JOHANNESBURG, Jan 17 (IPS) – There is cautious optimism regarding the conflict that has been raging in northern Mozambique, largely in the province of Cabo Delgado, since 2017. There are encouraging indications that the Islamic State (IS)-driven insurgency has significantly decreased thanks to the deployment of the Mozambique Defense Armed Forces (FADM), Southern African Development Community (SAMIM) forces, and a contingent of Rwandan troops (RSF).
Leleti Maluleki, a researcher at Good Governance Africa, told IPS: “With regards to the current state of the conflict, people are slowly moving back or returning to their villages and communities. It’s a sign of progress being made by the troops, and we hope it’s a sign of peace.”
There had been a decrease in the number of attacks by insurgents.
“That’s a good thing as well, but it does not mean that the insurgency is over. We need to remember that there were stories of insurgents infiltrating the communities, so they are still among the people; they might have radicalized certain individuals, and they might have recruited some citizens. But we are seeing fewer and fewer attacks on a daily basis.”
The insurgency has claimed over 4,000 lives and displaced 946,000 since it started. According to a report from the United Nations Security Council published in February 2023, the number of IS fighters in the field has decreased from a peak of 2,500 (prior to SAMIM and the RSF joining the fight) to roughly 280.
Last year, Vladimir Voronkov, Under-Secretary-General of the Office of Counter-Terrorism, said in August 2023 that counter-terrorism initiatives in Egypt, Mozambique, and Yemen had significantly limited the insurgents ability to conduct operations.
He warned, though, that “force alone cannot lead to changes in the conditions conducive to terrorism,” noting that it can fuel more violence and aggravate grievances exploited by terrorists.
At the same meeting, Domingos Estêvão Fernandes, Deputy Permanent Representative of Mozambique to the UN, pointed to the rising spread of terrorism in Africa, where fatalities linked to Al-Qaeda and Da’esh reached more than 22,000 over the past year—representing a 48 percent increase over 2022.
Fernandes it was important to address poverty, inequality, social exclusion, and discrimination based on religion and culture to address insurgency and recognize the risk of the misuse of emerging technologies.
He pointed to the achievements of the deployment of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mission in Mozambique.
“We must ensure predictable, flexible, and sustained funding for African Union peacekeeping operations,” Fernandes said, adding that government agencies and defense and security forces must partner with local communities to provide early warning systems.
Maluleki added that a new challenge is the insurgent’s use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), a tactic that works when the insurgents numbers are dwindling, which means decreasing the likelihood of insurgents getting up close to security forces. The use of these causes panic among civilians, which leads to further destabilization of the region regarding displaced persons and refugees.
When security forces reportedly killed Ibn Omar, the purported IS leader, and two of his followers, the anti-insurgency campaign also gained momentum. Mozambique’s president, Filipe Nyusi, recently made an announcement to this effect.
In terms of the future, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state at a summit in July 2023 laid plans for SADC forces to begin to leave northern Mozambique by December 15, 2024, and to complete the withdrawal by July 15, 2025. It was also noted that for this to happen, there was an urgent need for Mozambique’s defense forces to be capacitated to a degree where the removal of SADC troops would not compromise the gains of the past few years. Training and other help coming from the European Union and the United States to beef up the Mozambican forces were also mentioned at the summit.
Since the beginning of the insurgency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimated that one million people had been displaced in the region. More recently, the International Organization for Migrants (IOM) reported that in September and October 2023, about 8,000 Cabo Delgado residents had become displaced.
“When it comes to the issue of displaced individuals, a lot of people lost their homes and ran away for safety. People displaced by the conflict went to neighboring, safer communities. Host communities are faced with overcrowding, and basic services are under severe pressure so the security situation needs to improve so that more people can return to their villages and relieve the burden on these host communities,” said Maluleki
This increase in displaced persons occurred in the run-up to local government elections in the area and also when the €20 billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) project, put on hold due to the conflict in the region, was being considered for being given the go-ahead. Fortunately, the October 11, 2023, municipal elections in Mocimboa da Praia went ahead, with four political parties taking part.
Nyusi has said it is safe to restart the Cabo Delgado liquefied natural gas (LNG) project that was halted in April 2021 after rebel attacks on civilians.
“The working environment and security in northern Mozambique make it possible for TotalEnergies to resume its activities at any time,” Nyusi said. TotalEnergies confirmed it was working on restarting the project.
There are, however, still concerns, especially for the civilian population.
“The deployment of troops was primarily in two districts, and this is concerning because these are the districts where the government has its own interests because they are where the LNG project is. Only two of the five or six districts that the insurgents heavily targeted have received adequate security. All districts affected by the conflict need to be secured so that we can reach a true level of peace and stability and address the root causes of the conflict,” said Maluleki.
IPS UN Bureau Report
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