When rebels seized the small town of Mocímboa da Praia, in the far north of Mozambique, a few weeks ago, they went from house to house, forcing people
When rebels seized the small town of Mocímboa da Praia, in the far north of Mozambique, a few weeks ago, they went from house to house, forcing people to flee. The port city is located 70 kilometers from the peninsula where the country’s new natural gas industry is established. Major industrial investments are underway at the same time as a brutal conflict is taking place in the surrounding areas.
By Estacio Valoi
The UN estimates that 250,000 people have been displaced, that 1,500 civilians and military personnel have been killed and that a number of infrastructure installations have been completely destroyed by the war now raging in the province of Cabo Delgado, in the far north of Mozambique. These are confirmed figures. Then the corpses that lie and rot along the ditches in the forests are not included in the calculation. Many villages have been completely cleansed, there are none left, everyone has fled.
The rebels are mainly Mozambicans, but have some foreign connections. It is unclear how closely what is referred to as the Mozambican al-Shabaab is linked to other radical extremist groups in Somalia and Congo or in al-Qaeda. The terrorists regularly agitate for their attacks through press releases from al-Naba and / or IS in an attempt to spread them to southern Africa, but according to investigations, there is no evidence that the groups have direct links to IS, al-Qaeda or other Islamists. terrorist groups outside Mozambique.
The small towns of Rio Montepuez, Awassi, Macomia, Mocímboa and Palma up to Rio Rovuma have become haunted by terrorists, while Mocímboa da Praia has experienced four attacks.
Alerted for several years
In Cabo Delgado, also known as Cabo Esquecido (Forgotten Cabo), sources since 2014 have talked about the existence of jihadist groups in the district. The authorities were alerted at all levels, but they turned a deaf ear.
– We warned the authorities that the youth here in Mocímboa would no longer conform to our form of Islam, and that they created their own variant, says a source.
The cells grew and more and more new members were recruited. At the same time, the Mozambican authorities referred to the people behind this insidious danger as “criminal gangs, bandits, thieves, thieves” and the like.
The first attack on Mocímboa took place in October 2017 and the attacks eventually spread to the districts of Nangade, Macomia, Muedumbe, Palma and Mueda in the province of Cabo Delgado.
The National Security Agency (SISE) has been very slow to admit that there is a war going on in the north of the province of Cabo Delgado. Generals, other military and civilians have found new opportunities to enrich themselves through robbery, theft, money laundering, corruption and large multi-million dollar contracts for the military protection of the multinational oil and gas companies. The population seems to be left to itself.
While the young, radical “crocodiles” based on Mocímboa have increased in number, the authorities in their press releases spread the message that “the situation is under control”. It is estimated that 335 attacks have taken place so far, from the simplest to the most intense.
Setbacks for the authorities
The last time the terrorists took control of Mocímboa da Praia, they hoisted their banners, marched around for days and distributed food, while warning residents that they had to withdraw from the city.
– We do not want anyone here. When we return, we will kill everyone, the rebels told the population.
Sources in the local population say that they have seen foreigners among the rebels:
– In the second attack on Mocímboa da Praia, I saw white people with long beards, it seems that they are of Islamic origin, they had scarves on their heads. There were three men and one woman. The second time they conquered the city, they got on a quad bike that was ours (the police), and in the back sat a white woman holding a flag, the same flag that they had shown us on social media when they said they no longer wanted see the Frelimo flag. This was at the airport in Mocímboa da Praia. The third time we also saw whites who seemed like the same people. We saw a woman in an armored vehicle, which was also ours, but which they had stolen to drive around in.
Took control of the harbor
When the rebels took the city on August 12, they also secured control of the port.
– This time they have taken everything, says a resident.
According to sources, they went from house to house and picked up those who had not yet fled.
– They enter the houses, shout that people must take to the streets, and that they must leave the city.
The sources say that the rebels have occupied the whole of Mocímboa and the houses of the inhabitants. They are also said to have built a roadblock at the entrance to the city.
This latest attack on Mozambique is a setback for the Mozambican authorities. The city is strategically located. It is a port of call and shipping with easy access to the open sea, which is, among other things, favorable for piracy along the Mozambique Canal.
Although the rebels do not retain control of the sites they attack for long periods of time, the operation could undermine gas extraction and government control of the entire coastline from the Macomia district to the Palma district.
– This time everyone had to run their way, escape. Some got out of Mocímboa via Palma. We had to take off our uniforms and throw away our AK-47 rifles and go naked so as not to be perceived as military or terrorists until we arrived in Mueda, says a soldier who survived the attack.
Some reports say that there were over 300 government soldiers in Mocimboa when the attack took place, but that only 40 escaped. It is unclear whether helicopters were deployed to repel the attack, and whether they fired at the rebels or their own soldiers. Now the village is empty of people. Government forces do not yet have complete control over the area.
Wealth and corruption
There are enormous natural resources and minerals in Cabo Delgado, but the wealth has not benefited the people themselves. There is extensive smuggling of timber and ivory where the locals are exploited and only get a small share of the profits. Most go to criminal “barons” (king pin), and so it is with drugs and minerals.
The war has only substantiated the perception of corrosion among the military and political elite in Mozambique.
Mercenaries have been brought in by Mozambican authorities, under very vague and secret agreements. First came the Russian Wagner Group and later also the private, South African security company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG).
Recently, the weekly magazine Canal de Moçambique published the number of a bank account in the Banco Comercial e de Investimento (BCI) which was reportedly payment to military and police officers providing security services to the multinational companies Total and Mozambican Rovuma Venture in Cabo Delgado. The name of a former defense minister, Atanásio Salvador Mtumukes, was listed for a short time before it was removed. Centro de Jornalismo Investigativo (CJI) was told by name was removed from the account because it was “state secrets”.
Even before this, there have been reports that the military demanded sums of money for transport companies to join military columns on the stretch from Macomia to Auase, an area that is heavily plagued by terrorists.
Despite recent statements by Mozambican Interior Minister Amade Miquidade and Defense Minister Jaime Neto that 50 rebels had been killed in two operations carried out by security forces in Cabo Delgado, authorities admit they will not be able to defeat the terrorists alone. Neighboring countries have become more involved, for fear that more countries will be drawn into the conflict. The involvement of neighboring countries and the international community in the fight against terrorists in Cabo Delgado is also defended by the leader of the US Special Forces in Africa, Dagvin Anderson. However, he stressed that the effort must be led by Mozambique.