Latest reports have displayed an escalation of conflict and violence in the north-eastern province of Cabo Delgado, one of the poorest provinces of Mozambique. The Islamist militant group in question know as Al-Shabab (unrelated to the Somalian Islamist group to the north) attracted attention in recent weeks due to reports liking them to child beheadings.
Since the beginning of the conflict, thousands have been killed and more than 700,000 Mozambicans have been forcefully displaced, which represents more than a third of the province’s total population. Today, around a million inhabitants in the province are threatened with starvation, as well as with diseases such as malaria and cholera. This conflict constitutes an important humanitarian crisis in sub-Saharan Africa, one of which has been largely ignored in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Islamist insurgency started in 2017 as militants destroyed farms, schools and homes of thousands of Mozambicans. Having pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (notably to secure better funding) in 2019, the Islamist militant group proceeded with gruesome and cruel acts of violence such as child beheadings, attracting substantial attention from the international community.
Although the intentions of the insurgents are still unclear, they originate from deep-rooted and long-standing social and economic grievances such as deplorable underdevelopment, startling wealth inequality and extensive governmental corruption. Many Mozambicans feel like they haven’t been given the opportunity to reap the benefits of their country’s prolific mineral and natural gas industries, as is the case particularly for the Cabo Delgado province. These industries have been controlled by multinational corporations ever since the country was opened to foreign investment, and very little funds are reinvested in the surrounding communities. Further, the poor economic circumstances of the country has rendered recruitment much easier for Islamist groups, although people of a younger demographic are often coerced into joining the Islamist cause rather than doing so willingly. Although the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) has largely been dismantled in Syria, recent events in Mozambique have shown that the global influence of the group remains significant and far-reaching.
Considering Mozambique was already one of the poorest countries in the world before the conflict, the significance of the recent escalation of violence cannot be understated. In fact, internal displacements due to the hostilities of the insurgency have had meaningful socio-economic repercussions for the affected population of the northern region of the country. The vast ethnic diversity in Mozambique indicates that large waves of fleeing ethnic groups from the Cabo Delgado province had to adapt and comply to new cultures and languages of other provinces in which where they were often seen as outsiders. Additionally, internal refugees of the northern province were forced to leave behind the foundations of their heritage such as ancestral land and other culturally valuable sites, for instance.
Nevertheless, Mozambique remains in desperate need of humanitarian aid as hundreds of thousands of lives are endangered by conflict and starvation. Issues of radicalization and violence will only be resolved if the international community comes together to intervene to prevent further conflict escalation, murder and destruction.
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