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Islamist Insurgency continue to Flare in Mozambique

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Griffith Sarah

Jun 18, 2024

Renewed Violence in Cabo Delgado Sparks Regional Security Concerns as Foreign Troops Withdraw

In the early hours of May 10, Tomas Langa, a civil servant in Macomia, Cabo Delgado, was jolted awake by heavy gunfire. Through his window, he saw four armed men outside his house. Terrified, he fled to the countryside, surviving on cassava plants for three days. “I was lucky they only insulted me as I ran,” he said, recounting his narrow escape.


Islamic State (IS) linked fighters attacked government buildings and looted shops and warehouses, keeping the town under siege for two days. They also raided a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) medical facility, seizing vehicles and supplies, forcing MSF to suspend operations in Macomia.


Another resident, Alfane Silva, was detained and interrogated by eight gunmen. “They told me to run to the bush or they would kill me if I stayed in town,” he said. Government reinforcements arrived two days later, but the militants had already left, leaving behind a town without medical facilities, electricity, and a pervasive sense of fear.


This resurgence of violence, which had declined due to security efforts by local forces and troops from neighboring states, coincides with the withdrawal of Southern African Development Community (Sadc) forces. About 2,000 Sadc soldiers from eight countries are set to leave by July 15, despite warnings from regional security experts that the area remains unstable. Botswana and Lesotho have already withdrawn, while Angola and Namibia are in the process of leaving. However, Tanzania will maintain 300 troops, and South Africa will keep its troops until the end of 2024, but not under the Sadc mission.


Rwanda, which initially deployed 1,000 troops in 2021, announced it would send an additional 2,000 troops to support Mozambique. Rwandan army spokesperson Brig-Gen Ronald Rwivanga stated that their decision was independent of the Sadc withdrawal.


The IS-affiliated al-Shabab group has been active in Cabo Delgado since 2017, causing widespread destruction and displacing communities. Their insurgency forced French energy giant Total Energies to suspend its $20 billion liquefied natural gas project in 2021. While security had improved with the deployment of Sadc and Rwandan troops, recent months have seen a resurgence of attacks, displacing over 110,000 people since December 2023.


Mozambique's neighbors are closely monitoring the situation. Tanzania, which faced jihadist attacks in 2020, has increased security measures, although these have been costly, raising the defense budget by 10% annually since 2021. There are concerns that if the insurgency gains momentum, neighboring countries like Malawi could be affected.


Experts argue that strengthening Mozambique's armed forces is crucial for a military victory. However, the long-term solution lies in addressing the social and economic challenges in the north, where living standards are lower than in the south, fueling discontent and recruitment by jihadists.

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