Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Mozambique: A Crisis in the Making.

by Elizabeth Kendal

On Tuesday 7 April, Islamic insurgents perpetrated a most appalling massacre in the village of Xitaxi, in Muidumbe district, in Mozambique’s northern-most region of Cabo Delgado.

According to reports – which only emerged on 21 April – the massacre was an act of retaliation against young men who had refused recruitment into the jihadist’s ranks. In all, 52 young men were slaughtered; most were either shot dead or beheaded.  Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Pemba (provincial capital) has described them as "true martyrs of peace because they would not agree to take part in the violence."

As noted by The New Humanitarian, “The number of victims is among the highest of any incident since the militants began staging attacks in the gas-rich area in October 2017.”

Though no-one has claimed responsibility, it is presumed the killers are the same Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) jihadists who, on 23 March 2020, temporarily seized control of the strategic port town of Mocimboa da Praia; and on 25 March, hoisted their flag in Quissanga. [See: Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin (RLPB) 543, Mozambique: jihadist threat escalates (1 April 2020).]

According to Mozambique’s 2017 census, 59.8 percent of the population identify as Christian,  13.9 percent claim no religion, 7.3 percent adhere to other beliefs (mostly animism) while Muslims comprise 18.9 percent. Contradicting this, Muslim leaders maintain that their community (which is mostly Sunni) comprises between 25-30 percent of the population.

Though a minority overall, Muslims comprise a majority (58 percent) in the northern-most coastal province of Cabo Delgado which also happens to be the southern-most reach of the Swahili Coast. When it comes to language of culture, the Muslims of the Cabo Delgado coast have more in common with, and are more integrally connected to, the Muslims of the Swahili Coast than with the rest of Mozambique.

Stretching from southern Somalia, along the coasts of Kenya, Tanzania, northern Mozambique as well as the north-west coast of Madagascar and encompassing the Comoros Islands, the Swahili Coast is essentially the crescent shaped region where the Indian Ocean meets the East African coast. Arab traders first arrived at the coast in the 8th century. Many settled there and intermarried with Africans to create a unique Swahili (“people of the coast”) identity and culture.

Located some 2,500 km north of Maputo (Mozambique’s capital) Cabo Delgado is isolated, neglected and under-developed. Unsurprisingly, the region has become a sanctuary for criminals and a hotbed of organised crime, including heroin trafficking (Mozambique’s second biggest export after coal), gemstone smuggling, wildlife poaching, and other illicit trades. And while criminal networks and corrupt political and business elites are making a fortune, the locals are left struggling to survive. It is a recipe for bitterness.


In 2010, US energy company Anadarko found major gas reserves off the coast of Cabo Delgado province. The following year, Italy's ENI also found a massive gas field in the area.

Offshore magazine (30 Sept 2020)
click on map to enlarge
As Aljazeera reports, “Since then Mozambique has seen an influx of foreign energy companies fishing for lucrative contracts: Anadarko, Total - which in 2019 bought Anadarko's assets in Mozambique - ENI, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC) and others.

“Cabo Delgado is now home to Africa's three largest liquid natural gas (LNG) projects: the Mozambique LNG Project (Total, formerly Anadarko) worth $20bn, Coral FLNG Project (ENI and ExxonMobil) worth $4.7bn, and Rovuma LNG Project (ExxonMobil, ENI and CNPC) worth $30bn.

“But, despite the billions in investments these contracts have brought, the people of Cabo Delgado are yet to see any benefit from them. In fact, some have already suffered immensely from the arrival of the gas industry.” (emphasis mine)

The “some” in that last sentence refers to the coastal communities that have been evicted from their homes, cut off from their farmlands and fishing grounds, and forced to relocate in order to make way for the construction of LNG facilities . . . and this, without adequate compensation. 


Gas-rich Mozambique may be headed for a disaster
by Ilham Rawoot, for Aljazeera, 24 Feb 2020

Recent discovery of natural gas changing locals' lives in Mozambique
(YouTube) from CGTN Africa, 1 Dec 2015


An historic ethnic-religious-political fault-line runs through Mozambique. As foreign investment flows into Cabo Delgado – where that fault-line is most volatile – the bitterness, disillusionment  and anger simmering along the Swahili Coast is providing transnational jihadists with fertile ground in which to recruit. Furthermore, the region's extreme remoteness – across the border from Tanzania and 2,500 from Maputo -- makes northern Cabo Delgado a perfect place in which jihadists can find sanctuary and from which terrorist operations can be launched.

Old, Familiar Fissures 

While the residents of Cabo Delgado have long-suffered from neglect and under-development, the “some” who are destined to lose the most on account of LNG infrastructure, and who are destined to benefit the least from the inflow of wealth and the increase in jobs, are the ethnic Mwani (89 percent Muslim, one percent Christian), the original residents of the coast, who have long supported the opposition: Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (Mozambiquan National Resistance) or RENAMO.

While the coastal Mwani are destined to be the “losers”, the “winners” will be the mostly Christian political and business elites and settlers from Mupato as well as Cabo Delgado's inland Makonde (80 percent Muslim but essentially animist; 5 percent Christian), all long-time supporters of the ruling party: Frente de Libertação de Moçambique (Mozambique Liberation Front) or FRELIMO.

This fissure in Cabo Delgado – between the RENAMO-supporting Mwani and the FRELIMO-supporting Makonde – is not new.

To the contrary, it has roots in history dating back to the war of independence (1964-1974). Throughout that conflict – which was mostly fought in Cabo Delgado – the Mwani fought alongside the Portuguese (the colonial power, which had long-favoured the Mwani), while the Makonde joined with the liberation forces of FRELIMO. The same divide opened in the civil war (1977-1992).

FRELIMO has ruled Mozambique ever since independence (1975), rewarding its supporters and neglecting the rest. 


The religious element in this ethnic-religious-political fissure has been seriously inflamed since the arrival of Wahhabism. This has caused historic divisions to widen while also creating new divisions within the Muslim community.

In July 2019, IS released a video
showing militants in Mozambique
pledging loyalty to the group.
BBC Monitoring, 25 Nov 2019
Writing for Jamestown’s Terrorism Monitor, Brian Perkins dates the expansion of Wahhabism in northern Mozambique to the early 2000s.

According to a report entitled, “Islamic Radicalization in Northern Mozambique: The Case of Mocímboa da Praia,” published in September 2019, “the group that attacked state institutions in Mocímboa da Praia town on 5 October 2017, initially emerged in the northern area of Cabo Delgado as a religious group and then, in late 2015, it began to incorporate military cells. . .”

The following two reports are excellent for understanding the depth, complexity and volatility of this bitter ethnic-religious-political divide. The first one (published by IESE, in Maputo) is especially helpful is understanding the evolution of Islam in Cabo Delgado, including the rise and spread of intolerant, pro-Sharia, pro-jihad, anti-infidel Wahhabism among the region’s angry and disillusioned youths, the terrible divisions this is creating in the Muslim community and the risk to the country as a whole.


Islamic Radicalization in Northern Mozambique: The Case of Mocímboa da Praia 
Authors: Saide Habibe, Salvador Forquilha e João Pereira
Institute for Social and Economic Studies (IESE), Sept 2019
Maputo, Mozambique
(P.S. while the PDF is 64 pages, the main body of the report is confined to pages 3-34. Highly recommended!)

Evaluating the Expansion of Global Jihadist Movements in Mozambique
Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 10
By Brian M. Perkins, 17 May 2019


The insurgents first burst on the scene on 5 October 2017. In an attack that sent shock-waves through the nation, 30 armed insurgents targeted three police stations in Mocimboa da Praia. They killed two policemen, stole ammunition and temporarily occupied the town. The government sent in the Armed Forces and a battle ensued lasting several hours. It was the first confirmed Islamic terror attack in Mozambique.

click on map to enlarge
Since then, the insurgents have mainly targeted isolated villages, killing more than 700 people, according to medical charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF), and displacing at least 200,000, according to a local Catholic archbishop, Dom Luiz Fernando (April 2020).

For a long time, mystery and confusion surrounded the group, which comprised but mostly locals, but also included Tanzanians, Kenyans, Ugandans and others.  “We don’t know what they want,” said Gildo Muntanga, a displaced person whose village was attacked last November (2019). “We just see them killing people.” (The New Humanitarian, Feb 2020)

It took around 20 months for Islamic State to take notice.

On 4 June 2019, Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP) claimed responsibility for an attack in Mozambique for the first time. “Thanks to God, soldiers of the Caliphate repulsed a Crusader Mozambican Army attack in Mitopy in the Mocimboa region,” it’s statement read. 

The government of Mozambique responded by denying that Islamic State had any presence in the country. 

The Monday 23 March 2020 seizure of Mocimboa da Praia has been the jihadist’s most audacious and sophisticated terror attack to date. On that occasion, the jihadists entered the town before dawn from land and sea. They fought, burned property, released prisoners, looted food and weapons “sufficient for two battalions” and ultimately raised their black flag over police headquarters.

Having totally overwhelmed the Mozambiquan security forces, the jihadists controlled the streets all day until military reinforcements arrived, at which point, the jihadists fled “leaving behind a trail of blood, bodies, and missing persons”. Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) claimed responsibility.

Analysts surmise the day-long seizure of Mocimboa da Praia could mark a turning point in the insurgency.

ISCAP in Quissanga, 25 March 2020
source: Stratfor, 31 March (subscription)
As noted by Adriano Nuvunga, the director of Mozambique’s Centre for Democracy and Development, “They [the insurgents] have gained confidence, and they seem to have gained capacity as well.”

On the other hand, young soldiers in the Mozambiquan army are under-equipped, under-paid, under-fed and lacking logistical support. “Apparently, the state does not have either the capacity or the motivation,” said Mr Nuvunga.

Ryan Cummings, a political and security risk analyst, told Aljazeera, "The increase in the attacks is reflective of the failure of the state to adequately curtail the Islamist insurgency. The militant group has also employed enhanced weaponry and demonstrated evolved tactical engagement.”


While the government has responded by deploying more forces, they have failed to halt the violence. Complicating the situation is the fact that there are numerous reports of human rights abuses, including arbitrary detentions, poor treatment of suspects, and summary executions. Journalists complain that security forces are obstructing their work; several have been detained. [See: Amnesty International, 17 April 2020.]

With Islamic insurgents moving around freely and threatening terror which could scare off investors, President Filipe Nyusi has reached out for international help. First came mercenaries from Blackwater (American); then some 170 soldiers belonging to the Wagner Group (Russian) which, after suffering heavy losses (including beheadings), pulled back in March this year.

On 20 April, Islamic State’s Amaq News Agency released a video in which heavily armed masked militants bearing the Islamist’s black flag, claim to have shot down a Gazelle ZU-ROJ helicopter. Standing around the burned-out wreckage, the jihadist spokesman announced: “A helicopter was shot down by Islamic State fighters on Wednesday [8 April]”. According to Defence Web, “The ZU-ROJ was registered to South African company Aviator at Work in December 2019 and is believed to be flown by Dyck Advisory Group (DAG).”

Interview with Mgr. Luiz Fernando Lisboa,
Mozambique, Aid the Church in Need, 
27 April 2020
Many are critical of President Nyusi’s handling of the crisis. “It’s like a pilot starting a plane without properly mapping the course of the flight,” said Mr Adriano Nuvunga. “I see more muddling through . . . more militarisation.”

Luiz Fernando Lisboa (pictured right), the Brazilian Catholic bishop of Pemba (provincial capital), has no difficulty articulating the problem: “Cabo Delgado is in a situation of isolation and it does not even seem that we are part of Mozambique. If they [government and business elites] don't involve the population, if they don't bring jobs to the youth, the [gas] resources will end up becoming a curse.”


Why The Insurgency in Northern Mozambique Has Got Worse.
Two attacks on towns in northern Mozambique by suspected jihadists point to a rapidly deteriorating security crisis.
by Dr Alex Vines OBE, Managing Director, Ethics, Risk & Resilience; Director, Africa Programme, Chatham House. 1 April 2020

Who's behind the violence in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado?
‘The situation is escalating, and the government is losing control.’
by Philip Kleinfeld, for The New Humanitarian, 12 Feb 2020


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF) and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).