Ongoing violence in the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique has left more than 300,000 people totally reliant on humanitarian assistance, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). Clashes between the Islamist militant group, Ahlu Sunnah Wal-Jamaah (ASWJ), and government forces have caused thousands to flee the region. Although the ASWJ, known locally as al-Shabaab, began an insurgency in 2017, fighting has become more intense in the past year, with The Economist reporting that there have been more attacks in the first half of 2020, than in the entire previous year. Growing violence in recent months has resulted in increasingly large numbers of people fleeing their homes, farms and businesses into neighbouring regions, where they are wholly reliant on humanitarian aid.
Antonella D’Aprile, the WFP representative for Mozambique, has expressed high levels of concern for the growing humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado, “where conflict and violence have left people without access to food and livelihoods.” The fact many have been forced to flee during traditional harvest times has exacerbated the problem, and the UN has warned that “crisis” levels of food insecurity for individuals in the region may continue into next year. The WFP has said it urgently requires $4.7 million per month in order to assist displaced persons in Mozambique, and that without extra funding, they will be forced to reduce food rations by December.
The mounting unrest in Cabo Delgado risks bringing about further insecurity in the region, whilst creating a potentially devastating humanitarian crisis. The growing strength and sophistication of the ASWJ suggests it is unlikely violence will be curbed quickly. Reuters has even reported that Mozambique has written to the EU’s Foreign Policy Chief, Josep Borrell, to ask for military support and training to help battle the insurgency in the north. However, greater support for Mozambican forces may also prove problematic. Recent reports from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch highlight potential human rights abuses carried out by the Mozambique Armed Defence Force (FADM). One particularly shocking video has emerged in which a group of men, wearing FADM uniforms, shoot an unarmed, naked woman over 30 times.
Bringing peace to Cabo Delgado will not be easy. Recent discoveries of large natural gas reserves valued at over $50bn, has created huge incentives for continuing violence, according to The Guardian. Furthermore, chronic underdevelopment in the region, which has lagged behind other areas of Mozambique, following independence from Portugal in 1975, has created a “pool of impoverished young men with no hope” who are suspicious of the government, and often sympathetic to the ASWJ, says Joseph Hanlon for the BBC.
Greater efforts must be made to curb the violence in Cabo Delgado, without allowing the FADM to commit human rights abuses in the name of counter insurgency. Those fleeing the region are likely to multiply in the coming months, and without concerted international involvement, they face extreme levels of food insecurity. Individuals in neighbouring regions of Mozambique and Tanzania are also likely to face growing insecurity from this mass exodus, intensified by the COVID-19 pandemic, in which Cabo Delgado is the second worst affected region in Mozambique. Funding the FADM does not seem to be the answer. Instead governments must look to tackle the issues of poverty and underdevelopment in the region, whilst also bringing about greater security for individuals.
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