Overview:

  1. Is An Attack On Pemba Imminent?
  2. The Church Continues To Bring Hope
  3. The Palma Attack And The IS Connection
  4. Zimbabwean Special Forces Present In Cabo Delgado?

1. Is An Attack On Pemba Imminent?

For the past two weeks, rumours of an imminent attack on the city of Pemba have been gaining momentum. According to local sources, there is “fear and confusion” amongst much of the population. One local school principal reports that he received 30 requests for transfers of learners in the past three days – most to be taken to Nampula by their parents. Many residents report that they are maintaining full tanks of petrol, and have luggage packed with essential items and documentation should they have to flee immediately.

Residents say that the city is not well protected, claiming that there are only two barracks of soldiers in Pemba. The rest have all been deployed in the north of the Province of Cabo Delgado. Should the insurgents attack there is “not much to stop them”.


2. The Church Continues To Bring Hope

The Third Sunday of Easter was celebrated by Fr Edegard Silva Junior in Metuge. He says: “In the small village of Ngalani in Metuge, we celebrated the Eucharist. We went on to visit the sisters in Silva Macua. In times of pandemic and war, let the tenderness of children speak louder than the evil of those who believe in the strength of arms”.


3. The Palma Attack And The IS Connection

In an article published by the BBC on 17 April 2021, Joseph Hanlon gives the following analysis:

“With IS claiming the Palma raid it made headlines. CBS news called it an “Isis militant siege” with hundreds of foreign workers cowering in fear. The UK’s Daily Mirror newspaper called it “Isis terror” and a “jihadist massacre”. The UK’s Times newspaper had earlier headlined: Isis militants attack town housing foreign workers in Mozambique.

But on the same day, before some of the newspaper headlines were published, the IS claim was debunked.

Jasmine Opperman, Africa analyst at the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data project (Acled), who has been following the insurgency in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province closely, showed that the videos and photos were not from Palma, but from Mocimboa da Praia, 65km to the south.

One of the first things the insurgents now do in attacks is to cut all telecommunications links, mainly by using machetes to cut cables. In Palma, mobile phone connections went down just 30 minutes after the attack started. So IS and Amaq had no information on the raid. As well as false pictures, the only claims were vague ones that had already been published in international media.

As Acled, the closest and most trusted monitor of the Cabo Delgado conflict, concluded in a recent report: “There is no evidence from the Palma attack that IS controls the strategic direction of the insurgency.”

The insurgents are primarily Muslims from the coastal zone of Cabo Delgado, recruited by local fundamentalist preachers with a basically socialist message – that Sharia, or Islamic law, would bring equality and everyone would share in the coming resource wealth.

A report based on interviews with women who escaped the insurgents in Palma was published on 12 April by João Feijó, technical director of the Rural Observatory of Mozambique (OMR) and one of the best-informed Mozambican researchers. The women revealed that some leaders are Tanzanians, some of who claim to be IS, and Somalis, who firmly said they were not IS, but rather part of another unidentified group.

The consensus is that the insurgency started locally and that foreign and IS involvement came later. The disagreement is over how important that is.

The US view is that IS has hijacked the insurgency and taken it over. The view of most Mozambican researchers is that there is foreign and possibly IS involvement, but that al-Shabab is still locally run and retains local goals.

This split leads to a huge division over the response.

The insurgents walked and drove into Palma virtually unopposed, despite clear warnings over two months of an attack when the rains ended, and a government promise to Total to defend Palma. The army and paramilitary police are poorly trained and equipped, and unmotivated and hugely corrupt. The insurgents had largely not attacked the installations of Total contractors, and in the first week of April, after the attackers had left Palma, the army looted the city, breaking into contractor facilities. This was shown both in aerial photos and from first-hand reports from contractors, and even angry local government officials.

There is a big push for a military response. In an 11 March press conference, John T Godfrey, US Acting Special Envoy for the Global Coalition to Defeat Isis, said: “We have to confront Isis in Africa.” The US wants to be involved in Cabo Delgado to confront IS “terrorist activities” there.

Portugal is sending trainers and as the current head of the EU Council is pushing for EU involvement. The South African military is already patrolling Mozambique’s coast and would like boots on the ground.

This is where the role of IS becomes central. No country can give the Mozambican government military support to fight its own peasants. But to fight a global enemy like IS provides the justification. In other words, IS and the US appear to have a common interest in promoting the importance of the jihadist group.

For South Africa, promoters of the IS link warn that with similar levels of poverty in Cape Town, IS could use Cabo Delgado as a basis to move south, so South Africa should send troops. But if the insurgency is just a local peasant uprising, this does not hold.

Mozambique’s Frelimo government is extremely anxious that outsiders, and even local media, do not look at the roots of the war and point out how a Frelimo elite has become wealthy while ordinary people in Cabo Delgado became poorer.

On 7 April President Filipe Nyusi said Mozambique needs help “for the fight against terrorism”. But he added: “Those who arrive from abroad will not replace us, they will support us. It is a sense of sovereignty.”

Interviews with women who escaped the insurgents in Palma offer an alternative view to the government’s. They said that the fighters have a great resentment towards the authorities, and their motivation is predominantly material – jobs and money. But many would like to leave the armed group if there was an alternative. Dr Feijó, who conducted the interviews, argues that economic development, intensive farming and fishing should be used to attract the disaffected.

The government appears happier to blame IS rather than its own policy failings for the continued conflict. But increasing numbers of Mozambicans are saying that creating thousands of jobs would end the war sooner and cost much less than a huge international military involvement”. (bbc.org 17 April 2021)


4. Zimbabwean Special Forces Present In Cabo Delgado?

Owen Gagare reported on The NewsHawks:

“President Emmerson Mnangagwa deployed special forces to the gas-rich Cabo Delgado Province to battle the rampaging militants. Security sources told The NewsHawks this week that Zimbabwe deployed combat special forces to help Mozambicans with the Palma “sweeping campaign” at the end of March, a week after the deadly attack. “Zimbabwe sent some special forces team into Cabo Delgado in the aftermath of the siege on Palma by Islamic insurgents to help clear out the militants,” a security source said. “Soon after the Palma attack, the special forces were deployed working under the Mozambican army to help drive out the militants. They had to go in because of the surprise attack which marked a serious escalation, the subsequent bloodbath and also that there are Zimbabweans who are in there, one of them was actually killed.”

Zimbabwe’s deployment will be followed by a quick regional military manoeuvre under the Mozambican army. SADC countries want a collective response to avoid being targeted by insurgents individually. Mozambique prefers a strategic SADC technical deployment to avoid inflaming the situation into a regional conflict and making the situation worse by drawing in more terrorists from outside.

Addressing a Zanu PF politburo meeting on Wednesday in Harare, Mnangagwa sounded belligerent and ready for action, a further sign Zimbabwe was already on the ground.

“As Zanu PF, we stand in solidarity with our sister party, Frelimo as well as the Government and people of the Republic of Mozambique in the wake of the ongoing disturbances in Cabo Delgado Province, in northern Mozambique. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. United we stand. Hence, we cannot sit back and allow acts of insurgency to continue without a robust regional response. Last week, I therefore attended the SADC double troika summit in Mozambique, where the regional bloc resolved to immediately make technical deployments towards restoring peace and stability,” Mnangagwa was quoted as saying by the state-controlled daily The Herald.

“Government is currently working with the Mozambican authorities to establish the number of our nationals who were entrapped during the attack of Palma town, on March 24, 2021. Against this disturbing background, the party structures across all provinces must ensure that our communities are on high-security alert. Let us continue to jealously guard the peace and stability that is existing in our country.”

The sources said Zimbabwe sent special forces mainly drawn from One Commando Regiment (formerly One Commando Battalion, previously the Rhodesian Light Infantry), based at Cranborne Barracks in Harare and the Special Air Service. The special forces deployed to Mozambique are more or less the size of a platoon, which usually has about four squads (of between seven and 14 troops each) up to 50 soldiers and is commanded by a lieutenant, the sources said.

The commando regiment is one of the special forces units in the Zimbabwe Defence Forces entrusted with difficult critical operations.

The role of the commandos and other special units is to conduct special operations – like the sweeping of Palma – across an operating continuum, typically expeditionary in nature.

“The commandos usually operate either as an independent force element or in support of joint manoeuvres for the conduct of advanced force operations or precision strike missions. In this case, Zimbabwean special forces will operate under the aegis of the Mozambican army,” a security source said.

“They can operate on their own as they are trained to exceptionally high levels, both physically and psychologically and are expected to perform accordingly, but there are political and operational factors that come into play like in this case.”

Zimbabwe Defence Forces spokesperson Colonel Teddy Ndlovu denied the army has deployed special forces to Mozambique. “Thats not true and in any case if something like that happens I will advise the nation. You can’t hide that kind of information. I advise that you also look at the SADC deployment schedules so that you know the meetings that need to take place and what needs to happen before deployment.”

Mnangagwa’s spokesman George Charamba said: “Zimbabwe will take part as part of the SADC brigade. The best person to ask would be (SADC executive secretary) Dr (Stergomena) Tax.”

Colonel Ndlovu’s denial is contradicted by sources on the ground. One source, living in Mutare, said that they had heard of the deployment and that there is anger amongst the local population, who “do not want their sons to be sent to Mozambique to be killed”.


Johan Viljoen, Reabetswe Tloubatla, Fr Godlove Bong-Aba Ngenge

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