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Strategic Threat in Mozambique

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on May 13, 2020 06:34

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The political leadership in Mozambique has missed the opportunity to develop democracy and build a national unity. Hit by natural disasters and the curse of mineral riches, the country now faces an insurgency that threatens the region and strategic shipping lanes.

The end of the long drawn-out civil war in Mozambique seemed to be within grasp in 2019. Erstwhile enemies, Frelimo and Renamo had reached an agreement to hold elections, but the ruling party, Frelimo, seized the opportunity to neutralize their opposition.

Idyllic no longer. Photo by Mozambique-info.co.za.

Two vicious tropical cyclones had bulldozed the central and northern region, and while international organizations and donors did their best, the government had little to offer but token handouts.

The people in the Cabo Delgado province would have been satisfied to tend their devastated fields and rebuild their cattle herds as they had done for centuries. But international groups, eager to exploit ruby deposits, oil and gas thronged in and dispossessed subsistence farmers. Artisanal miners were excluded from mines taken over by a Frelimo General, villagers were herded into re-education camps.

Refugees seek sanctuary  in the cities. Photo opais.sapo.mz

Young people, unemployed and frustrated, were ready to abandon the peaceful Sufi Islam sought and found support from Islamist ADF in the borderlands of Uganda and the DRC, from Somalia and from Tanzania. Calling themselves Ahlu Sunna Wa Jama (ASWJ) but known locally as al Shabaab (the boys) they armed themselves, scouted, made tentative attacks that triggered brutal reprisals, and obtained funds and international support. Then the intensity mounted: attacks on towns and commercial infrastructure was followed by propaganda campaigns, then attacks on military and police structures.

The authorities’ reaction could have been scripted by Ché Guevara. Shelling of villages and extrajudicial arrests alienated the population. Journalists were kidnapped, arrested, flogged in public. Foreign mercenary units, first the Russian Wagner group, then the Dyck Advisory Group from Zimbabwe, and eventually the Zimbabwean Army were repelled with losses.

Soldiers on patrol. Photo AFP/dailymail.co.uk

The insurgents released slick, professionally-made videos shortly after the attacks. A fighter addressed the people in the local language, warning them: "The first time we came and left; today we rule.” He explained that the aim of the insurgency was to establish an Islamic caliphate under Sharia law, and asked: “Look in the prisons, the poor people wail; have you ever seen a chief arrested?”

Quirimbas national park where some of the rebels hideout. Photo privatetour.com

The threat has strategic implications. Several navies are active in this choke-point in the shipping lanes between Madagascar and Africa. Several important deepwater ports, Nacala in Mozambique, and Antsiranana, formerly Diego Suarez in Madagascar could be developed. But an insurgency based in the Cabo Delgado province, with minimum support from the anarchic Comoros islands, could be a severe thorn in the side, at a time when navies of the region are underfunded and governments turn inwards to their fight against the coronavirus. 

Once again bad, undemocratic government leads to frustration, people seek alternative channels to express their political needs, and violence erupts. Does history have to repeat itself?

Coen Van Wyk

Posted on May 13, 2020 06:34

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Source: WashPost

Mozambique struggles to get a handle on an insurgency in a northern province that the government hopes will one day yield...

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