MS Risk Blog

Update on the Terrorist Activity in Northern Mozambique

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Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province has in recent years succumbed to a prolonged insurgency by Islamist terrorist activity. The region, which borders Tanzania to the north and Malawi to the West boasts some of the largest natural gas reserves in the East of the African continent, after offshore discoveries in 2011 gave the region a global profile for exportation. In recent years, Cabo Delgado has become a target for ISIS-affiliated terrorist networks. The main motivations for these groups, has been to establish a new regime and to take control of the highly lucrative raw materials sourced in that region. In light of the severity of this insurgency, heightened since 2020, many neighbouring African nations and western alliances such as the EU and the US, have sent weapons, consultants and soldiers to aid the Mozambiquan government in protecting civilians, foreign workers and infrastructure from targeted attacks. Attacks in the region have ranged from ‘ISIS’ style beheadings, to mass executions and the forcing of thousands of people from their homes and villages, with often indiscriminate killing, kidnapping, forced marriages and trafficking. This includes prolific sexual war crimes.

The Current situation

By the middle of March, the Mozambique government security forces have, with assistance, managed to halt and restrain a large amount of terrorist activity in Cabo Delgado. This has offered pathways and secure zones for Mozambiquan civilians to return to their villages which were deserted in late 2021 and early 2022. Despite this success, the capability of the main jihadi network (known by several names, including Ahlu al-Sunnah wal-Jamaah (ASJ) and  Ansar al-Sunnah, ISIS– Mozambique and al-Shabaab) to fight in rural areas and use guerrilla tactics, often crossing borders at night, means that official government forces face a continued threat whilst protecting civilians and foreign workers in coastal areas in the north. An area which is the heart of the offshore natural gas industry.

Future Prospects and Projections

The power brokers in Mozambique’s capital Maputo, and their alliances with Rwanda, South Africa and the West, are showing demonstrable inroads into recreating a stable environment in Cabo Delgado. The international military deployments have played a significant role in stemming the insurgency and humanitarian assistance and development aid have also brought some measure of relief to the province. It is our judgement that owing to foreign intervention, the violence in largely populated areas can and will remain stabilised. There is however an ongoing threat from the marginalisation and radicalisation of young men in Cabo Delgado, who view the region as being plundered and disregarded by FRELMO ( Mozambique’s governing party). With many young people in the region viewing FRELIMO as a political elite, there is an ongoing risk of Al Shabaab capitalising on this sense of political and social polarisation. There is a potential for this fragmentation of the social fabric of northern Mozambique to allow for a pathway of young fighters to exacerbate a guerrilla conflict fought mainly rurally to draw the Mozambican forces into a further protracted bush conflict, much like that see in Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia. We judge that this would likely elongate the lead times between March 2022 and any long term and stable peacetime in the region. However, we would assess that as of March 2022, the unified forces of Mozambique and her partners have managed to stabilise Cabo Delgado for the majority of it’s residents. Social cohesion with returning civilians, especially regarding the acceptance of young woman who have been previously kidnapped,  trafficked and/or subjected to sexual violence by militants, poses a societal issue, but not a security risk at this time. All travel to Cabo Delgado ( especially the coastal regions) of north eastern Mozambique should be conducted under strict and disciplined caution.