Antonio Gulene Banke is 58 years old and has seven children. He lived in the Mozambican village of Namiteve until the early hours of April 27, when armed insurgents burned the place. “As soon as they entered, they killed one person and the community leader was beaten and held together with several women for hours. They then forced them to walk several kilometers, made them stop, and killed five other people. In the end they left the leader and the older women free and the younger women stayed for a few days. ” It is the story of Gulene Banke, still in awe, in the Quaia displacement center, in the Metuge district, in northeastern Mozambique, where he arrived three days after losing everything. There, some 700 people regain strength to decide what to do with their lives after the jihadist offensive last April perpetrated by the local group Al Shabab (Young people, according to the Arabic translation), also called the Islamic State of Central Africa (ISCA , in its acronym in English), now countered by the deployment of military forces from several African countries.
The conflict in the province of Cabo Delgado, located in northern Mozambique, bordering Tanzania and the Indian Ocean, dates back to 2017, when the group Al Shabab – a jihadist insurgency of local origin – began to target activities economic benefits from which to profit, such as the exploitation of natural gas, ruby and gold mines, the trade in precious woods, and drug trafficking. The attacks have hit a population mired in poverty, which sees the wealth of natural resources pass by and depends on a political power marked by abuses. Three years of jihadist offensive have resulted in around 3,000 dead and 850,000 internally displaced. And according to a recent Human Rights Watch report, more than 600 women and girls have been abducted and enslaved by Al Shabab since 2018.
The clashes have ended up promoting a joint action by several African countries. Given the slow decision-making process of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which includes 15 countries in the south of the continent, and the onslaught of Al Shabab on the coastal city of Palma ( Cabo Delgado) in April, the Rwandan government deployed an operation of a thousand soldiers in the area in the summer in support of the Mozambican forces. The first successes in the retreat of the insurgents in the main cities of the area were attributed to the strength and preparation of the Rwandan troops, who were joined shortly after by soldiers from South Africa and Botswana, among others, from the Mission in Mozambique. of the SADC.
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Among the successes of the deployed African military force are the liberation of the cities of Palma and Mocimba da Praia, the death of the religious leader of Al Shabab Sheikh Dr. Njile, the location of an insurgent training base, and the stabilization and control of parts of the territory where the population displaced by violence is beginning to return. “The arrival of external security forces to Cabo Delgado has been fundamental in the battle for the region that demands the insurgency, but until the social, economic and political problems are addressed, the insurgency will not disappear. They maintain a certain freedom of movement and are capable of carrying out brutal attacks on a small scale, ”explains Jasmine Opperman, an expert on terrorism at the ACLED organization.
“We cannot limit ourselves to saying that they are jihadist groups that have taken up arms and are killing civilians,” says Quraysha Ismail Sooliman, from the Center for Mediation in Africa at the University of Pretoria, “without analyzing which is the relationship between citizens and the State, if there is a governmental social commitment, if citizens feel that the State is legitimate, if it is responding to their needs. And most importantly, if there is a relationship of equality between the State and the citizens ”. An impoverished area, where the exploitation of economic resources does not affect the population, and young people face a future with low expectations, is fertile ground for a jihadist movement to gain strength.
Thus, “the conflict is not over,” says Litlhare Rabele, political analyst at Lesedi FM radio, “and it will take a long time to say that Mozambique is stable because SADC is not addressing the root of the conflict, which is what brings peace. . Dialogue is necessary given the high frustration among young Mozambicans due to the unemployment they suffer, the cost of living despite natural resources, whose benefits do not reach the population. That causes young people to join terrorist groups ”. Furthermore, says Rabele, “the collaboration of countries leading the offensive such as South Africa, with extensive military capacity, resources and the experience of their secret services, has yielded good results, but if the Government of Mozambique does not address internal political problems between [los partidos mayoritarios] Renamo and Frelimo, to establish a unit that allows the population to benefit from their natural resources, will not advance ”.
The hitherto effective military intervention of the Rwandan troops and the SADC in the recovery of control of Cabo Delgado is allowing the return of part of the displaced, often due to the need to cultivate the land to survive. In addition, the Government of Mozambique is considering establishing safe corridors on the highways that link the region with the capital, Maputo, so that the French company Total – which has returned to open an office in the region – can resume the exploitation of an oil field. gas, a contract with which the country expects to enter 20,000 million dollars (about 17,712 million euros).
The containment of the jihadist insurgents and the “liberation, not pacification” of the populations of Cabo Delgado, diplomatic sources in the field point out, has resulted in the dispersal of the militiamen to neighboring regions such as Nampula and Niassa, where they have infiltrated among the population. However, the current perspective points to the return of the displaced population – 70% are under the age of 30 – to areas controlled by government forces. The government tries to establish a dialogue with the insurgents, while the SADC mission, which contributes to a fragile calm, draws to a close, scheduled for next January, if the participants do not decide to extend it.
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