Thousands flee Islamic insurgents in northern Mozambique


Emídio Beúla is a journalist and a researcher for the Center for democracy and development (CDD). He says that aid organisations have been overwhelmed by the large increase in the number of displaced people:

Before, most of the displaced people remained in their home districts, fleeing from one village to another, or heading towards the provincial capital. Many people fled just five or 10 kilometres. But when the insurgents started attacking more villages as well as the provincial capitals in late March, people started fleeing further.

Two districts were abandoned – Quissanga and Mocimboa da Praia. In the town of Metuge, not far from Pemba, the government set up a camp with enough tents to house 10,000. But that only accounts for a small number of displaced people. Others went to stay with friends or family in Pemba, in other neighbouring provinces or in Tanzania.

There are many more displaced people than have been counted by the government. Some, we don’t know how many are currently surviving in the wilderness with nothing. No roof, no water, no food. A lot of these people are too elderly or too poor to travel elsewhere. Moreover, when Mocimboa da Praia was attacked, many people climbed into overcrowded boats to travel dozens of kilometres by sea to Pemba and we have no idea if they all arrived safely. It’s hard to get information and journalists have very little access to the zones under attack.

This photo, which was published by the Mozambican collaborative media outlet Pinnacle News on Facebook on July 7, shows displaced people in Mueda in Cabo Delgado. According to the original post by Pinnacle News, some people were unable to find shelter there and had to follow the road all the way to Montepuez.

What do we know about the insurrection?

Researcher Eric Morier-Genoud, a professor of African history at Queen’s University in Belfast, says the armed group grew out of a religious cult that has been around “since at least 2007”.

“The change occurred around 2016 when they stopped just living outside of society with their own rules and instead adopted a vision of jihad, picking up arms in an attempt to force the society to adopt charia law [Islamic law],” Morier-Genoud said.

The group carried out their first large scale attack in October 2017 in Mocimboa da Praia. Currently, there are between 500 and 1,000 fighters, most of whom are Mozambican.The cult began before the development of the gas extraction industry in the region and the ruby mine in Montepuez.

Morier-Genoud says the “economic and social transformation in the 2010s surely lead to frustration, especially in terms of the expected benefits of these discoveries [for the local population]”.

In May 2018, a photo showing these combattants brandishing a Islamic State flag circulated widely on social media in Mozambique. But it wasn’t until June 2019 that the Islamic State organisation released a statement about one of the attacks in the province. Initially, Mozambican authorities denied that the organisation had an active presence on their territory. They finally confirmed on June 23, 2020 that the Islamic State organisation had claimed responsibility for the attack in Cabo Delgado, “revealing the presence of an exterior aggression on the part of terrorists”.

The insurgents equipped themselves by stealing the weapons belonging to the security forces, and stealing food and other supplies during attacks.

“None of the rumours that they are involved in the illegal trade of wood, precious stones or drugs have been proved,” says Eric Morier-Genoud.

Article by Maëva Poulet





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