Mozambique’s President Nyusi Accepts Portuguese Assistance for Cabo Delgado Insurgency

Mozambique’s President Nyusi Accepts Portuguese Assistance for Cabo Delgado Insurgency

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi accepted Portuguese assistance on December 11 for the ongoing ISIL-linked Ahlu-Sunnah Wa-Jama (ASWJ) insurgency in Cabo Delgado, despite rejecting both international and regional help for the duration of the conflict, which began  in October 2017. Gaining significant traction throughout 2020, the Mozambican resistance (including private military contractors) has been overwhelmed – over 2,000 deaths have been officially recorded, while violations of human rights continue to spiral. Hope for a solution therefore rests on the President’s willingness to accept the external aid that civilians desperately need.

Struggling Mozambican forces 

In August, Mozambican troops lost control of the key port of Mocimboa de Praia, a city that sits near natural gas projects worth $60 billion, along with two military bases in the area – allowing vital weaponry to be captured by ASWJ. Shocking reports of more than 50 beheadings on a football pitch in Muatide village ignited international media attention throughout early November. These mounting atrocities serve to highlight the Mozambican army’s inability to cope; however, President Nyusi has been reluctant to accept international assistance. While the Muidumbe region was retaken towards the end of November, these gains have failed to provide any semblance of a solution.

Escalating humanitarian crisis

Estimates now report over 570,000 people have been displaced owing to the escalating human rights violations, including kidnappings and brutal attacks. The vast majority are enduring poor conditions in temporary camps, often cut off from vital aid provisions by the insurgents. Paquitequete beach in the Pemba district is one location struggling with a huge influx of displaced people, placing extensive pressure on sanitation and clean water. With the rainy season approaching, these camps will be ripe for outbreaks of water-borne diseases including cholera and diarrhoea, with spikes expected amongst those with limited access with adequate sanitation and proper nutrition. Despite UNICEF’s appeals for USD $11.1 million to provide life-saving services, only USD$5.8 million has been contributed to the humanitarian response – imminent action is critically required. 

Sovereignty over civilians

President Filipe Nyusi has been incredibly reluctant to accept international assistance, instead utilising private military contractors from September 2019, including the Russian-backed Wagner Group and South African Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), who reported shot at civilians from helicopters during a battle for Macomia district. Nyusi’s state of the union address last Wednesday stressed his desire to uphold national sovereignty, declaring “We Mozambicans need to develop our own skills… nobody will do it for us”. Critically, Nyusi may well be drawing on the oscillating track record of foreign interventions and is right to suggest a home-grown strategy will best fortify against any future insurgencies. However, the extent of human rights violations is suggestive not only of the inability to cope, but the maligned prioritization of sovereignty over civilian welfare by the President. 

Details emerging from Southern African Development Community (SADC) December meetings indicate Nyusi’s continued stance, rejecting any coordinated regional effort; Nyusi went as far as to boycott the first meeting in Gaborone, over his administration’s mistrust of Botswana. A subsequent meeting in Maputo on December 14 also ended inconclusively, despite Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa suggesting the SADC was edging closer to sending troops. Stalling on Mozambique’s part was due to Nyusi’s allusions to Tanzanian sponsorship of the insurgency – despite the two signing a memorandum to join police forces in Cabo Delgado’s border areas in early November. The US has moreover applied pressure on Zimbabwe to engage in unilateral action, clearly the preference for Mozambique – however Harare is reluctant to act outside of the SADC. Given Zimbabwe’s own economic fragility, the Beira corridor that connects mining areas to Mozambican ports provides much impetus for action to pre-empt a full-blown war, as the violence begins to spill outside the borders. 

Portugal breaks deadlock

During a November trip to the former colony, Portuguese Defence Minister Joao Gomes Cravinho announced a team would work with the Mozambican government to draw up a strategy to train local forces. It was reported this week that plans have now materialised to deploy these 1,435 forces in early 2021. While Nyusi’s acceptance of Portugal’s help is a significant step in bolstering defences against the insurgency, it is clear Nyusi is keen to only assess offers of assistance from countries already invested in Cabo Delgado’s rich resources. Mozambican sovereignty furthermore remains intact, falling short of direct action from a cautious Portugal, raising critical questions over the impact potential, three years into the conflict. 

A lasting solution? 

Gurr’s influential work on relative deprivation and collective violence is useful when attempting to navigate a solution for Cabo Delgado. A grievance amongst a group resulting from asymmetric distribution of vital resources and opportunities can motivate an individual to engage in collective violence to alleviate frustrations. Cabo Delgado is one of Mozambique’s poorest regions, itself ranking in the bottom 15 countries of the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI) for poverty over the last decade. The poor socio-economic environment is in turn a fertile ground for radicalisation, as north-eastern Nigeria provided for Boko Haram. Hope in the form of the major gas reserves located in 2010 failed to improve the impoverished region, despite billion-dollar contracts from ExxonMobil and BP – frustrating those experiencing extreme poverty, fuelling desperation. Recent reports suggest the neighbouring provinces of Manpula and Niassa have increasingly acted as ‘recruitment reservoirs’ for the insurgency, indicating that until substantial progress is made to improve the socio-economic situation, any future peace brought by international intervention is not likely to last. 

Whilst Nyusi attempts to heed history by fiercely defending Mozambique’s independence from foreign intervention, his failure to act on behalf of those vulnerable to ASWJ adds to the long list of human rights violations under his presidency. It is probable that Portugal may soften Nyusi’s stance on foreign aid in the short-term, with the incoming US president Joe Biden potentially having more leverage over Zimbabwe. However, until Nyusi makes progress to improve Cabo Delgado’s economic prospects, violence will continue to be the conduit through which radicalised individuals quell their frustrations.

Categories: Africa, Insights

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