On July 10th, the United Nations Development Program and Japan launched a development program to aid “peace, social, cohesion, and conflict prevention” in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province. Coordinating with Mozambique’s Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of State Administration, and police force, the project will focus on “strengthening institutional capacity, sensitization, community engagement and livelihoods.” Additionally, the project will support Mozambique’s internally displaced population, communities affected by conflict, and those rebuilding from 2019’s Cyclone Kenneth. For the past three years, Cabo Delgado has been plagued by violence from both insurgents and government forces alike. According to OCHA, conflict and natural disasters have left at least 250,000 internally displaced in Cabo Delgado Province, and 712,000 in need.
Mozambique will receive a grant of USD $ 643,000 from Japan, through the UNDP. The grant will aid 16,000 people, or about 3,200 households. In his speech, Japanese Ambassador Kimura Hajime, explained that the program would focus on supporting displaced communities. The project aims to improve “awareness violence prevention and livelihood capacity in Cabo Delgado.” Hajime continued, “This is because poverty and marginalization are some of the risk factors that can increase instability in the province.”
Additionally, UNDP Resident Representative Francisco Roquette noted the project would focus on vulnerable populations, such as women and youth. Roquette further characterized the project as focusing on the “root issues” of the conflict: “We envisage not only containing the ongoing conflicts but also creating enabling environments where communities can enjoy social and economic development in a sustainable fashion.”
In an interview with Deutsche Welle, the Bishop of Pemba, Dom Luiz Fernando Lisboa, welcomed the new project. “Any project that aims to promote peace, mechanisms that aim at preventing conflicts and strengthening institutions is very welcome… Our people are in dire need of this help and, if we get together with the government to help these people, this is very important.” Lisboa notes that such projects, when well-designed, and “put seriously into practice” do help. Still, he stresses that other efforts are still needed to “take care of the absurdly large number of people” currently in need of aid.
Notably, Cabo Delgado, sometimes referred to as “the forgotten cape,” is one of the poorest regions of Mozambique. Over the past few years, the region has suffered from multiple climate disasters, terrorist attacks, and a devastating cholera outbreak in February. Moreover, ACLED reports that insurgent groups are known to target hospitals, which is particularly damaging given the low number of hospitals per capita in the province (about 104 per 560,000 households as of 2017, according to WHO). According to O Pais, 27% of health units have shut down. The region also has the second highest number of Covid-19 cases in the country, per OCHA, with 286 recorded cases.
These crises have been, of course, especially difficult for areas plagued by conflict. For healthcare workers in the region, ACLED reports, a significant issue is “the simple inability to do the job in an environment of constant insecurity.” In addition to the threat of terrorist attacks, government forces frequently resort to using violence against civilians, per the Human Rights Watch. On July 7, government forces shot and killed four civilians while on daytime patrol, the same day insurgents were reportedly responsible for a shooting in Anga. Notably, France is reportedly discussing maritime military cooperation with Mozambique, while South African shadow defense minister Kobus Marais told parliament that South African special operations forces are already deployed in Mozambique. While Mozambique lacks the capacity to maintain control over conflict zones alone, foreign military support is concerning given security forces’ record in the region.
Further, districts without conflict are hosting a substantial number of refugees, even as local institutions shut down. As the Bishop of Pemba pointed out, most Pemba households are “hosting one, two or three [displaced] families.” With so many in need, the region is deeply in need of the institutional support the new UNDP project aims to provide.
The UNDP and Japan’s joint effort with Mozambique to promote peace are laudable, particularly in their concern for root causes such as economic poverty. While President Nyusi characterized the conflict as driven by “external elites”, ACLED notes that this ignores civilians’ legitimate grievances. Civilians not only face terrorist attacks, but the governments’ neglect and brutality towards its own citizens. Improving economic welfare, healthcare access, and safety will be a key part in promoting peace.
Additionally, allegations of human rights abuses by Mozambique’s government should be addressed, particularly given the project’s plans to work with the police force. Mozambique must investigate reports of security forces’ violence against civilians. Outside actors should incentivize the government to do so. Moreover, as the Bishop of Pemba emphasized, further efforts will be necessary: per OCHA, the conflict has left 712,000 in need. The new peace promotion project is, so far, an encouraging step in de-escalating the conflict in Delgado—more countries should follow its lead.
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