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Islamism Surges as Governance Fails

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 1, 2020 11:31

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While the world concentrates on the Coronavirus threat, militant Islamist challenges to weak and inefficient governments did not stop. In the north of Mozambique and in the Sahel attacks overwhelmed weak government forces. Strategic areas are threatened, and effective reaction seems unlikely.

Mozambique is one of the poorer nations in Africa. Recent discoveries of oil and gas in the far north have seen a spike in offshore bank accounts and not much development on the ground. A former Finance Ministers escaped extradition to the US for corruption, and the IMF deplored the country defaulting on loans up to $700 million.

Magnificent beaches. Photo by the author.

In 2019, two devastating tropical cyclones struck Mozambique, killing many and devastating leaving vast swathes of the country. Shortly afterward, elections, held after a truce between warring parties, resulted in bitter claims of massive fraud and leaving the ruling party short of credibility especially in the north.

Fishing as their ancestors did. Photo by the author.

On the Worldometer website, Mozambique shows only ten positive cases of Coronavirus, probably testimony of low testing capacity. And while the Government is distracted with the regional battle against the disease, insurgents claiming links with ISIS invaded the sleepy northern town of Mocímboa da Praia, torching government installations, banks and cars and distributing food. They posted pictures and videos of themselves and reassured villagers that they are targeting only Government installations.

Traditional dhow near Nacala. Photo by the author

Gas and other mineral exploitation have left thousands destitute and resettled far from their farms and fishing. The local population accused Government of failing to provide basic services, and many supported the insurgents, while some 250 families fled to the Government-held town of Pemba. A complicating factor is the increasing penetration of Government ranks by organized crime, patronage politics and drug money.

Selling fish on the beach at Vilanculos. Photo by the author.

This region, remote from the capital, dominates the mouth of the Mozambique channel, where most of the tanker traffic passes, a strategic chokepoint. The rebels may have links with the nearby Comoros islands where connections with the Somali Al Shabaab has long been suspected. The nearby Nacala harbor is one of the best natural deep-water ports in the region, said to be the target of several navies active in this area.

Container ship entering Nacala. Photo by the author.

Government forces claimed no deaths, and paraded some men they had captured, claiming to have the province under control. After at first denying a problem, then attempting to crush the resistance, Mozambique now asked the Southern African Development Community to help. This body will, however, have great difficulty allocation forces, and have little experience fighting such insurgency. Russian mercenaries who had been deployed to protect gas installations were ineffective.

As in the Sahel, the absence of a government founded on the needs and will of the people is likely to be challenged, and Islamists are ready to exploit irregularities. 

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on April 1, 2020 11:31

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Source: The Guardian

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