Small Wars Journal

Challenges Within Mozambique

Wed, 01/15/2020 - 5:23am

Challenges Within Mozambique

Marc Chua

Political Struggles

Mozambique presents a complex scenario of great opportunities and serious challenges. Decades of civil war between the ruling FRELIMO party and the opposition RENAMO, has driven the country into economic turmoil causing over a million deaths with even more displaced people between 1977 and 1992. The conflict finally ended with both parties signing a ceasefire in Rome that ended the worst of the bloodshed and the fabrication of a new political party, RENAMO. But after years of peace, in October 2013, RENAMO annulled the peace agreement due to a military raid on one of their camps. The following year, RENAMO challenged the results of the election accusing FRELIMO of altering the polls in favor of themselves which further exacerbated political tensions. This outcry of corruption sparked sporadic violence again between government forces and RENAMO soldiers until end of 2014 where another ceasefire was brokered. By 2015, accusations of targeted RENAMO personnel were killed reigniting the feud once more. Fast forward to the present and the world is again witnessing a third attempt to bring peace between these two warring political groups, as renewed hope for the people of Mozambique to unite and effectively govern the nation together is on the horizon.  

This third attempt brings historic significance compared to the two previous which excluded the full disarmament of the RENAMO opposite forces where historically they maintained armed fighters queued along the countryside. Additionally, what makes this attempt differentiate from the previous efforts is almost 90% of issues have been implemented before the actual signing. Other significance that increases the likelihood of a lasting peace includes an amnesty for rebel fighters supported by President Nyusi and a constitutional amendment that stipulates provincial governors and other local officials to be elected rather than appointed by the central government.  It will be the first time RENAMO competes for provincial governorships allowing political inclusion and potential control over predominately RENAMO areas. Governorships offer a chance for RENAMO to demonstrate itself as a functioning political party. This new addition enables a more decentralized state with less concentrated power at the national level enabling more micro-level governance to fully support the people’s needs.

Yet, academia and experts circulate their doubts of this peace agreement lasting and perceive it as a political stunt for both sides as the October elections near. Both Nyusi and Momade hope the deal will land them much needed political points. Nevertheless, some predict that the polls could make or break the agreement and if RENAMO does not achieve its election goals or feels cheated by FRELIMO, the accord could quickly evaporate and revert to conflict. An additional stressor Mozambique face are factions of hardliners from both sides dissatisfied about the whole process. These spoilers have threatened violence and refuse to participate with the 5,200 projected RENAMO fighters scheduled for the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration process. Still, with this new Peace Accord, the positive change is much desired by the people to recalibrate Mozambique towards a successful trajectory.

The Informal Economy

This hope for positive change resonates throughout Mozambique since the conflicts has caused an enormous economic strain from the costly requirements of maintaining each’s stronghold. To supplement the lack of economic growth, most participate in an unconventional economy through illicit trade. This has fostered corruption in the north that has played a vital role in the breakdown of law and order, which has enabled the insurgency to establish itself locally and across the region. Efforts to limit smuggling and the free flow of people or goods in the region of Mocímboa da Praia and the Tanzanian border are failing. Additionally, significant local heroin-trafficking economy has expanded drastically, largely off the radar with links with FRELIMO elite.

While wildlife trafficking, human trafficking, illegal timber and gemstone smuggling were flourishing, further facilitated by corruption and an attitude of indifference. At the same time, the mining industries near Montepuez and Mueda, escalated the growth of illegal trades by drawing in foreign workers looking for work opportunities to link Mozambican resources with foreign consumers, or by masking the generation of illicit wealth under the cover of great opportunities. Most young individuals earn their livelihood by participating in this unconventional economy driven by hunger and lack of money which further exacerbate their negative stance against the state, some voice as the genesis of their poverty. Due to the proximity with the porous Tanzanian border and coastline, Northern Mozambique has emerged as a key hub of these criminal activities. Furthermore, in 2019, that same region was seriously hit by two cyclones that affected the life of thousands of residents in the coastal areas with great damages in houses, infrastructure and productive and services areas. This worsened the conditions for the people of Northern Mozambique and by adding these natural disasters to an area already victims to poverty and economic exclusion may further setback any positive development.

The Insurgence: Al Sunna wa Jama’ah (ASWJ)

To further recognize the complexity, in recent years they have experienced an insurgence from a rising violent extremist group, Al Sunna wa Jama’ah, within Cabo Delgado. Cabo Delgado is a province closely related historically with the East Africa Swahili coast, part of the Indian Ocean tradition of trade and Islam, lastly the coastal areas of East Africa become receptive to the penetration of radical and violent Islam interpretations. The emergence of violent extremism is not just as a reaction to poverty, inequality and frustration for the continue neglect and lack of attention from the Government of Mozambique (GOM), but also as part of the regional phenomenon of expansion of the Salafist ideology  supported by the Gulf States through funding of mosques, madrassas, education institutions, humanitarian and social programs, and financing young students to receive education abroad, all with the aim to propagate a conservative version of the Wahhabi Islam. Also, these ideas came to Mozambique through a very porous border with Tanzania were Islamic radical preachers became very popular where their messages gained traction throughout the region.

Mozambique has a diverse community of Muslims; the vast majority are Sunni and Sufism, the most extended practice. The two national organizations are the Islamic Council of Mozambique (ICM), based in the south of the country and controlled mostly by Indian, Pakistani and mix race people. ICM has a close relationship with government party FRELIMO however, on the other side is the Islamic Congress of Mozambique, based in the North and represent a more “local” version of Islam, deeply rooted in the Swahili tradition that maintain customary indigenous traditions.

The people in Cabo Delgado belong to a diversity of ethnic groups, among them the Makonde (mainly Christians) and the Mwani (mainly Muslims) from the coast who have had a long-standing feeling of marginalization and discrimination by the Makonde and the GOM. The conflict between Makonde and Mwani has deep roots in history, ethnicity, religion and political affiliation, all those factors are expressed in a profound discontent among the Mwani and other Muslim communities. The old RENAMO-FRELIMO conflict emerges periodically among the Makonde supporters of FRELIMO and Mwani supporting RENAMO.

Even the colonial Portuguese and later the revolutionary FRELIMO strongly combated “tribalism”, “superstitions” and “obscurantism”, as they labeled the customary practices, those are still present in social and political life in Northern Mozambique.

The lack of GOM investments in services like schools, no job opportunities made many young Muslims attracted to extremist narratives that are based on the logic of "us" against "them". For example, in the North coastal areas, like Palma, the state absence is also perceived in the property rights disputes, that lead to land expropriation by the GOM to favor large foreign investments on extractive industry, fueling the feeling of exclusion among Mwani and generating an increasing anti-Americanism sentiment.

Since 2014 young activists in Cabo Delgado, some of them just returning from study abroad, started to challenge the teachings and practice of Islam and accused traditional muslin leaders to practice a wrong and corrupt version of Islam. Those young activists developed separate Mosques and started to teach a more conservative Salafist Islam.Tension between the young emerging Salafists and the traditional Sufi leaders were increasing until finally violence did outbreak in 2015 and a series of attacks to communities, government facilities and private businesses, that left around 300 dead, thousands of displaced people and an immense economic loss. The GOM reacted through implementing a very harsh repression in the region causing more pain and suffering. Serious violations of Human Rights were denounced, hundreds of individuals were arrested, 189 accused persons were brought to trial that are not conducted with transparency or due diligence.

After an initial period of surprise more information about Al Sunna started to emerge. The group expressed a typical narrative and ways to operate among radical Islam movements in Africa, rejection to State institutions, formal education and healthcare, state taxes and other state authority, and promoting the Sharia law. They have been accused of utilizing terror acts as propaganda and exploiting vulnerable populations that have been victims of social and economic marginalization by the GOM to expand their influence. As a clandestine movement they did not need to communicate to the media their grievances or disclose who specifically was leading the movement. This phase was and it will continue to be maintained at the local level. The local people know well these young Jihadists because mostly are coming from within these communities, and their message has resonated within new mosques. A brief communication from the Islamic State acknowledged Al Sunna as “…soldiers of the Caliphate”, after last July 6, 2019 attack to a military post in Nangade, may explain some changes in the ASWJ strategy, moving to more selective targets and not pursuing much attacks to civil populations. ASWJ did lose great number of its members and important cadres from its leadership, but the group continues to show resilience and maintain a strong foothold within the region.

Categories: irregular warfare

About the Author(s)

Marc Chua is a U.S. Army Civil Affairs Officer with deployment and service experience in Colombia, Trinidad and Tobago, and Afghanistan. He is currently working within Creative Associates International out of Washington D.C. as a Training with Industry Fellow supporting international development projects and programs for various USG organizations.