Op-Ed: Mozambique – Islamist militants continue attacks in Cabo Delgado

By Louw Nel – Political Analyst

Islamist extremist militants have carried out a spate of attacks targeting villages in the northern Cabo Delgado province on April 6 and 7.

According to reports, armed groups attacked the villages of Bilibiza, Meangalewa, Miengueleua, Muatide, Mueda, Muidumbe, and Ntchinga over two days, burning churches and buildings and abducting people in different locations. No one is believed to have been killed in the attacks.

This follows two incidents on March 23 and 25, in which militants launched brazen attacks and briefly occupied the towns of Mocímboa da Praia and Quissanga.

The first of those attacks was claimed by the Islamic State Central African Province (ISCAP) militant group, but groups active in the province since 2017 have also been referred to as Al-Shabab and Ansar al-Sunna, among others.

There are no conclusive links between the Mozambican jihadists and foreign-based Islamist extremist groups, and their motives and leadership structure remain unclear.

Mozambican authorities, alarmed by the attacks on Mocímboa da Praia and Quissanga and the threat they represented to the development of offshore natural gas finds, responded by saying that reinforcements were being deployed to Cabo Delgado.

This has clearly not succeeded in containing the threat posed by militants; however, the most recent attacks are more consistent with the groups’ modus operandi. Indeed, the attacks in March represented a significant escalation due to the size of the towns attacked and the fact that security forces had been stationed in both locations.

The more recent attacks targeted more familiar undefended, civilian locations, although Bilibiza is only 34km from Quissanga.

The escalation in Islamist militant activity in Cabo Delgado, along with depressed natural gas prices and concerns over the global coronavirus pandemic, will threaten proposed LNG projects.

Should the deteriorating security environment in the region result in the postponement or even reversal of investment decisions, Mozambique’s medium-term growth prospects will be seriously undermined.

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