Officially, it was a local problem with criminals for a long time, but the increased attacks made Mozambique seek help in the fight against Islamic terror groups.
It was three long years before the government finally recognized the danger. At first, Mozambique's president spoke of "armed bandits" that would make the extreme north of the 2500 km long Southeast African state unsafe. Then it was "foreign rebels" who would have sneaked in there. In Maputo, the government has now assessed the danger so seriously that it can no longer cope with it.
President Filipe Nyusi recently asked the Confederation of South Africa (SADC) for arms assistance in its fight against the youngest offshoot of the "Islamic State" (IS) on the continent. After the West African Sahel, Nigeria, the Congo and Somalia, southern Africa now also has its own IS branch - the "Central African Province of the Islamic State" (Iscap).
Looting and battles
Their fighters have been more active than ever in the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic in recent weeks. At the end of last week, around 100 armed men attacked the small town of Macomia in the centre of the province of Capo Delgado, burned down houses, looted shops and fought with the security forces.
Before that, the extremists had temporarily taken small coastal towns on the Indian Ocean twice: they killed dozens of police officers and soldiers, tore down state buildings and planted their black flags. In the capital, Maputo, no one speaks of a local crook problem anymore: Now it is a case of international terrorism. In both cases, the government does not want to be responsible for the development in the north of the country - although it has played a role in destabilizing the province.
A woman holds her younger child while standing in a burned out area in the recently attacked village of Aldeia da Paz outside Macomia. Image credit AFP, Marco Longari
A tar road
Mozambique's northeast seems to be about as far from the rest of the world as Neptune is from the sun. The only road from neighbouring Tanzania turns into a dirt road after the border, the region has a paved road. Until recently, their coastal towns were slumbering ideal conditions for a smugglers 'and dealers' paradise.
Capo Delgado had developed into an underworld Eldorado after the civil war in 1992. A hub for the trade-in heroin from Pakistan, the illegal export of precious wood and rubies, and human trafficking.
Unlike the rest of the country, Mozambique's coastline, like the entire east African coast, has been inhabited by Muslims for centuries. They have been marginalized by Christian invaders since the arrival of Portuguese seafarers and colonialists. Even after independence, the Maputo government continued to marginalize.
Image credit Today NG
Natural gas deposits discovered
The inhabitants of Capo Delgados consider modernization to be a corrupt business of foreign profiteers. As elsewhere in Africa, where extremist Islamic movements emerged, the population hopes that the introduction of Sharia will prevent the moral decline.
Ten years ago, one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world was discovered off the coast of Capo Delgados. Fossil fuel worth $ 60 billion is said to be under the Indian Ocean. American, Italian and French companies are preparing the conditions for the exploration of the gas: certainly, the population will only benefit marginally from it.
The first attacks by the extremist group called Ansar al-Sunna (disciples of tradition) turned bloodthirsty almost three years ago: the jihadists attacked villages that refused to join, decapitated people and ransacked businesses.
Forces sent by the government to the north proved powerless. Maputo then tried his luck with Russian mercenaries: around 200 fighters from the infamous Wagner group (who are currently involved in at least three other African conflicts) were active in Capo Delgado last year. After at least eleven Russian mercenaries died, the troops financed by Putin friend Yevgeny Prigoshin withdrew.
President Nyusi is currently trying a mercenary force, the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG). Even she could not avoid that around 40 men invaded the coastal town of Mocímboa da Praia for the second time at the end of March. The incident was reported on the pages of the "Islamic State", the attack on Macomia last week also celebrates the terror group as a success.
Image credit Institute for Security Studies
Source: Der Standard