Mozambique Forces Retake Mocimboa da Praia

On August 12th, the governor of the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique declared the city of Mocímboa da Praia safe for civilians to return. The city had previously been occupied by Islamist insurgents but was retaken by a joint force from Rwanda and Mozambique on Sunday. The town was first taken in August of 2020 killing at least 3,200 people and displacing 800,000 people. It became the de-facto headquarters of the Islamic State-linked insurgents. The specific group in Mozambique is referred to as Al-Shabab and is unrelated to the Somali group.

The Cabo Delgado province has been dealing with the Islamist insurgency since 2017 and last year the unrest escalated as insurgents seized entire towns across the region. The insurgency is led by extremists from the Mwani ethnic group who are angry about how the majority Catholic Makonde upper class has dominated politics and business in the region. Mocimboa da Praia holds strategic importance in maintaining control of the region. The city is located 60 km south of the country’s major gas projects and therefore has served as the main airport location for international workers and a major port for cargo deliveries. The insurgents used the city as a base to plan an attack in March of 2021 on Palma, a city about 80 km up the coast from Mocimboa da Praia. That attack forced the government to push back its plans for a gas project near Palma. This project, along with others in the region, was meant to help the economy by bringing in more trade and investments for the country.

As the attacks continued in Mozambique, a multinational force was formed to help in the region. On August 9th, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) officially launched the mission in Mozambique to help combat the insurgency. The SADC troops include soldiers from Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, and Angola. Experts from other SADC member states were also sent. These troops, along with the Rwandan forces, have been helping the Mozambique government take back towns.

It was the Rwandan and Mozambique troops that retook Mocimboa da Praia last week and helping civilians return to the city. The insurgents used Mocimboa da Praia as a stronghold for their supplies, and according to the Rwandan defense forces, losing the city severely weakened them. There are still concerns about what will happen with the members of Al-Shabab who escaped and how long it will take for the government to regain control. However, the retaking of Mocimboa da Praia is a step towards quelling violence in the region. Al-Shabab originally expressed anger over concerns of a lack of control and involvement in the politics of the region, which have been majority Makonde leaders. How the Mozambique government plans to address these concerns is unclear, but for now, it appears that the immediate goal is to stop the violence and help people return to their homes and lives.