Military police patrol the streets in central Mozambique after several attacks in June. Picture: REUTERS/GRANT NEUENBURG
Military police patrol the streets in central Mozambique after several attacks in June. Picture: REUTERS/GRANT NEUENBURG

The uncontained Islamist extremist-inspired insurgency under way in Mozambique’s northernmost province, Cabo Delgado, is unleashing a humanitarian crisis that requires global attention,  the UN says.

The development is also likely to put more pressure on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and especially SA as the largest military force in the region, to intervene as the violence and crisis continue to escalate.

“The number of internally displaced people [IDP’s] is skyrocketing,” says the UN’s resident co-ordinator in Mozambique, Myrta Kaulard. “We had 90,000 IDPs at the beginning of 2020, and according to the government we now have over 560,000. We think there are currently 1.6-million people in need, and we can probably only reach 1.1-million,” says Kaulard.

An estimated 2,000 civilians have been killed since the insurgency flared in 2017.

In addition to the needs of internal refugees, pressure is being placed on host communities that are sheltering and accommodating the displaced in the country’s impoverished areas.

The region is chronically underdeveloped despite the huge liquefied natural gas (LNG) infrastructure that is being built south of Palma on the Afungi peninsula, where French energy company Total is a prominent partner.

The briefing by a cluster of UN agencies that included the Food and Agriculture Organisation, Development Programme, Population Fund, the High Commissioner for Refugees, the World Food Programme and the International Organisation for Migration, follows a tour undertaken to the region in December.

The agencies say large swathes of the province cannot be accessed because of the security situation and temporarily due to the summer rainy season which makes roads and bridges impassable.

Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique. Picture: GOOGLE EARTH.
Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique. Picture: GOOGLE EARTH.

The first-hand accounts provided to the touring party echo reports regarding the level of violence being experienced by civilians.

“The reports we hear from people fleeing the conflict zone describe extreme brutality, which has included kidnappings and beheadings and the level of trauma experienced by women,” says Kaulard.

The unfolding crisis has been noted by the SADC, but thus far, nothing concrete has been done to counter the offensive, despite Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi’s official request for military assistance at a meeting of the regional bloc in Harare last September.

“The security situation shows no signs of improving. The declining number of attacks we are currently seeing is due to the rainy season which makes movement near impossible, so the insurgents are restricted to operating in smaller areas, and along the coast,” says Jasmine Opperman, an analyst with the Armed Conflict Location and Events Data Project (Acled).

While there have been no direct attacks on the vast LNG infrastructure, it was touch and go in December when insurgents clashed with government forces around Quitupo village and reportedly came within 1km of the airstrip. Total evacuated more than 2,000 foreign staff and ordered its local contingent to stay home, according to the Sunday Times.

“This has prompted new negotiations between the government and Total. It seems the military will resume responsibility for the counteroffensive and rapid intervention brigade. Besides requiring new equipment, what they really need is the manpower and capability to deal with the insurgency, and that is going to take time to sort out,” says Opperman.

thompsonw@businesslive.co.za

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