Mozambique President Calls On Insurgents To Surrender After Key Militant Killed

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi urged Islamist insurgents to surrender after forces from southern Africa killed a key militant. 

On September 25th, allied Rwandan, Mozambican, and southern African forces conducted an offensive in the Cabo Delgado province and killed Jihadist chief Awadhi Ndanjile, along with 18 other fighters. Ndanjile was instrumental in recruiting and indoctrinating members of Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama’a (ASJW), a political and military organization based in Somalia.

The combined forces drove the militants from their territory. In a speech one day after the offensive to mark Peace and National Reconciliation Day, President Nyusi said “[W]e wanted to invite them not to wait for death,” Nyusi continued, saying that “this is not the intention of the defense and security forces,” and threatened the militants to surrender because they “have nowhere to run,” according to U.S. News & World Report. However, while Nyusi suggested other insurgency leaders’ likely departure, possibly out of Mozambique, he expressed concern for low ranking individuals being forced to fill the missing ranks.

Awadhi Ndanjile’s death follows a crisis that began in March. Insurgents attacked the coastal town of Palma, which is located near natural gas projects worth $60 billion. They are intended to “transform Mozambique’s economy.” Multiple areas held by the insurgents were cleared, including the town of Mocimboa da Praia. Security forces claimed the insurgents controlled the town for more than a year, before they were driven out and had their bases destroyed. 

As discussed by the BBC, the Cabo Delgado region has long experienced instability, but the Islamic insurgency began in 2017. In addition, the nearby al-Shabab militia is believed by bodies like the United States to be linked with the wider Islamic State militant group. Senior associate at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, Emilia Columbo, observed how the group has been successful in gaining recruits. “[I] would say based on how quickly they spread, it speaks to a huge increase in recruitment,” Columbo said. “[W]e get reports of boats full of youths getting intercepted on the way to Cabo Delgado.”

There has been a significant increase in attacks by militant groups over the past year. The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) reported more than 570 violent incidents between January and December 2020. Conflict and instability have forced many Mozambicans to flee their homes. Over 2,000 people have been killed, and more than 700,000 displaced since the insurgency began.

In addressing the crisis, Mozambique requested that the U.S. send military advisors. They made an agreement for American soldiers to train local forces in fighting the militants. But U.S. involvement may be seen as self-serving, instead of assisting Mozambique. Jasmine Opperman, an analyst for ACLED, said the U.S. is “clearly” trying to expand its influence. Highlighting that the insurgency is a complex local conflict, Opperman alleged that the U.S. is over-simplifying it by regarding the militants “as an extension of the Islamic state.”

Portugal, a former colonial power in Mozambique until 1975, also agreed to train their military. A Portuguese official announced that they would “send a staff of approximately 60 trainers to Mozambique to train marines and commandos.” In addition to assistance from foreign militaries, private military contractors have operated alongside the country’s security forces. 

In 2019, mercenaries from the private Russian military company, Wagner Group, entered the region, demonstrating Russia’s interest in strengthening ties from the Soviet era. The BBC also explained that Russia has “clear economic motives” for involvement in Africa. They have a shortage of minerals like manganese, bauxite and chromium, which are important materials for industry. Perhaps for these and other reasons, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Africa is one of Russia’s foreign policy priorities, which has concerned other countries with close ties to the continent. 

Mozambique’s government also invited the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), based in South Africa, to help fight the insurgents. Although the international non-government Amnesty Organization implicated the group in human rights violations in Cabo Delgado, the DAG says it is investigating these allegations. In addition to concerns over the effectiveness of private contractors, acting U.S. counterterrorism coordinator John Godfrey said the involvement of mercenaries “has not demonstrably helped” Mozambique in combatting the militants. 

One disadvantage of foreign interference is the lack of knowledge about Mozambique’s terrain and politics, as discussed in The Moscow Times. Within weeks following Wagner’s arrival, reports have circulated that its mercenaries were being ambushed, killed and beheaded. Various independent analysts, mercenaries and security experts have also posited to The Moscow Times that Wagner “is struggling.” 

Difficulty with understanding the terrain has led to other problems. Two anonymous sources from Mozambique’s military described growing tensions between Wagner and the Mozambique Defense Force after many failed military operations. One of the soldiers stated that “[W]e have almost stopped patrolling together.” Jasmine Opperman proposed that “a perfect storm” engulfs Wagner in Mozambique. “[T]he Russians don’t understand the local culture, don’t trust the soldiers and have to fight in horrible conditions against an enemy that is gaining more and more momentum. They are in over their heads.”

Along with foreign involvement, the conflict continues to escalate. Another insurgency leader, referred to only as ”Muhamudu” by President Nyusi, was killed during another insurgency operation carried out by the government and Rwandan forces, days after the killing of Rajab Awadhi Ndanjili. Nyusi said that “Muhamudu” was involved in the massacre of 51 young men after they refused to join his group. 

Another group called Ansar al-Sunna is the main faction in the insurgency. It began as a movement in 2015, claiming that the Islamic practise in Mozambique was corrupted and deviated from the Prophet Muhammad’s teachings. Members entered traditional mosques with weapons, intent on threatening others into following their radical beliefs. This behaviour alienated most of the local population, rather than converting them to the movement. The group has become increasingly violent, and called for the implementation of radical Islamic Sharia law. They also stopped recognizing Mozambique’s government, and have formed hidden camps in the Macomia, Mocimboa da Praia, and Montepuez districts. 

Religion seems to play a fundamental role in the conflict, but analysts believe the most crucial factors are widespread social, economic and political problems. Unemployment, particularly for young people, and other inequalities are considered the main causes for locals joining the radical movement. Ansar al-Sunna has promised that its form of Islamic practise will serve as an “antidote” to the “corrupt, elitist rule.”  

The Organization for World Peace condemns violence. Still, Mozambique is threatened with radical organizations that readily embrace it as a solution. This crisis is further complicated by the various factions that seek involvement for their interests, and Mozambique’s request for such intervention.

Perhaps, one way to de-escalate tensions is attempting to engage the insurgents through dialogue. Mozambique’s government should seek to discern why Ansar al-Sunna believes Islamic practise has been corrupted, and how to appease them. Perhaps, communicating recognition and respect will placate these insurgents, and discourage violence. Their dissatisfaction is only worsening the situation. Mozambique should also consider eliminating foreign influences, as this may be contributing to increased hostilities.

Instead of military assistance, perhaps the government should request humanitarian aid for its civilians. If more people have vital resources, they may not find joining the militants as appealing for hopes of a better life. Consequently, the aid and other benefits can extend to the militants, if they agree to make concessions.

Under close supervision, Mozambique’s government should give the militants a chance for humanitarian aid, recognition, and self-governance. In exchange, they must be willing to reduce violence, respect individual rights, embrace tolerance (they are hostile towards Animists, Christians and western culture), and refrain from radical Sharia Law. If these provisions are not deemed acceptable by both parties, the government should take initiative by seeking how to reach an equitable deal. Otherwise, the conflict will continue to escalate, resulting in more death, destruction, and displacement. 

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