Two hundred militants seized the town of Mocímboa da Praia in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province earlier this week, targeting military units and police stations. Mozambican authorities have reported a large number of deaths and injuries.
Jihadists on the offensive
Residents of Mosimbo da Praia reported that several militant groups arrived by boat and landed on the city beach, meanwhile, another group entered the city in SUVs. The attackers were called “Al-Shabaab” by the townspeople. However, the Mozambican jihadists should not be confused with the terrorist organization in Somalia.
After taking control of the city, the terrorists blocked all exits from Mos Mocímboa da Praia. The Mozambican army, in turn, also tried to block the roads. However, after one day of occupation, the militants left the city.
Here we go: ISCAP claims credit for attack in Mozambique: Since June 2019, we are standing at 29 claims to credit. Now we wait for photo report and or video https://t.co/Yono4Ns8Op
— Jasmine Opperman (@Jasminechic00) March 24, 2020
On March 25, Islamists launched a new attack in Quissanga village Cabo Delgado Province.
— Prof. Adriano Nuvunga, Ph.D. (@adriano_nuvunga) March 25, 2020
Cabu Delgado province is home to large natural gas reserves: foreign companies, including Exxon and Total operate there. Last year, a plan was announced to invest half a billion dollars in infrastructure. One peculiarity of the hydrocarbon-rich northern province Cabo Delgado is the presence of a significant number of Muslims, while the rest of the Portuguese speaking Mozambique are Catholics and followers of traditional African beliefs.
Since 2017, the terrorist group Ansar al-Sharia, also known as al-Shabaab, Ahlu al-Sunna and Swahili Sunna (founded by the followers of radical Kenyan cleric Aboud Rogo Mohammed) have been actively fighting against the government. Aboud Rogo Mohammed has also been linked to Somalian al-Shabaab. There is also a branch of the Islamic State in the province.
The apparent #Jihadist #insurgents burned literally everything, 23/03, including police station and military barracks in #MocimboadaPraia, in the northern province of #CaboDelgado but remain faceless! How is that possible???? @_Africa24 @CDD_Moz @TamukaKagoro77 @SiphoMalunga pic.twitter.com/fjcftozMAX
— Prof. Adriano Nuvunga, Ph.D. (@adriano_nuvunga) March 24, 2020
There have been allegations of links between the Islamist insurgency and radical clerics in Kenya and Tanzania as well as Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Libya and Algeria, where the Mozambique radicals studied.
The spread of Islamic terrorism in Africa is a problem that is of concern to the entire world community. However, the growth of Islamic extremism in Mozambique is striking given how rapidly it has spread.
According to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), in 2019, Mozambique “had the greatest increase in the number of events involving Islamist actors – 237%” – in the world,” largely because of the expansion and growing strength of insurgents in Cabo Delgado province.” Mozambique is now a global leader in the rate of increasing terrorist activity.
ACLED mentioned Mozambique alongside Myanmar, Burkina Faso, Libya and the Democratic Republic of Congo as a country with a significant increase in fatalities from political violence. In 2019, an additional 438 people died there as a result of political violence in comparison to 2018, an increase of 197%.
The armed conflict in Cabo Delgado Province has already resulted in over 900 deaths and left 100,000 refugees.
The locals, however, say they do not know exactly what the Islamic terrorists seek. According to their statements, they do not make any demands, and they “just see them killing people.” This approach leaves no chance for the government other than to destroy the terrorists. Negotiations under such conditions are unlikely.
Last year, Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi said that he was ready to talk with the insurgents, but because they do not have a recognized leader, there is simply no one to negotiate with.
As the New Humanitarian notes “the killers have not produced a manifesto or put forward a leader with a clear religious message.” Thus, according to experts, Islamic extremism is one of the factors of violence, but not the only one. Local differences, clan and tribal strife, which are only covered by Islamist ideology, play a significant role.
Internationalization of the conflict
At the same time, the instability in Mozambique is attracting jihadists from other parts of Africa. In June 2019, ISIS first took responsibility for the terrorist attack in the country. In total, the Islamic State has now claimed 29 terrorist attacks.
In Central Africa, ISIS structures are united in the Central African province of the Islamic State. While its leadership is in Somalia, operations are in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique.
However, in January, DRC troops captured Madina, the headquarters of Allied Democratic Forces, also known as “Madina al Tawheed Wa Mujahideen” (“A city of monotheism and holy warriors”). An attack on jihadists in the DRC may prompt some of them to move into Mozambique.
Taking advantage of the floods caused by Cyclone Kenneth and Cyclone Idai, the militants are expanding their area of operations – moving south and inland to Cabo Delgado and getting closer to the regional capital, Pemba. Terrorist activity in Mozambique, coupled with an unstable hydrocarbon market, threatens the collapse of Mozambique’s economy: the country needs protection.
Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s deputy director for East and Southern Africa, called on Mozambique’s authorities “protect everyone in the region, including by ramping up legitimate security measures.”
Relations with Turkey
For the past five years, Turkey has tried to actively cooperate with African countries, and Mozambique is no exception.
In February 2020, Mozambique appointed its first ever ambassador to Turkey when César Francisco de Gouveia Júnior presented credential letters to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. According to Mozambique’s media reports, the Turkish leader announced Turkey’s intention to increase investment in various industries in Mozambique. Among the industries that Turkey considers priorities are: “infrastructure construction, pharmaceutical industry, textile industry, agriculture and agro-industry”. Mozambique was also invited to participate in the forum on diversified cooperation between Turkey and African countries to be held in Istanbul on 20 April 2020.
In 2017, Erdogan himself visited Mozambique. In December 2019, Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan declared that Turkey “will sign preferential trade with Mozambique and Mauritania.”
The rise of terrorist activity in Mozambique also threatens Turkey’s interests. In addition, there are concerns that jihadists may move some of their activities from Mozambique to other countries in southern Africa.
The presence of Western countries in Africa not only does not reduce the level of terrorist threat, it prompts its growth. Under these circumstances, Turkey may try to strengthen its position in Africa and Mozambique, including by increasing its support to the government in the fight against terrorism.
Unlike Russia, China or Western countries, Turkey is a Muslim country, and unlike the Gulf countries, primarily Saudi Arabia, Turkey promotes moderate Islam.
With Turkey’s help, it is possible to initiate work with Muslim communities to facilitate their deradicalization. Military-technical cooperation with Turkey will cause less objections from Muslims than cooperation with non-Muslim countries. Moreover, Turkey has a developed military-industrial complex and can offer African countries modern weapons at low prices, including combat drones and missiles.
International humanitarian organizations note that the population of northern Mozambique suffers from both natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Increased support from Turkish humanitarian agencies could be an important factor in stabilizing the region and could serve as a soft power tool to expand Turkish influence in the region.