President Filipe Nyusi. Picture: REUTERS
President Filipe Nyusi. Picture: REUTERS

Harare — Mozambique called for regional help in fighting an emboldened group of insurgents in the country’s gas-rich north who have aligned with the Islamic State (IS).

The appeal by President Filipe Nyusi is the government’s strongest admission yet that it’s struggling to contain an insurgency that began in 2017 and has grown rapidly in both sophistication and confidence in recent months. Insurgents have temporarily taken over towns since March, destroying state infrastructure not far from where companies including Total plan on investing about $60bn in natural gas projects.

“Terrorism, you can’t fight alone, this is the experience which we have,” Nyusi said in says broadcast on state television in Zimbabwe, where he met the leaders of other countries including Zambia and Botswana on Tuesday to request assistance. “We need to share forces, not only in the region, but probably for Africa.”

While the insurgency mainly comprises marginalised local youth from one of the least-developed parts of the world’s sixth-poorest nation, police have arrested dozens of citizens of Tanzania, which borders to the north, and accused them of being involved. The IS, which the US said it defeated in Iraq and Syria in 2019, has said dozens of attacks since June in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado region. The group says the area is part of its “Central African Province”.

IS insurgents are also active in Nigeria, the Sahel and Somalia, where they compete and sometimes clash with other extremist groups linked to al-Qaeda.

Until 2020, Mozambique’s government had mainly referred to the group as common criminals or “malfeitores”, Portuguese for evildoers, while trying to downplay the insurgency’s significance. A series of brutal setbacks to the government since March have forced a change.

The insurgency has left at least 1,000 people dead and forced more than 100,000 others to flee their homes. The violence has becoming increasingly complex and poses a regional security threat, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa said ahead of the meeting.

“The modus operandi of the terrorist groups and their networks are intricate and elaborate,” he said.

Mnangagwa spoke at a meeting of the Southern African Development Community’s politics, defence and security Troika, which promotes security in the region. The talks came after Mozambique asked for a review of an “urgent security situation” in its country.

The regional leaders urged member states to support Mozambique in fighting the terrorists, according to a statement handed to reporters. It did not specify what type of assistance should be offered, or whether this would include troops.

Mozambique is banking on liquefied natural gas investments to transform its economy, through generating nearly $100bn of state revenue over 25 years, more than seven times its GDP.

Bloomberg