The Northern part of Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado has since October 2017 faced insurgency from alleged Islamist Ansar al-Sunna rebels, resulting in the killing of more than 2,000 people. The United Nations (UN) reports that more than 700,000 others have been forced to flee their homes.
The militants have taken control of territory in Cabo Delgado, including a strategic port in the town of Mocimboa da Praia, and burned dozens of villages across the resource-rich province. The port is home to the liquefied natural gas projects which are being exploited by France’s Total and US’s ExxonMobil.
Last week, the government of Mozambique’s affirmed that dozens of civilians had been killed in fresh attacks on the northern town of Palma, including seven people whose convoy of vehicles was ambushed as they attempted to flee.
The Mozambique officials also claimed that hundreds of other people including locals and foreigners had been rescued from Palma, a logistics hub for international gas projects in Cabo Delgado province. French energy giant Total said it was forced to suspend operations at a huge gas project nearby.
The company had only just announced it would restart work on the USD 20bn project which it had halted in January over security concerns.
While the conflict is going on, different narratives have been put forward as to what is the real cause of the conflict, which at face value has been labelled a terrorist attack linked to Islamic militants. Whereas, from a political economy perspective some believe that the conflict lays its roots in social-economic grievances from the locals who are not happy about the exploitation of the province’s ruby and gas industries with little benefit to the locals.
The Frelimo link
Some argue that Mozambique’s ruling elites from Frelimo are complicit because of their greed and that’s why they, instead of calling for support from regional blocs like SADC and the AU, have instead opted for private military companies from Russia and South Africa.
The authorities are being accused of selling a dummy and instead of trying hard to link it to the Islamist terrorist attacks while at the same time running away from the reality, they are trying to protect a greedy class of elites that is refusing to share the ruby and the gas wealth with the locals.
It is thus key to understand the political economy of the Cabo Delgado conflict, I posit that the issues are much broader, the “terrorism” narrative is just but a label created to cover the real grievances on the ground that are marginalisation and growing poverty and inequality as ruling elites and the mining and gas companies do not share the wealth.
While calls for the intervention of the Southern African Development Community, Mozambique suspiciously remains mum, opting for private security companies aiding fears that Frelimo does not want the involvement of regional and international organisations which are big enough to issue reports pointing out the root causes of the insurgency.
Ironically, Cabo Delgado is considered one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique, with high rates of illiteracy and unemployment, growing poverty and inequality despite the huge ruby deposit and gas in 2009. The locals had hoped that the discoveries were going to change their lifestyles, an opportunity for employment creation, better lives, but this hope has remained a pipe dream.
According to reports, it was alleged that any benefits were being taken by a small elite in the Frelimo party, which has governed Mozambique since independence in 1975.
As the crisis is unfolding, Mozambique’s poorly equipped army had been aided by Russian and South African mercenaries, however, it has become a toll order as the insurgency seems to be growing.
The US government announced that it was sending its Marine forces for two months to help train local soldiers, as well as providing “medical and communications equipment”.
Security and humanitarian concerns for SADC
In the final analysis, it is abundantly clear that the conflict in the Northern province of Mozambique brews security and humanitarian risk for Southern Africa. To imagine that the crisis has been going on for almost three years and yet Mozambique chose to downplay the impact of the conflict raises a sting and gives way to conspiracy theories that the ruling elite is heavily compromised in this whole ordeal.
The coming in of US Marines shows a much bigger impact on the interests at hand, is it to help end “terrorism” or to protect the Rovunna offshore gas fields which the US oil and gas corporation Exxon-Mobil has major concessions?
As it seems, the government of Mozambique is determined to protect the interests of these corporates, the government signed a security memorandum of understanding with the Mozambican authorities for the protection of the LNG site and Total’s facilities. The collusion between the state and private capital raises another sting and points to a corrupt syndicate in most African countries at the expense of citizens.
Whereas calls have been made for the intervention of SADC, the onus remains on the Mozambique authorities and these foreign companies to consider the locals, create jobs, reduce marginalisation and share profits maybe the conflict will end.
However, the conflict will continue as long as the foreign gas companies and the ruling elites continue reinforcing the mythical Islamic terrorism label. The real terrorists are the ruling elites and private western capitalists that are on overdrive of primitive accumulation of Mozambique’s natural resources.
A fight that is urgent is a fight against the plunder of Africa’s natural resources, it is a fight against marginalisation, a fight against profiteering and a fight against inequality. The locals should benefit from the natural resource!