South Africa ISIS Mozambique

Emergence of extremist violence in Mozambique – Photo: Twitter / @sjcgct

Experts dissect rising violent extremist attacks in Mozambique

It was pointed out that more than 1000 people have died during violent terrorist attacks and 250 000 people displaced.

South Africa ISIS Mozambique

Emergence of extremist violence in Mozambique – Photo: Twitter / @sjcgct

There is a public debate in the SADC region on whether Mozambique’s “violent extremist attacks were rooted in historical religious tensions or socioeconomic hardships that the government had failed to adequately address,” according to Tina Andrade, Mozambique representative for Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES).

Arande was part of a panel unpacking the emergence of violent extremism in the Southern African nation and its implications for peace and security in the region; which included the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA) and Chatham House, as well as a broad rage of civil society organisations.

Deep rooted policy failures

Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project analyst Jasmine Opperman said while there were “some form of radicalisation” taking place among the youth in Mozambique, it should not be “automatically linked to Islam.”

However, she said, there had indeed been some level of foreign influence, and that existing tensions in the Cabo Delgado province are providing a gateway for foreign forces.

The discovery of substantial gas reserves off the Cabo Delgado coast has resulted in the area being now home to Africa’s largest liquid natural gas attracting enormous interest. A growing and relentless insurgency now threaten the investments.

Opperman believes the insurgents have highlighted the weak points in the government’s security forces and exposed the limitations of the country’s containment measures.

She further stated that, in her view, the Mozambican government was unwilling to admit to deep-rooted policy failure on its part and would rather blame the rise of violent extremist groups on external factors.

“Unless the government starts addressing local dissatisfaction in the short to medium term, we will see violence institutionalised and becoming part of Southern Africa, with regional implications. There is transnational interest, but local factors are by far more pressing.

University of the Witwatersrand School of Governance associate Professor Anthoni van Nieuwkerk supported Opperman’s view. 

“There is an 18% Islamic presence in Mozambique. This was, therefore, a limited factor in terms of accounting for the spread of violent extremism in Africa.”

He does believe that terrorism has increased in Mozambique, but said the drivers of these attacks were poverty and exclusion from development.

Énio Chingotuane, representing Centro de Estudos Estratégicos e Internacionais, said there was in fact an East African root to Mozambique’s problems as most members of the violent extremist groups in the country originated from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and some from Somalia. 

He believes there’s room for Maputo to be more active in solving development inequality but that the government was instead trying to securitise the issue at regional level, rather than targeting specific local intervention.

Chingotuane noted that Mozambique had some key drivers that helped enable expansion of violent extremist ideas. These include porous borders, enormous development backlogs, economic exclusion of marginalised groups, limited government resources and insufficient law enforcement capacity.

“Mozambique is asking for help from SADC to assist in its military effort against these attacks, but can military brigades solve the root issues of uprise in the country?”

SADC intervention questioned

The presence of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant- (ISIL-) affiliated violent extremists in the northern provinces of Mozambique has reportedly raised the threat levels for the lives of people in Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries.

Van Nieuwkerk said a narrative is emerging that violent extremism is taking off rapidly in Cabo Delgado, and is considered as the latest security threat in the region. 

“It is true that the State is very fragile, ridden with crime and corruption, but there is little evidence that it is more than pockets of violent extremism. There is no indication of these attacks spreading through Southern Africa.”

Van Nieuwkerk suggested that a baseline study be done to map violent extremism in Southern Africa from which a counter-terrorist strategy for the region could be developed.

The SADC Treaty stipulates that member States are enjoined to cooperate in areas of peace, development and economics.

In addition, the SADC Counter Regional Strategy of 2015 lays down the blocks for regional undertaking in the case of terrorism, along the lines of the United Nations’ counter terrorism strategy.

The SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security further provides a legal framework for collective security, however, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) researcher Ringisai Chikohomero said SADC should not help Mozambique “evade its responsibilities on a local level by providing assistance from a regional level.”

Colonial-era effects linger on

Mozambique was a Portuguese colony, overseas province and later a member State of Portugal, but gained independence in 1975. 

The country is, however, still suffering from the effects of a 16-year civil war that ended in 1992.

Chatham House African programme leader Dr Alex Vines said Mozambique had lingering colonial legacies which added to tensions in the country. This type of conflict has, however, been mostly confined to the far north area of Mozambique.

Vines explained that colonial Mozambique had developed as two separate countries across the Zambezi river, reinforcing different historical trajectories.