This is Part 1 of a series on the crisis in Mozambique.
Pretoria - In any counterinsurgency war, winning the hearts and minds of the people is critical to success.
Unfortunately, the approach taken in northern Mozambique by government security forces battling Islamist insurgents is the opposite, and is alienating the population.
For decades, the province of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique has been neglected by the central government in terms of services and development. With high unemployment and grinding poverty, joining the ranks of the insurgents has become an easy way out for many.
In the recent counterinsurgency offensive in the area of Mocimboa de Praia town, government forces have been using helicopter gunships to indiscriminately fire missiles into houses and villages. This is in contrast to the efforts of the insurgents to win hearts and minds by distributing food, medicine and fuel.
In the 10 days before the June 27 large-scale assault by insurgents, the government’s military approach to the conflict exacerbated violence. Two days before, police had been going door to door on the outskirts of the town, arresting men and abusing women. Twelve of the men who were arrested were released, having been severely injured in custody.
It was reported that the police had beaten the muezzin of a mosque so badly he was unable to make the call to prayer the following day. Numerous businessmen were also forcibly made to disappear. The day before the insurgents’ assault, the corpses of 26 civilians who had been arrested by the police emerged. Some have characterised the assault on Mocimboa de Praia as a reaction to the brutal counterinsurgency tactics of the government.
Journalist Omardine Omar was arrested on vague charges of disobeying the State of Emergency regulations on June 30. Another journalist, Ibraimo Mbaruco, was taken two months ago in a military arrest as part of a media crackdown, and has not been heard from since.
The government information website, Defes, has been propagating pro-government spin about the “victory” for security forces which retook the town.
The Islamist insurgents have also used brutal tactics since its emergence in 2017. They have beheaded civilians, used women as sex slaves and in the most recent assault, kidnapped eight girls, a businessman and a religious leader. But they have realised that their success depends on winning hearts and minds, and they have moved away from beheadings to providing services and supplies to locals, and they have avoided attacking churches.
What began as a home-grown insurgency, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama, has been hijacked by the more sophisticated Islamic State of Central Africa Province, which claimed responsibility for the June 27 attack.
The insurgency needs to be neutralised but that will never happen through brutal tactics by government forces that drive locals into the arms of Islamist insurgents.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media's foreign editor.