Cabo Delgado war expands as both side grow stronger


Rwandan forces have dispersed the insurgents, leading to more widespread and audacious insurgent attacks. Government, Rwandan and SADC forces have become more active and effective. But they are not keeping Mocimboa da Praia and Palma districts safe – delaying any chance of Total resuming work until next year at the earliest. This is a growing guerrilla war, with significant fighting continuing in Macomia and Ancuabe as well as Mocimboa da Praia. Both sides report successful attacks on the base of the other side.

There were 90 incidents in the seven weeks from 1 June to 21 July, almost two incidents a day. War fatalities are now 4,131 (ACLED, 21 July). The number of displaced people who fled their homes due to the war has jumped to 946,508, up by 161,944 since February. Of those, 83,983 people fled attacks in Ancuabe and Chiure districts in June, as the war spread south, leading to a “deteriorating humanitarian situation in southern Cabo Delgado”. (OCHA 24, 25 July) Of the displaced, IOM (27 June) reports that 138,231 have been able to return home.

On 9 July, insurgents launched a mortar attack on a riot police (UIR, Rapid Intervention Unit) base in Pundanhar, in the west of Palma district on the road to Nangade. About 100 police fled. Islamic State claimed the attack and said that barracks were burned and ammunition, weapons and explosives seized. Two days later insurgents attacked an army base in Mandimba, Nangade capturing arms and ammunition. (Carta de Moçambique 15 July, citing ACLED and News24)

On 14 July, President Filipe Nyusi announced the captured of a major base in the dense Catupa forest in northern Macomia district, about 20 km east of Chai and half way to the coast. The operation had been ongoing since March, involving Rwandan, SADC and Mozambican troops. But there is a sharp disagreement about exactly what happened. Press was taken to the base and the limited amount of material seized “suggests the camp was clear well before the FDS [army] marched in” reports Cabo Ligado. (19 July) President Nyusi said one leader was killed, but Omar Saranga, Armed Forces coordinator of the Northern Operational Theatre, said “Our forces shot down dozens of terrorists.”

Saranga told TVM (24 July) that 4 to 8 insurgents die every day in Cabo Delgado – not in combat but from hunger and disease.

Six men were captured at Catupa and Pinnacle News gave some details. One was a fisherman from Mecufi with navigational skills who kept in touch with his wife while he was with the insurgents and regularly sent her money. Another claimed to have been paid $2500 for participating in the attack on Palma. This underlines the point that many insurgents are there only because it is a paid job, and there are no others.

Attacks continue in the zones where Rwandan troops should be creating a security zone for the TotalEnergies gas project. Keeping roads safe is essential. But there were attacks on 12 and 22 July on Chitolo and Mitope villages, near the key Awasse junction on the road west of Mocimboa da Praia to Mueda.

About 13,000 people have recently returned to the area around the Awasse junction in the west of Mocimboa da Praia. (Noticias 25 July) But government is discouraging people from returning to Mocimboa da Praia town itself. “People are returning and we think that, perhaps, they are not understanding our messages, appealing for them to wait a little longer”, said Joao Saraiva, permanent secretary of the district of Mocimboa da Praia, because insurgents are still active. “We need a little patience on the part of the population”, he stressed. (Radio Moçambique 25 July)

In Palma district, on 24 June and 13, 14, 15 July insurgents attacked two offshore islands, Quifuqui and Vumba, destroying houses and taking food. And on 1 July they attacked Olumbi. All are within 30 km of the Afungi Peninsula where Total plans it $20 bn gas base, and well within the security zone Rwandan troops are supposed to create.

Nangade district, on the Rovuma River border with Tanzania, has been a hot area, with fighters pushed out of Palma and newly arriving from north of the river. There had been nine incidents in the second half of June, but fewer since then. There was an attack on 7 July in which 18 farmers were kidnapped and then released.

All attacks were on villages outside the centre and on the road linking Palma and Mueda. On 26 July a small group made a foray into Chitunda, an outlying neighbourhood of Nangade town created for people in rural areas displaced by the war. It adjoins the local air strip and is near a Tanzania SAMIM base. Insurgents entered Chitunda firing their weapons. They murdered three people, while many others fled into the bush. They burned 20 houses, and looted. There were just seven people in the insurgent group, only three of whom were armed, and they were no match for SAMIM troops from Tanzania (some reports say Lesotho), who responded, killing two of the raiders and capturing the other five. Although some nervousness remains, residents have returned to Chitunda. (Mediafax, Carta de Moçambique 28 July)

The N380 road is the only paved road from Pemba to the gas fields and the 50 km section from Macomia town north to Chai and the Messalo river remains a centre of major fighting. Villages in the zone have been repeatedly attacked. In Nkoe a motorcycle was ambushed and 1 person killed on 21 June. Nkoe was attacked again on 12 July with 100 houses burned. Quito Congresso has an army base and there were serious clashes on 10 June and 13 July. IS claims that after fighting on 13 July insurgents captured weapons. Litandacua, near Chai, was attacked on 26 June with one person killed and a church burned. It was attacked again on 19 July; insurgents were spotted by local people who fled and a joint Mozambican-Rwandan force engaged the insurgents and killed several. (Cabo Ligado, 19, 26 July) The Catupa forest base captured by government is 20 km east of this zone.

Meluco district is south west of Macomia (and north of Ancuabe) and insurgents have been moving there, attacking Iba, close to Macomia, on 2, 13, and 17 July, as well as the Meluco villages of Macomoa on 13 July, Mitepo on 7 and 12 July and Nsemuco on 10 July.

In the first two weeks of June there was a major insurgent push south through districts previously unaffected by the war – through Ancuabe, Chiure, Mecufi and across the river into Lurio in Memba district of Nampula. There have been no further attacks in Chiure, Mecufi and Memba.

But in Ancuabe there were 13 attacks in the second half of June and four attacks so far in July. At least a dozen villages were attacked, with at least 25 people killed and houses burned. On 13 July a group of 30 insurgents beheaded two farmers near the village Muaja. One woman who was with the victims was forced to take their heads to the village as a warning; people fled the village.

On 18 July MediaFax reported groups of insurgents in Montepuez district. An attack on an artisanal mine of semi-precious stones on 17 July saw three miners beheaded at Nacaca, 12 km north of Montepuez town.

The Muaja attack was near the main road from Pemba to Montepuez and 30 km from Montepuez Ruby Mining in Namanhumbir, Montepuez, which increased security but has continued to operate. In the next days the defence forces (FDS) told peasants in Muaja and Namanhumbir not to go to their fields. (MediaFax 21 July) And on 21 July 2022, Mozambican forces launched airstrikes against Islamist militia in Namanhumbir, in the first known action in Montepuez district.

This zone is important for mining. Graphite, a key component of the negative electrode of lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles, is produced by several companies. In Ancuabe the Grafex mine was attacked on 8 June and two guards were beheaded. Grafex and neighbouring AMG Graphit Kropfmuhl and Twigg Exploration have suspended operations. (Zitamar 30 June, CIP 13 July) Australia’s Syrah Resources operates a graphite mine in Balama district, west of Montepuez, which is one of the world’s biggest producers of graphite. China is the main producer, but Syrah gained when Chinese production was hit by Covid-19. Syrah suspended logistic and personnel movements for a week in June, but production has not been affected. But it makes clear that it is not just gas that is affected, and that the expansion of the war to Ancuabe and Montepuez threatens mining.

Montepuez and Ancuabe account for half of all mining concessions in Cabo Delgado, primarily for gemstones (ruby, tourmaline, and garnet) as well as gold, graphite and building stone and sand.

A special unit of the border guards (part of the police) has been set up to stop artisanal miners (garimpeiros) in Montepuez. Officially, the aim is to “minimise the presence of illegals coming from various countries, especially the countries of the great lakes,” said Bernardino Rafael, national police commander, in Montepuez installing the new unit. Illegal miners “know that Montepuez has rubies, so they come here. After getting the stones, they sell them and finance terrorism,” he claimed. (MediaFax, Lusa 19July)

The issue is rather more complex and contentious. Mozambique has a long history of artisanal mining which supports thousands of miners and a large network and buyers and suppliers. In some areas it provides a major form of employment and income. Rubies were first found by garimpeiros and then General Raimundo Pachinuapa gained a mining concession for the land, forming Montepuez Ruby Mining and expelling the garimpeiros – leading to conflicts which still continue. Pachinuapa has become one of the largest holders of mining concessions in Cabo Delgado, according to a 2012 CIP study. These are now mostly held offshore, through Mauritius companies

Other holders of Cabo Delgado mining concessions include members of the Chipande, Chissano, Talapa and Waty families, all part of the Frelimo political elite.

Under pressure from local big men and private companies who wanted to control the resources, a law passed in 2016 made artisanal mining effectively illegal. “Previous expulsions of these miners helped to swell the ranks of insurgent recruits in 2016”, notes Cabo Ligado (26 July).

Will a new crackdown on garimpeiros really protect the mining companies and their patrons, or will it fuel a war now spreading into key mining zones?

In their moves south to Memba and west to Montepuez, it seems the insurgents follow lines where they expect support.

In the move south through Ancuabe, early attacks were in Ntutupue/Intutupue on 9 and 11 June. Eric Morier- Genoud, an expert on religion in Mozambique, points out that the first killing in the current war was in this village in November 2016, a year before the formal start of the war in Mocimboa da Praia on 5 October 2017. He writes that the Quranist al-Shabaab sect had been active first in Balama district, then began in Chiure district in 2013 and spread into neighbouring Ancuabe. It came into confrontation with the Islamic Council of Mozambique (CISLAMO). In Ntutupue there was a clash between two Muslim groups and al-Shabaab members killed one of the other group. Violence continued and sect members were jailed. Thus the insurgents might have expected to find sect members in Ntutupue.

By 11 and 12 June insurgents reached Mazeze and nearby Retene villages in eastern Chiúre district. On 17 and 20 June insurgents were reported to have crossed the Lúrio river into Lúrio town, Memba district, Nampula, collecting new recruits. The northern half of Memba was occupied by Renamo at the end of the 1980s war, and in 2014 the opposition had half the vote in Memba. Again, the insurgents seem to have expect some support. The Secretary of State in Nampula, Mety Gondola, visited the zone on 6 July, and was told by local people of the lack of drinking water, an improved health centre, and a secondary school, and that some local roads were impassable. (Planalto 7 July) Again, like northeast Cabo Delgado, a forgotten zone that might support insurgents.

In the move west to Montepuez insurgents also hope for support. On the road west, the first stop inside the district is Namanhumbir, which has the MRM ruby mine and many disaffected people who lost land or livelihoods when they were moved off the mine. In the 2014 elections, the vote was equally split between Frelimo and opposition in Namanhumbir, showing more opposition than in the rest of the district.

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