Palma, the town in Northern Mozambique that was attacked by Islamic-linked insurgents late last month, is now secure, U.S. News says. The coastal town south of the Tanzanian border was reportedly overrun by military extremists on March 24th, but on April 9th, Mozambique’s military reported that it had regained control.
Armindo Ngunga, the Cabo Delgado province’s secretary of state, told Reuters that the town of Palma was “under the control of the state,” adding, “there was a significant loss of human life, infrastructure destroyed. But people are safe now.”
Although the military claims that conditions have stabilized, the United Nations has called the result a humanitarian catastrophe “beyond epic proportions.” Besides the innumerable atrocities, including beheadings, carried out by child soldiers, the insurgent attack on Palma forced at least 11,000 people to leave their homes.
Fernando Lima, a Maputo-based journalist, said the raids “are debated as either a religious confrontation or a cover for social grievances in a region where poverty and unemployment are still rampant despite the promises of wealth linked to the development of the multibillion-dollar worth gas projects.” Palma is located next to Africa’s largest liquified natural gas construction site, where the French energy company Total has pushed for a $20 billion project. The natural gas project is supposedly meant to transform Mozambique’s economy, but the region has seen little benefit. In other words, the underlying roots of the violence come from concerns of poverty and inequality.
Al Jazeera reports that the attacks on Palma were led by an armed group known locally as al-Shabab, with deeply radical discontent in local politics and religion. When the group began launching attacks in October 2017, security agencies dismissed them as isolated acts of banditry. However, the fighters, who later pledged allegiance to ISIL (ISIS), continued attacking in Cabo Delgado. Interestingly, Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi seemed to downplay the latest attacks as “not the biggest,” despite the clear physical proximity to Africa’s biggest investment project. Seeing as these ongoing attacks fluctuate, it is critical for the Mozambican government to address the issue through informative press conferences, detailing the exact situation, the failures which led to it, and the measures the government is taking to prevent similar attacks in the future.
On the grander scheme, the attack on Palma has increased pressure for more foreign military intervention. There is now major pressure to accept help from the Southern African Development Community (S.A.D.C.) and Western powers in general. The regional S.A.D.C. bloc has held emergency talks in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital, to discuss the violence. Prior to the attacks, the United States proposed a two-month training mission of U.S. Special Operations Forces “to support Mozambique’s efforts to prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism.” The African Union, too, has called for urgent and coordinated international action – A.U. Chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said that he “condemns in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks” in Palma.
At this point, the most important step is to reconcile the current peace with actionable steps to ensure that peace’s permanency. This can be done through foreign cooperation and diplomatic talks between the insurgent group and the government.
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