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On October 5th, 2017, 3 police stations in the city of Mocímboa da Praia were raided by 30 armed attackers, killing 17 people, including two police officers and a community leader. This attack marked the beginning of a prolonged conflict in Mozambique which has destabilized the province of Cabo Delgado and has triggered a humanitarian crisis.  

Mozambique is being hit by a devastating wave of terrorist attacks. The unrest has already resulted in over 4.000 deaths and 700.000 internally displaced people within the Cabo Delgado province, where the conflict is centred. These attacks are part of an ideologically driven war, where Islamist militants are attempting to establish an Islamic State. The main insurgent faction is Ansar al-Sunna, locally called Al-Shabaab. It has ties to ISIL, but it is not controlled by them. There is, however, evidence that ISIL has sent trainers to aid the insurgent forces. 

Mozambique as a vulnerable country 

Mozambique, which ranks as one of the lowest countries in terms of GDP per capita, has extreme levels of internal wealth inequality, and the northern provinces have disproportionately high poverty rates. These inequalities are especially worrisome given the large amount of internally displaced people at the moment. One of the UN’s main targets currently is to ensure those people are assisted and taken care of. According to the UN’s World Food Program, over 950.000 people are currently facing severe hunger in northern Mozambique. Moreover, the north’s significant exposure to terrorism and violence is partly due to lower wealth in the region and explains how 100 radicals sufficed to occupy and control Palma, one of the largest cities of the province. Northern Mozambique was targeted due to its insufficient ability to oppose violence and fragile infrastructures. Most radicalized members are Mozambiquan nationals and come from Cabo Delgado. The other members come mostly from neighbouring countries, such as Tanzania, Somalia, and Kenya. The group finances its operations through illegal contraband, religious networks, and human trafficking, which they primarily use to send new recruits to neighbouring countries for military and ideological training. 

There’s no end to terror. What are the impacts? 

The terror in the Cabo Delgado province has lasted for almost four years now. In this period, there have been recurrent cases of group beheadings, violence and the raping of women, burning of houses, attacks on buses, and ambushes on public roads. The last major event was the attack on one of the province’s most important cities, Palma, located close to Total’s multi-billion-euro natural gas project. 

“Valued between 20 and 25 billion euros, the company’s extraction project is the largest private investment underway in Africa”, but after the continuous attacks in Palma, Total withdrew the remaining staff it kept in the project, delaying a billion euro valued initiative that had scheduled the first liquefied gas export for 2024. 

Strongly impacting the country’s exports, the attacks also resulted in important economic consequences for Mozambique. In fact, the sudden interruption of Total’s activities affected other companies with links to their value chain. The “armed attacks in northern Mozambique have caused losses of 174.4 million euros and led to the closure of 1.110 companies”, stated the president of the Confederation of Economic Associations (CTA). Of the total number of companies that have been forced to close due to the armed violence in Cabo Delgado, 410 are from the districts directly affected by the attacks. Due to strong connections within the value chain, many companies suffered indirectly from the attacks through exposure to those chains of trade. It is estimated that 198.000 jobs were lost, of which 56.000 in business units in the districts affected by the violence and 143.000 in the family farming sector, during the almost four years of conflict. 

Moreover, the crisis has officially been declared a humanitarian disaster. According to a report by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), 18.661 people have fled Palma following the attack. Of those displaced, 43 percent are reported to be children and 31 percent women. The organization raises concerns over the possible spread of cholera, “warning that, since March [2021], 15 local authorities in at least five districts of the province have recorded 3.141 cases and 16 deaths”, measles, and, of course, Covid-19. The country has also been experiencing the negative effects of climate change, as various cyclones hit the region. As the strength and frequency of natural disasters increase, existing wealth inequality and the country’s vulnerability continue to escalate. 

The world is watching 

As the conflict persists, the news of the dramatic events quickly spread around the globe, triggering responses by many countries and organizations. The Mozambiquan President, Filipe Nyusi, expressed the need for help from the Commonwealth to cope with Covid-19, as the country is having difficulty controlling the virus with so few resources and amidst a military conflict. “The Commonwealth can make a difference, acting as a whole, in mobilizing more resources to acquire vaccines against Covid-19 [for member countries with fewer means],” Filipe Nyusi declared. 

Portugal, which has close ties to Mozambique, sent 60 members of the military to assist the country following the Palma attacks, in addition to recently offering 250 thousand euros in aid. The Portuguese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MNE) condemned “vehemently” the terrorist attack, while the president of the Camões Institute said that the next cooperation program with Mozambique, to be signed by the end of the year, should be marked by the crisis in Cabo Delgado, advocating the strengthening of aid: “We are going to start negotiating the strategic program of cooperation with Mozambique for the next five years and we obviously cannot be unaware of what is happening [in Cabo Delgado], both in humanitarian and development aid terms,” said Ribeiro de Almeida. 

Globally, the United Nations (UN) is also watching carefully the recent events in the African region. The president of the UN Security Council ensured that the situation is being followed with maximum attention, due to a possible “rapid expansion” of the violence to other African regions. The UN Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, also assured that the Office on Sexual Violence is closely monitoring the Mozambique region. However, the UN special representative to the African Union said that the insurgency in Mozambique is not advanced enough to justify international military intervention or peace operations. 

More humanitarian and economic aid is being planned both by the UN, Portugal, and other nations, but the conflict keeps persisting and seriously threatening the country’s economic development, says the IMF director for Africa. The question that remains to be answered is, still, for how long will this atrocious situation drag on? 

Sources: BBC, Expresso, Observador, Publico, RTP, TVI, UN News, Visão 

Christian Weber

Ana Terenas

Pedro Estorninho

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