Mozambique marks five years since extreme violence erupted in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, forcing nearly 1 million people to flee during that time in October. Currently government officials, international organizations and experts said there have been “remarkable progress” as businesses have restarted and displaced people began returning to Cabo Delgado.
Extreme violence and displacement have had a devastating impact on the population. People have witnessed their loved ones being killed, beheaded, and raped, and their houses and other infrastructure burned to the ground. Men and boys have also been forcibly enrolled in armed groups.
Livelihoods have been lost, and education stalled while access to necessities such as food and healthcare has been hampered. Many people have been re-traumatized after being forced to move multiple times to save their lives.
Despite the relative calm in Cabo Delgado. some analysts still believe that all is not over. Analyst João Feijó thinks that armed violence in Cabo Delgado will continue, and that the authorities must be prepared to face “a marathon”, instead of “a race” that is soon over. “I think this conflict will be a marathon – it will not be the 1,500 meters race we thought it would be,” he told Lusa regarding the five years of conflict. The insurgent groups “play with time” and are prepared “to spend 10 or 20 years” terrorizing the region, “living in the bush, looting and stealing”.
“We don’t have that time,” he says, alluding to the country’s desire to get oil majors back to exploit natural gas, the need to put an end to a very expensive military intervention and the soldiers’ desire to return home.
Feijó believes that the government has realized that it will have to live with some degree of violence, something that could turn into a “low-intensity conflict” and the government itself has admitted that the problem of instability will last for several years, and we have to live with it,” he adds.
What is not known is whether this will be enough to restart the gas projects. The researcher says that the answer can only come from TotalEnergies, the oil major that had to abandon the works near Palma after the March 2021 attack, and which says it is still waiting for improved security.
The first attack took place in Mocímboa da Praia on October 5, 2017, in what was classifies as the first phase of the conflict. A second phase followed, with great pressure from rebel forces, which grew, established bases, occupied territory and led to the suspension of Mozambique’s gas projects, the largest private investment in Africa.
The military offensive by the allied forces reconquered the areas around gas-relevant sites like Palma and Mocímboa da Praia. The remaining rebels returned to the bush and restarted occasional attacks against relatively remote communities, only now expanding their area of action to include southern districts of Cabo Delgado and in Nampula province.
Reports monitored from the U.S. Department of State, Deutsche Welle and Rádio Moçambique have shown that the United States would be assisting with a further donation of US$40 million (€38.2 million) to support the displaced and victims of natural disasters in northern Mozambique.
The financial grants were part of the “emergency response to the food needs of those displaced by war and terrorism, social protection, building resilience to climate change and nutritional support for children” and the priority was to prevent “people in a situation of food insecurity in Mozambique.
The U.S. Government’s lead development agency, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), has officially renewed its partnership, and ready to implement foreign assistance funding of US$1.5 billion to promote a more peaceful, prosperous, and healthy Mozambique.
Late January, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi and French TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanné witnessed the signing and exchange of fresh additional agreements that permit prompt resumption of natural gas project in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique. It aims at contributing to the country’s sustainable development and give access to energy to as many people as possible.
TotalEnergies said in a media release that the collaboration agreement illustrates commitment to deploying its multi-energy strategy in southern African country. The natural gas project was suspended in March 2021 after an armed attack that left the province devastated, about 3,100 deaths and more than 817,000 residents displaced.
In a media briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, has called for an end to the violence and on the international community to provide sustainable support to reduce the suffering of the displaced population and local host communities in northern Mozambique.
Tragically, conflict has not subsided, and thousands of families are still being forced to leave their homes because of attacks by non-state armed groups. Five years on, the humanitarian situation across Cabo Delgado has continued to deteriorate and displacement figures have increased by 20 per cent to 946,508 in the first half of this year. The conflict has now spilled into the neighbouring province of Nampula, which witnessed four attacks by armed groups in September affecting at least 47,000 people and displacing 12,000.
The organization has been continuously responding to the needs of displaced populations in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces with humanitarian assistance and protection support. We are providing shelter and household items, helping survivors of gender-based violence with legal, medical, and psycho-social support, and supporting displaced people to obtain legal documentation. UNHCR also supports people at higher risk, including children, people with disabilities, and older people.
The UNHCR is in favour of returns for displaced families when these are voluntary, safe, informed, dignified, and when the conditions are conducive, including once basic services are restored to ensure their sustainability.
The refugee organization considers security conditions to be too volatile in Cabo Delgado to facilitate or promote returns to the province. However, growing protection needs and limited services for those who have chosen to return home must still be urgently addressed by relevant stakeholders, including authorities and humanitarian actors.
It is working closely with the government and other partners to support and advocate for the inclusion of all displaced populations in national services. As of September 2022, the US$36.7 million needed for UNHCR to deliver life-saving protection services and assistance in Mozambique was only 60 per cent funded.
Cabo Delgado province, in northern Mozambique, is rich in natural gas, but has been terrorized since 2017 by armed rebels, with some attacks claimed by the Islamic State extremist group. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), about 784,000 persons have been internally displaced by the conflict, which has killed about 4,000, according to the ACLED conflict registry project.
The Joint Forces of the Southern African Development Community are keeping peace in northern Mozambique. African leaders at their summit of the African Union held in Addis Ababa highly praised Mozambique’s approach to fighting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, involving troops from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community Military Mission (SAMIM). Mozambique, with an approximate population of 30 million, is one of the 16-member Southern African Development Community.