Humanitarian Situation in Nampula Deteriorates

The situation of Internally Displaced People from Cabo Delgado, who fled to Nampula, is now critical. Food has run out. The Archbishop of Nampula, Dom Inacio Saure, reports that displaced persons are now forced to cut grass along roadsides, pound it in mortars and pestles, and cook the grass into soup, to feed their families. They do not have maize meal, to make porridge to go with it. The pictures below were taken at Monapo settlement in Nampula Province.

Biden Administration Perpetuates Islamist Threat Narrative

On March 10, the State Department announced the designation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria-Mozambique (ISIS-Mozambique) as a Foreign Terrorist Organizations (FTOs) while also designating “leader” Abu Yasir Hassan as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs).

The designation risks impeding humanitarian efforts and hobbling potential disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) activities. In addition, it is unlikely to significantly advance U.S. counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts.

Emilia Columbo, a senior associate with the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, said:

“ASWJ, or al-Shabaab, as it is more commonly known in Mozambique, first emerged as an armed group in October 2017 when it attacked three police stations in Mocimboa da Praia to free detained members of their group. Academic research indicates the group likely evolved from a religious sect that first appeared in Cabo Delgado in 2007 and has probably gained steam during the past three and a half years by leveraging social and economic grievances among Muslim youth living along the coast. The government’s heavy-handed approach to the conflict exacerbated these preexisting tensions, further fueling recruitment for the insurgency. ASWJ leaders have been modest in their use of media to broadcast their message, but in the few instances of published videos or meetings with local communities, they regularly condemn the central government for its mistreatment of the poor, particularly Muslims.”

“Publicly available, reliable information on the exact nature of the relationship between ASWJ and the Islamic State is limited. ASWJ most likely makes its own operational and strategic decisions and does not act on orders from the Islamic State’s core. The target set and approach ASWJ has used to date is in line with its stated goal to remove the government; the group has consistently destroyed government buildings and infrastructure and has seized control of key roads and towns. The Islamic State and Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) have periodically claimed credit for ASWJ operations through their media arms, but these claims at times lack specific detail and seem based on open-source information, suggesting communication between the groups may be irregular. ASWJ’s growing capacity and sophistication may reflect learning from the Islamic State—an interview of former Boko Haram fighters indicates the Islamic State provides training videos to its adherents—but the role of independent foreign fighters in advancing ASWJ’s skillset cannot be ruled out.”

“Designating ASWJ as a foreign terrorist organization enables the U.S. government to freeze any assets the organization holds in financial institutions within the United States. It also prohibits U.S. persons from engaging in any transactions with the FTO and SDGTs and imposes immigration restrictions upon members of the organization. Academic studies suggest these designations are particularly effective when organizations are financed through charities and diaspora networks that are relatively easy to detect and isolate.”

“Maputo may view the designation as an affirmation of its narrative of an externally fomented conflict and may use it to validate the government’s emphasis on a military response to the insurgency. Mozambican officials last year started to stress the conflict’s external dimension, presumably seeking to deflect any blame for the region’s disaffection and mismanaging of the security response. A continued focus on a military campaign at the expense of social and economic programs to foster greater development and stability will likely prolong the conflict.”

“FTO and SDGT designations almost certainly will add further challenges, including by restricting the ability of humanitarian aid organizations to engage in essential dialogue with armed groups to receive security assurances. While nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are not prohibited from speaking with designated groups, the broad definitions of material support create a legally challenging framework in which to carry out such dialogue. The “knowing” standard in the law compels organizations to carry out potentially dangerous vetting procedures, exposing them to physical risk if they are perceived to be working on behalf of states or governments deemed hostile to the designated groups. The ability of groups such as ASWJ to integrate into the civilian population also creates a legal grey area for NGOs to navigate in carrying out essential services.”

“The FTO and SDGT designations also may hamper future international, regional, and Mozambican efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict. In addition to the United States, several of Mozambique’s external partners and neighbors are working to curb the insurgency. The U.S. designation has the potential to force their hands, retooling their engagement activities and issuing their own terrorist proscriptions. It may also prompt President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique to reconsider his recent olive branch to the group when he dangled amnesty to individuals who break ties with ASWJ.”

Columbo’s comments have raised concern amongst political commentators in Mozambique. Increased US interest and involvement in Cabo Delgado will inevitably heighten tensions, increase levels of conflict and complicate the delivery of humanitarian assistance. Concerns have also been raised by the fact that the US continues to perpetuate a simplistic analysis of the causes of the conflict – it is an Islamist insurgency, with the sole aim of establishing an Islamic Caliphate in Cabo Delgado. No mention is made of factionalism within the Mozambican government, profiteering from the conflict by elements within the government, profiteering by multi- national corporations, and widespread resentment amongst the local population caused by decades of neglect and underdevelopment. In private communications, one of Mozambique’s most prominent political commentators (who requested anonimity) said that: “ The Islamic State is an argument only for Anglophones to see and support the government – in which Nyussi is trying to survive the flank of Guebuza – the principal instigator and strategist of the conflict”.

Biden Administration Goes For DAG

At the beginning of the month Amnesty International (AI) accused DAG (Dyck Advisory Group) of violating international humanitarian law when “firing indiscriminately against crowds, attack infrastructure civilians (hospitals, schools and homes) and not distinguishing between civilian and military targets ”.   This week, the United States government again expressed concern with the presence of the DAG in Cabo Delgado, arguing that security companies operating outside the restrictions imposed by international law historically tend to be less responsible on issues related to human rights in armed conflicts.

“As in other regions of the world, the presence of these entities did not help the Government of Mozambique to contain the terrorist threat of ISIS-Mozambique. More than helping, their presence complicates efforts to face the terrorist threat in Cabo Delgado” said John T. Godfrey, Acting Counterterrorism Coordinator and Global Coalition Interim Special Envoy.

Godfrey made no mention of Crisis Response Company (CRC) and RMGS – two US based “private security contractors” headed by former FBI senior management members, staffed by ex-Marines, and funded by the US State Department. Questions are being asked in Mozambique: is Godfrey trying to clear the way for US “private security contractors” to have a monopoly in Cabo Delgado?

US Government Names “ISIS – Mozambique leader”

The US State Department has named Abu Yasir Hassan as the leader of “ISIS-Mozambique”, designating him as a “Specially Designated Global Terrorist”. This despite the fact that the Islamic insurgents in Cabo Delgado have consistently been described by the media and political commentators as a “shadowy group” with “no clearly identifiable leadership structure”.

The Interim Counterterrorism Coordinator, John T. Godfrey, said that:”ISIS-Mozambique must be warned that the United States and our partners will take the necessary measures to address security challenges in Africa to promote peace and security ”.

Asked what kind of evidence the US has to assert that Abu Yasir Hassan is the leader of ISIS-Mozambique, Godfrey explained that the assignments cannot be discussed publicly because of its confidentiality. “ But I would say that evidence of the existence of links between ISIS and the subsidiary operating in Mozambique is quite indisputable. It is something that we feel comfortable evaluating it as real, and that’s part of the reason for which the threat is of particular concern to us ”. John T. Godfrey noted that there is a link between financing of terrorism and drug trafficking in Mozambique, classifying the situation as “particularly problematic”. That’s why the US is interested in strengthening Mozambique’s capacity in combating the financing of terrorism and trafficking in drugs. “We are looking at some security measures in the borders because we understand that there is a cross-border aspect in the ISIS threat in Cabo Delgado. And we are also looking at other lines of action to help Mozambique build capacity to neutralize terrorist attacks ”.

The belligerent tone of Godfrey’s statements, despite offering no evidence, has raised concerns in Mozambique of increased US involvement, possible military action and a general escalation of the war.

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