President Filipe Nyusi was noticeably absent from the AU Summit this week as he
urgently travelled to Cabo Delgado in the north of his country to address the
rapidly deteriorating security situation.
Peace and Security Council also highlighted the urgency this week with
Commissioner Smail Chergui saying the AU must provide equipment and training to
assist the Mozambican government in addressing the militant threat.
Delgado has been the site of beheadings and kidnappings of villagers, as well
as villages being burnt to the ground. The increasing attacks on civilians are
by an Islamist extremist group which calls itself al-Shabaab (or “youth” in
Arabic). The group is not an offshoot of Somalia’s al-Shabaab, but has links to
To date the
group has launched about 370 attacks since its first attack on a police station
in October 2017. There have been 909 recorded deaths, although this number is
predicted to climb exponentially. Human Rights Watch has called on the Southern
African Development Community to urgently act against the insurgency that poses
a risk to the whole region.
what is really happening in this impoverished corner of Mozambique, bordering
Tanzania. But the combination of Wahhabi and Salafist influence from the Gulf
and extremist Sheikhs from Tanzania and Kenya have brought a brand of extremism
to northern Mozambique that has been germinating since 2015.
Institute for Social and Economic Studies at the Eduardo Mondlane University of
Mozambique produced an important study in September about the emergence of
al-Shabaab, and is based on extensive on-the-ground interviews in northern
Mozambique. Religious extremists from neighbouring countries, who have been
influenced by Islamist scholars in the Middle East, used marriage as a strategy
to entrench themselves in local communities. They married into families in Cabo
Delgado, acquired land, and propagated their violent and extremist ideology
within local communities.
poverty of the area and its economic marginalisation has made it ripe for
recruitment, especially when schools and services are hard to come by. The
state is largely absent from the area, and as al-Shabaab gained in strength and
resources, it has even been able to pay its members wages in an environment
where there is very little if any formal employment.
has attempted to capitalise on this void by setting up madrasas that preach an
extreme form of Islam, and offer to feed and provide shelter for local
al-Shabaab takes over an area, people are forced to attend lectures and watch
videos of the sermons of the late Islamist extremist Kenyan Sheik Aboud Rogo
Mohammed, who masterminded the attacks on the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar
es Salaam in 1998. In the al-Shabaab areas, Sharia law is imposed and those who
try to escape are killed.
The idea is
to isolate al-Shabaab members from the outside world, which is deemed “impure”,
and get them to join a “holy call” to create a better world. Al-Shabaab leaders
tell locals that their intent is to build a new social and political order, and
that they are living in a corrupt world in which the Mozambican government is
not to be trusted.
encouraged to join the international jihad and train for military operations.
has also established a dress code to distinguish themselves from the broader
community where men have shaven heads and wear white turbans, grow large
beards, don black gowns with short trousers, and are armed with knives and
machetes to symbolise jihad. Women are forced to wear the burka, and no one is
allowed to wear Western clothes. Women and children are often held captive and
used as wives or sex slaves.
are used as human shields when they are confronted by the Mozambican armed
forces. The group has even developed its own flag, which is black with white
when al-Shabaab emerged in northern Mozambique in 2015, they were inspired by
religious leaders in Salafist circles abroad who encouraged them to penetrate
local mosques to change the way they interpreted Islam. When this failed, they
set up their own mosques.
has a supreme council on which sit some foreign combatants and Tanzanian
sheikhs. Radical spiritual leaders in Tanzania, Kenya and Somalia have assisted
with the religious and even military training of youths in northern Mozambique.
At first the group had about 50 agitators, but the number grew to an armed
force of more than 300. Today, it is estimated that the group may have as many
as 1500 fighters capable of attacking the state.
Most of the
youth who have voluntarily joined the ranks of al-Shabaab are uneducated and
unemployed, and are often informal traders. The group has offered them an
identity and a supposed “purpose in life”, as well as a means to earn a living
through some form of wages or a cut in the illicit smuggling trade, which is
flourishing in the area.
has been generating revenue from donations and the clandestine networks of
trafficking in timber, rubies, ivory and coal. The burgeoning heroine trade
coming from Afghanistan to the East Coast of Africa before being transported onwards
to Asia and Europe is also an opportunity to make large sums of money. Some
years ago it was estimated that the group had a turnover of $33million from
illicit smuggling, and this must have substantially increased.
Mozambican army has been largely ineffective in addressing the growing threat,
with young and inexperienced recruits being sent into the area. The government
response has been criticised. The army shelled a town in 2017 causing the death
of 50 civilians. There have been random arrests and closure of mosques, which
feed into the anti-government propaganda.
government has failed to secure the border with Tanzania through which much of
the illicit smuggling occurs, and many of the corrupt government officials on
the border profit from the illicit trade.
has turned to private contractors to protect foreign workers in the area. The
government has agreed to pay Lancaster Six Group 80% of the cost of protecting
foreign workers in return for an undisclosed percentage of ownership in state
gas reserves. Lancaster Six Group is owned by the former Blackwater chief
executive, Eric Prince.
discovery of liquefied natural gas (LNG) off the coast of Cabo Delgado in 2010
complicated the situation. Since then there has been a jockeying of foreign
multinational companies to exploit the substantial gas deposits touted to be
the third largest in the world, after Qatar and Australia.
global demand for LNG outstrips the supply which is why companies have decided
to increase their investments in Mozambique. Italian Eni and the US Anadarko
are the principle holders of the Mozambican offshore gas industry. It is
estimated that those companies will be able to supply gas to Britain, France,
Germany and Italy for the next 20 years.
Gas will be
produced from 2022, and the government of Mozambique will start to receive
revenue in 2028. But al-Shabaab’s increasing militarism poses a threat to the
development of LNG, and Anadarko has already suspended work due to the increase
al-Shabaab were to target the gas pipeline in Mtwara, Tanzania, gas production
could be halted altogether. This explains why there is a growing interest on
the part of those European countries in stabilising the situation in northern
Mozambique, and ensuring that al-Shabaab is neutralised.
challenge for the AU, and South Africa as chair of the AU this year, is to
ensure that Africa drives a process to assist the government of Mozambique in
developing an effective counter-terrorism strategy and military capability to
deal with the threat posed by al-Shabaab. Such a strategy needs to go well
beyond the provision of armaments and military training, but more importantly
needs to address the root causes of the crisis.
causes are impoverishment, a lack of income-generating activities, and social
services. It is the lack of opportunities and hope in these communities that
has led to youth joining the ranks of Islamist extremists. Without addressing
the socio-economic root causes of this crisis, it will never be resolved in the
Headline: Northern Mozambique the new vortex for Islamic extremism
Source: The IOL