These attacks would never have happened if Africa had a strong central authority
By Robin Makayi
As the shock waves of Mozambican attacks cascade across the African continent with mass civilian casualties, there is a need to interrogate the scope of the problem, examine complex realities and proffer programmatic solutions by creating new political, social, and military dimensions.
Scope of the problem
The problem in Cabo Delgado province of Northern Mozambique is neither new nor unknown. Authorities recorded skirmish incidences of attacks way back in 2015 but the government tone considered any thorough reporting and investigation as ‘unwarranted’ due to its restrictive information policy.
Mozambique is recovering from an agonizing 15 year-long guerilla war with West-backed Renamo dissidents who sought to overthrow a Communist-backed Frelimo government.
The signing of the General Peace Agreement in October 1992 in Rome saw the downscaling of major military forces and base stations across the country as a sign of good gesture and reconciliation, creating in some instances a security vacuum.
This would later open doors for disgruntled and opportunistic Islamic insurgents who creatively and successfully exploited the extreme poverty of locals and the government’s failure to deliver basic services to drive their message and recruit members.
To make matters worse, the Mozambican army is less trusted by locals as they have allegedly committed atrocities to residents as they fought back the emergency of Ansar al-Sunna from 2017.
Background to the crisis
But labeling these insurgents as mere opportunists is not just too simplistic by pure naivety.
There is an underhand behind their barbaric yet aggressive insurgent operations. In 2009 a geological company GIA discovered huge gem deposits in the form of rubies in Cabo Delgado province.
Within months, a local company Montepuez Ruby Mining Company (MRM) made of Frelimo loyalists partnered with UK-based Gemfields for further prospecting and exploration.
In 2015, a security entity called ARHE Risk Solutions begin forcefully removing residents to pave way for gem extraction with the aid of state agents from FIR and Environmental Protection Force.
Fortune, as it may, in 2010 ENI from Italy and Anadarko from the U.S.A, discovered over 6000 billion cubic meters of liquefied gas in and around the offshore of the Cabo Delgado province.
The discovery of this huge energy source tilted the geopolitical balance of power in favor of Mozambique both regionally and globally.
Such huge wealth could potentially threaten well-established markets and trade routes for other energy players setting a stage for ‘energy wars’.
Global superpowers begin to rush to Mozambique for a piece of the pie, and including very interesting but not surprising, all Security Council members states, Great Britain, China, USA, Russia, and France which has already secured its interests via Total’s US$60 dollar investment.
Some interested parties included Nigerian, Japan, Brazil, India and South Africa among many others.
Naturally, this created a stage for a confrontation of global superpowers in this poverty-stricken province, which already has a security vacuum owing to the downscaling of heavy Mozambican military operations, supervision and reconnaissance following the Frelimo/Renamo peace accord.
The emergency of the jihadist Ansar al-Sunna militant groups can only be explained in this geopolitical equation. The nature of weaponry insurgents are using, their barbaric tactics and misuse of the Islamic faith as a cover-up should be considered tell tell signs of the broader fight of global giants.
The ultimate objective remains unclear but their damage and carnage including torture, abduction of young men and women, beheading of minors and killing of infants remains apparent to all. Their lack of conscience in these salvage attacks suggest the possible use of potent psychoactive drugs.
Their penchant for looting clearly shows an inert desire for expansion as they continue to restock supplies and forcibly recruit more members.
Impact of the attacks
Ansar al-Sunna violent attacks and barbaric killings have left least 3000 people dead and according to one Displacement Tracking Matrix , more then 700 000 people have fled their homes from Cabo Delgado to Nampula and Nyasa province and southwards for safety.
Defense and Security Spokespersons Omar Saranga and Chongo Vigidal have given no clues as to how many people were killed, kidnapped, displaced or injured over the past two weeks. Ansar al-Sunna strategic yet awful targets include hospitals, water supplies and communication towers.
There are however some reticent attempts to give respect to those who died in this terrifying and violent assault.
Close to 15 000 people are reported injured and many aid agencies are just overwhelmed.
The situation is dire and hopeless and requires urgent regional and continental interventions. Aid agencies such as International Agency for Migration are working with in close collaboration with INDG to provide logistical and tactical support especially for IDPs, masks, soaps, sanitizers, wheelchairs, crutches, medical supplies, says Laura Tomm-Bonde. Covid 19and cholera remains of serious concerns to the United Nations International Organization for Migration.
The psychological damage from these attacks will affect the social fabric of Cabo Delgado citizens for years to come especially the younger victims.
Many survivors will recount harrowing escape from murderous Islamic insurgents and the vast number of victims is unaccompanied children.
Save the Children Fund director Chance Brigss said Children as young as 11 are being beheaded yet all children have no role in any conflict whatsoever.
“These people are evil, they came from far away and take our children” lamented a terrified local resident, Biche Oliverira.
Following these attacks the Mozambican government, quickly sent reinforcement to the province, invited South African Military contractors and shared critical information with affected mining and energy contractors.
The government further alerted SADC partners of the deteriorating situation and three Troikas have been conducted to date to help find the most practical solutions.
The government further established transit points to support internally displaced civilians.
The Mozambican military deployed infantry and mechanized weapons units with some specialized groups and para-military commandos coming from regional military giant, Zimbabwe.
Jaclyn Steitfield Researcher Director Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect noted that the intensity and frequency have increased over the past year with up to 20 attacks per month.
The insurgents were even boldened to attack military and police stations, raiding guns, ammunition and even military uniforms.
The Mozambican authorities have hired South African private companies to assist with security, with Portugal and USA agreeing to provide limited support.
Many security contractors and private mercenaries observed that government forces are ill-equipped to deal with these insurgents and even some reports indicate misuse of military power resulting in civilian casualties.
The government remains adamant that the situation can be and will be put under total control of their military forces. However much of the government’s response remains underground as it maintains a media blackout on many issues as DW correspondent Adrian Kriesch observed.
The Anatomy of Ansar al-Sunna Insurgents
As I alluded before, the emergency of Ansar al-Sunna is not a mere coincidence. Several local and global factors are at play. Key among these are the interests of superpowers.
SADC Troika on Defense and Security recently made two quite interesting observations that these insurgents are terrorists and that they have global affiliates in Kenya, Somalia, and almost certainly Syria and possibly Saudi Arabia.
How these terrorists are smuggling weapons of such sophistication and vehicles into Mozambique can only indicate involvement of state-sponsors of ISIS and Al Shabbaab.
ISIS accredited Ansar al-Sunna group as part of an official province (wiliyat) under ISGS, which was originally a faction of al-Mourabitoun following months of scrutiny and murderous campaign considered as “tests”.
Ansar al-Sunna (Helpers of Traditions [of Prophet Muhammad]), preached the puritical version of Islam bringing in into loggerheads with Sufi majority. A significant part of Ansar al-Sunna leadership emerged from the remnants of the late Rogo Mohammed, who had been sanctioned for “providing financial, material, logistical, or technical support to al-Shabaab”.
It is imperative to understand Ansar al-Sunna’s operational transition, increase in violent attacks and territorial ambitions in comparison to other jihadists around the Africa continent.
The group exploits local grievances to promote a global Islamic extremist ideology and their message easily resonates with the neglected youth of Mozambique, promising an alternative to decades of multiple deprivations, unemployment, disease, and ignorance in the Muslim-majority areas of the north.
Many retired, defected, retrenched, or fired police and military officers are joining the group mostly for its lucrative financial incentives. The group has since garnered support, approval and recognition from ISIS and global jihadi networks.
Ansar al-Sunna has financial networks around the continent and in many countries including in Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Somalia. They are involved in the smuggling of commercial goods such as cigarettes, woods, gems and undertake money laundering for many drug cartels.
Mozambique needs an African solution to help address this challenge. The crisis in Mozambique is an affront to Africa’s leadership. These attacks would never have happened if Africa had a strong central authority.
In the interim Mozambique needs a regional and coordinated military effort launched to assist national security forces to counter Ansar al-Sunna.
There is a need for Mozambique to tighten its borders, identify and sanction offenders, engage local Muslim leaders, and engage and address the grievances of the local population.
The government should consider humanitarian efforts to support victims and displaced people affected by these attacks. In the long term, the government must educate its citizens on national duty and equip them with skills vital for modern life. “With guns, you can kill terrorists, with the education you can kill terrorism” — Malala Yousafzai.
Mozambique should not look for help for exhausting regional and continental remedies such as from SADC and African Union.
Sadly the Mozambican president continues to seek help from outside Africa including from USA, Russia and India evidently embarrassing African governments.
However, efforts by regional military powers especially Zimbabwe in combating the insurgents must be applauded.
The attacks in Mozambique and many parts of the continents; Chad, Mali, DRC, Somalia, Kenya and Nigeria by Islamic groups or rebels forces undoubtedly demonstrate the need for a new dimension – a stronger central continental authority, with a capable army and smart intelligence operations.
It is imperative to radically transforming the AU charter, compelling member states for both annual and quarterly subscriptions and for more participation in regional and continent politics.
Failure to create a strong powerful Africa, with a central authority will sea global powers turning it into a political theatre for domination and resource extraction.
African is at the mercy of superpowers and if does not become a giant superpower itself, will remain at the mercy of current global superpowers.
Robin Makayi is a current affairs commentator. he writes in his personal capacity. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for feedback
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