By Liesl Louw-Vaudran*

The conflict erupted in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province just years after some of Africa‘s biggest gas reserves were discovered in the offshore Rovuma basin. Mozambicans see this as a coincidence.

A new study by the Institute for Security Studies and the Judicial Training Institute of Mozambique has conducted extensive field research in Cabo Delgado. It shows that citizens blame the discovery and poor governance of resources, including natural gas and rubies, for the escalation of terrorism in the province. Over 4,000 people have been killed and 800,000 displaced due to the insurgency that erupted in late 2017.

In a survey of 309 people and 28 key informants, nearly half of respondents said natural resources had made the crisis worse. Announcements of US$60 billion in liquefied natural gas investments came with promises of enormous wealth and opportunity for the country. But residents feel marginalized by corrupt elites. Some have lost their lands and livelihoods to onshore gas infrastructure. They doubt that these projects reduce poverty and improve services.

Meanwhile, the discovery of some of the largest ruby ​​deposits in the world at Cabo Delgado has attracted fortune seekers and informal miners from across East Africa. They were driven out when multinationals took over the mine, prompting protests in 2019.

Asked to choose between a range of options, 45% of respondents said the main root cause of the insurgency was the discovery of rubies and natural gas. Another 4% mentioned poor governance of natural resources. Far fewer people thought that the availability of illicit weapons (13%), economic marginalization (6%) and elite greed (5%) were the main causes.

This confirms that the recruitment campaigns of the militant group Ahlu-Sunnah wal Jama’a (ASWJ), supported by the Islamic State in Mozambique, have been facilitated by the so-called curse of natural resources. This has not only increased inequality, but also raised the stakes in the province. What was initially a small radical group has become a major threat that has driven out large multinationals like TotalEnergies.

Citizens blame discovery of natural resources for escalating terrorism in Cabo Delgado

Before the insurrection, Cabo Delgado was already known for its illicit activities such as drug, timber and people trafficking, as well as the smuggling of rubies. The study, however, showed no significant link between the terrorist group and organized crime. So far, there is no indication that ASWJ’s primary goal is to get their hands on this lucrative illicit trade.

The strongest evidence linking insurgents to the drug trade dates back to the 2021 seizure of 250kg of heroin from a building once occupied by ASJW activists. No one has been arrested and no other evidence links the insurgency to the heroin trade, which has long plagued this coast.

While study respondents anecdotally referred to the insurgents as being involved in arms, drugs and human trafficking, they did not believe this was the group’s source of income. Only 8% said insurgents fund their activities through organized crime. A much larger proportion (38%) mentioned foreign sources and 13% said the group had used its own funds.

This confirms reports that the illicit economy, donations and raids on local sources such as banks are the main sources of funding. In the March 2021 Palma attack, US$1 million was stolen from banks and businesses.

The study confirms that the illicit economy, donations and raids are the main sources of financing for the insurgents

Residents of Cabo Delgado believe that regional disparities between privileged elites based in the capital Maputo, in the far south of Mozambique, and marginalized northerners play a bigger role in driving the conflict than ethnic considerations.

Tensions between the predominantly Muslim coastal communities of the Mwani and Makua groups, and Makonde Christians are cited as a background to the crisis. However, these communities have lived together peacefully for centuries. Ethnicity was seen by only 2% of respondents as the main driver of the insurgency.

The role of extremist ideology and the recruitment and radicalization of ASWJ should not be overlooked. Just over 60% of those polled said religion played a role in the violence, although many believed Islam was being instrumentalized. The group’s messages and modus operandi when recruiting young people have been described by victims and eyewitnesses as resembling those of violent extremists elsewhere in the world.

Mozambicans, especially those in the country’s three northernmost provinces where more than 60% of residents say they are Muslim, have historically belonged to Sufi orders. However, in the early 2000s, more radical anti-Sufi groups emerged. The emergence of ASWJ is seen as part of a global wave of Islamic revivalism. The teachings of Kenyan cleric Aboud Rogo Mohammed have played a particularly important role in the radicalization in Mozambique.

Reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in Cabo Delgado is necessary, but also between Muslims

The Cabo Delgado study revealed that radicalization occurs mainly in mosques and, to a lesser extent, in markets. This goes against the global trend that radicalization is increasingly occurring online and through other illicit networks.

There is a need for dialogue and reconciliation between Muslims and Christians in Cabo Delgado, also between Muslims. Other government actions needed include partnering with local organizations to address legitimate grievances, establishing a commission of inquiry into the drivers of violent extremism, and developing a national strategy to address all aspects of the crisis.

Military interventions alone will not end the insurgency. However, more effective strategies by Mozambican security forces and the country’s international partners play a key role. Strengthening border security and improving intelligence sharing are also essential.

There should also be more Cooperation between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) and the Rwandan forces on the ground. Forces should consider the SADC Counter-Terrorism Strategy Scenario Six, which focuses on peacekeeping, as an exit strategy. And the African Union should regularly discuss the situation and help SAMIM.

The ASWJ threat in Mozambique has proven to be one of the least understood and most nebulous insurgencies in Africa. Little is known about the group’s identity, goals and ideology, and activists have no clear communication strategy. This makes resolving the crisis even more difficult. However, recognizing and addressing the root causes of the crisis is essential for long-term peace in Cabo Delgado.

*About the author: Liesl Louw-Vaudran, Principal Investigator, ISS Pretoria

Source: This article was published by ISS Today