COUNTRY UPDATE: 4 October 2023
Johan Viljoen, Reabetswe Tloubatla


New wave of attacks in Cabo Delgado causes returnees to flee again, contradicting claims by the State and TotalEnergies that the situation has been normalized


Since TotalEnergies declared Force Majeure in March 2021 and suspended operations, there has been considerable pressure on IDP’s to return, to “prove” that the situation has been normalized, so that TotalEnergies can resume operations. A major deciding factor for the IDP’s was the suspension of humanitarian assistance in IDP camps. Church leaders have consistently warned IDP’s not to return, as the situation in their areas of origin is not yet stable, and as there is nothing to return to. They have been vindicated by the latest escalation of attacks over the past two weeks in areas that IDP’s returned to.

Two groups of insurgents visited the villages of Marere, Calugo and Ulo, in Mocímboa da Praia, between Wednesday and Friday 27-29 September, warning people to leave their homes. The population in the south of the district abandoned their villages in fear of insurgents, and of being confused with insurgents, as joint forces operations are underway. It should be noted that the latest data from the International Organization for Migration, more than 850 thousand people displaced by terrorist attacks have not yet returned to their villages of origin.

The population of Mocímboa da Praia is in a state of panic and despair. The days are uncertain. Incursions always occur at moments that no one expects and almost always without the presence of those who have the mandate to “put the terrorists out of combat”. During the “visit” by insurgents on Friday (29/09), in the village of Ulo, more than 250 inhabitants, including children, women and elderly people, were brutally beaten and threatened to leave the place, otherwise two limbs would be cut off, one upper and the other lower. The case created panic and a wave of people displaced. No one imagined that a place that was slowly resurrecting itself would quickly become a centre of distress and fear. Even with the presence of “Kagame’s fearsome troops” and others, the population once again witnessed a massacre of civilians and the burning of huts.  Traders from the district of Mueda are not being allowed to take their products to Mocímboa da Praia, allegedly because the district is a “hungry for terrorists”, creating further shortages of essential supplies.

Further west, in Nangade, only seven attacks were recorded this year. Yet people in Nangade have not yet returned to their home villages in significant numbers. According to the most recent survey by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) , carried out in August 2023, there were 71,307 internally displaced people (IDPs) in the district. This is a significant reduction from the June 2022 high of over 116,000, but does not represent any significant change from February 2023, when 70,286 were recorded. Just over 10,000 returnees were registered in August. The reluctance to return stems from fear of attacks by insurgents. This is shared by the intervention forces within the district, which include troops from the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) and the detachment of the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF). For the TPDF, this concern is also expressed on the Tanzanian side of the border, where a strong military presence is still maintained. The TPDF conducts firing exercises on the Tanzanian side to signal an aggressive presence. This creates anxiety in rural communities on both sides of the border, who are never sure whether this indicates a confrontation or real exercises.

The story of return cannot be told without an analysis of the situation that internally displaced people face in reception centres in the provinces of Cabo Delgado, Niassa and Nampula. The first and most serious challenge is the dire food situation of internally displaced people. Since April, the World Food Program (WFP) has been providing food assistance to displaced people with reduced rations, but between July and August, WFP was only able to reach around 418,000 people, leaving the rest to fend for themselves. IDP’s from the villages of Nangumi and Metoro, in Ancuabe, who depend on humanitarian aid, say they have not received any assistance since the last distribution, in May and June. In addition to hunger, there are other socio-environmental and psychological problems. A study published in August 2023 by Oasis Mozambique based on research in the districts of Pemba and Metuge concluded that displaced people faced serious sanitation problems in addition to a lack of means of subsistence, and psychological violence in reception locations. As a result, thousands of displaced people were forced to abandon their places of refuge in search of a livelihood in their areas of origin. But there are also serious problems in the areas of origin. According to an inter-agency report, return areas lack almost everything, from water and sanitation to shelter and emergency assistance. The reconstruction process is limited to the rehabilitation of some government infrastructure, such as the National Security Institute and the courts. Most of the main infrastructure is not working. This is the case of health infrastructures, where, according to the national authorities themselves, the majority of health units in the districts of Macomia, Muidumbe, Quissanga, Palma and Mocímboa da Praia are still closed due to the level of destruction. Patients are being treated in improvised locations. Without support to rebuild their livelihoods, the approximately 400,000 people who have already returned are extremely vulnerable. The same applies to the more than 800,000 people still displaced in the three northern provinces of Mozambique. The prospects for displaced people, both in the host areas and in their areas of origin, are not good. Reduced humanitarian aid and the slow pace of reconstruction are preventing them from fully rebuilding their lives and securing their livelihoods. The return narrative helps the government reinforce the idea that it is winning on the battlefield, but the lack of planning to receive displaced people in their areas of origin can increase exposure to violence, exploitation and health problems.

An example of how out of touch the UN is with the situation on the ground – in September 2023 UN Women launched a call for proposals. An amount of MZN 91 634 000 (approximately US$ 1 434 170) is being made available to train and fund women and girls to build houses in the districts of Moçimboa da Praia, Palma, Macomia, Nanagde and Quissanga – the very same areas where attacks have been escalating since the end of August, and where large numbers of returnees are now fleeing from again. returnee-women-and-girls-in-cabo-delgado




No turning point after death of insurgent leader: new leadership emerges as insurgents regroup


It took three weeks, but as expected, the insurgency in Cabo Delgado reacted brutally to the death of Ibn Omar, the military commander of the insurgency. Late in the afternoon of Thursday, 14 September, a group of insurgents appeared in the village of Naquitengue, not far from the Messalo River, and surrounded several villagers who were later grouped together on religious grounds: Christians and Muslims, a division that more often than not, in Cabo Delgado, it follows ethnic boundaries. According to an IS publication, 11 Christians were killed and their homes destroyed. Unconfirmed reports mention that some of the victims were decapitated. As the Chief of the General Staff of the FADM, Mangrasse, commented on August 25, the death of Ibn Omar is not the end of the insurgency in Cabo Delgado . Later, Defence Minister Cristóvão Chume said he was not surprised by the attack, expecting this type of reaction. The decentralized way in which the insurgents operate means that Ibn Omar’s absence will not prevent other leaders from taking control. A recent internal SAMIM document identified a series of commanders for different regions of Cabo Delgado. Last year, during the offensive in the south of Cabo Delgado, residents and security experts identified an individual known as ‘Farido’, also from Mocímboa da Praia, as the commander in charge of that offensive. The government also announced the assassination of key members of the insurgency, Abu Kital and Ali Mahando, in August, in operations around the Catupa forestry base in Macomia. But a new name has emerged as the lead commander, who goes by the name ‘Square’. Both Farido and Quadrado were mentioned as base commanders. The deaths of Omar, Kital and Mahando all occurred during an offensive known as ‘Golpe Duro’, or ‘Hard Punch’, involving Mozambican and SAMIM troops, mainly South Africans. The offensive focused on the coastal area of Macomia, between Mucojo and Quiterajo. The codename Hard Punch may have been chosen in response to criticism contained in a June SADC report, in which the Mozambican delegation mentioned the lack of offensive actions against the insurgency, as opposed to maintenance operations of peace. In practical terms, this meant that all offensive work remained in the hands of the Rwandan Defence Forces and the growing operational capacity demonstrated by Mozambican special forces. Weeks of military operations along the Macomia coast forced the insurgency to move west, along the Messalo River and across the N380 road. The movement suggests that the Muidumbe district could be the next potential target, along with the Mbau area, still part of the Mocímboa da Praia district, where the Naquitengue attack took place.

The emergence of new leadership and new tactics is borne out by the recent escalation of attacks. On 2 October the insurgents released a statement on its digital platforms claiming that three ambushes were carried out using explosives that allegedly injured and killed Mozambican military personnel and from SAMIM. The statement, written in Arabic, was released on different digital platforms, with the main emphasis on Telegram, where the group writes that “several Mozambican and SADC military forces were killed and injured in three explosions in Cabo Delgado, in northern Mozambique”. This group’s modus operandi appears to be taking on a worrying tone for the national military who must carry out land patrols, creating deadly damage. However, officially there is still no statement related to these attacks. Police authorities, led by the Commander-General of the PRM Bernardino Rafael, seek at all costs to de-dramatize the situation, demonstrating that in Cabo Delgado, the situation is under control.

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