Terrorism has become established as one of the most prominent threats to security and peace in world politics today. One of the most recent parts of the world to be affected is Mozambique, located in southern Africa on the east coast. In the north-eastern part of the country, conflict originated with some small attacks against police stations, largely considered to have come as a result of high unemployment and living conditions of extreme poverty. Some of the attacks committed include kidnappings, destruction of houses, and beheadings, mostly in the Cabo Delgado region.
In response to the violence, the Mozambique government has restructured its Defence Department and launched a special force of elite soldiers to combat the terrorists, citing how the terrorist threat “drives away development and investment in our country.” Mozambique shares six borders, so a terrorist threat could destabilize a significant portion southern and eastern Africa, a region already suffering from the damaging effects of Covid-19. This possibility has been enough for involvement by Tanzania, Rwanda and the European Union in assisting the Mozambique forces to combat the terrorists.
Looking at the origins of the conflict, we should understand that the Mozambique Government should have taken efforts to listen to the concerns of the people in the northern region and try to address their grievances, as this might have prevented escalation into violence. Now that violence has begun, the issue will be far more complicated to solve. Attempting to combat terrorism is a difficult task from any approach, particularly as a short-term success may lead to a higher long-term risk of further terrorism activity. For example, a purely military approach might quell the terrorist group, damage their resources, or instill fear of punishment, but it will do nothing to resolve the political grievances that led to this terrorist group’s creation in the first place. In this case, it has led to further conflict on both sides and the death of over 3,000 people.
It is important to understand that in the eyes of the terrorists, their actions are a last resort after being excluded from the political process — they see no other option. However, from the perspective of the broader international community, those who commit acts of terrorism no longer deserve participation in the political process, as violence against civilians is never justifiable. As a result, for peace to be achieved, the Mozambique government must effectively protect its citizens from those engaging in violent attacks, whilst offering an olive branch for those with grievances who have not yet committed acts of terrorism.
Simply put, violence is never the solution. For the terrorists, their actions mean that they will never have credibility. For the government, the core issues that led to the terrorist activity will not be resolved through military success alone. The task now is for the Mozambique government — and for governments around the world — to get the message across that using violence and terrorism will never be a successful way of achieving their social or political goals. To those who have not yet become violent, governments must say, “we will let you have a voice and we will listen, provided you put down your weapons and never again threaten to harm our people.” Doing so would help restore peace in the region and minimize the appeal of terrorism for other discontented communities around the world.
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