Jihadi insurgents disrupt US oil and gas exploration in Mozambique

When on May 27, 2018, Islamist insurgents attacked two villages in Cabo Delgado, beheading 10 people with machetes, among them women and children, they caused outrage. The local chief of the village of Monjane was also among the dead. According to a local resident’s statement to AFP, he had disclosed information on the Islamists to the police.

US citizens urged to leave

Once more an African Jihadi group gained the world’s attention, only this time in East Africa. Cabo Delgado, Mozambique’s northernmost province, has seen a rise in Islamist attacks in recent weeks that have left over 40 people dead. The increase in violence has led to fear among foreign investors and diplomatic missions in Mozambique. On June 8, local employees of Anadarko Petroleum, an American petroleum and natural gas exploration and production company, refused to appear at work due to fear of an armed attack. The US-embassy in the capital, Maputo, issued a warning for the Palma district of the Cabo Delgado province, urging all US citizens to consider departing the area immediately.

Al-Sunna wa Jama’ah

Information on the movement in question remains scarce. Even to the extent that its name is unclear. While referred to as al-Shabab (no relation with the Jihadi group of the same name in Somalia), other names such as Al-Sunna wa Jama’ah, Swahili Sunna – a reference to Swahili glory in the 19th century – or Ansar al-Sunna, have also appeared. The group that once emerged as a religious organisation in Cabo Delgado in 2015 turned into a guerrilla movement in 2016. In October 2017, the group gained greater prominence for the first time when 30 of its men attacked a police station in Mocimboa da Praia, killing two police officers and losing 14 of their own.

In response to the rise in Jihadi attacks, Mozambique’s government has begun to step up the presence of security forces in the area and several mosques suspected of preaching violence have been shut down. Defeating the Jihadis militarily turns out to be particularly tricky as they rely on the forests as an area of retreat. Attacking quickly and then pulling back to the wilderness makes them a target hard to acquire.

Poverty and government corruption 

Security boosts alone will hardly be enough to solve the problem permanently. DW Martin Ewi, a security analyst at the Institute of Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa, said: ”This is a region of Mozambique that has claimed it is marginalised. Poverty is widespread, and most people blame their poverty on government officials who are very rich.”

Cabo Delgado provides a fertile ground for recruiting extremists. The province has a Muslim population of 56% and is full of riches. Ironically, its people are among the poorest in the country with high youth unemployment and marginal economic development. Security forces hardly enjoy the trust of the population of Cabo Delgado as there have been various accusations of abuse against them. As long as these circumstances remain, Cabo Delgado will continue to be an ideal territory for radical preachers to recruit followers.

By David Kampmann

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