Since the particularly violent insurgent attacks in May this year, Cabo Delgado and its population have been abandoned. Picture: Supplied
Since the particularly violent insurgent attacks in May this year, Cabo Delgado and its population have been abandoned. Picture: Supplied

Cabo Delgado and its population have been abandoned

By Opinion Time of article published Aug 2, 2020

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Prof Andre Thomasbausen

Cabo Delgado is about the size of KwaZulu-Natal and has a population estimated at 2.4 million with one of lowest human development indexes in the world.

Since the particularly violent insurgent attacks in May this year, the province and its population have been abandoned. The urbanised population has fled to the provincial capital, Pemba, causing a refugee crisis.

The insurgency in Cabo Delgado has its antecedents. The Portuguese colonial power was for the first time challenged in an attack on September 25, 1964 in Chai, in Mueda District.

These first shots were fired by Makonde General Alberto Chipande who is today the key figure in the economic interest networks in Cabo Delgado.

Just like the Portuguese could not dominate the small warrior nation of the Makonde, post-independence Mozambique struggles to integrate them. The initial preference in Julius Nyerere’s Tanzania was to lend support to the Makonde liberation movement Manu (Mozambique African National Union) with a view to incorporating Cabo Delgado into independent Tanzania. But Manu merged with Udenamo (National Democratic Union of Mozambique) and Unami (National African Union for the Independence of Mozambique) to form Frelimo.

Six months after the declaration of independence on June 25, 1975, a group of Makonde officers failed to overthrow the Machel government.

Mozambique remained governed by the south until 2014 when a Makonde candidate, Filipe Nyussi, won the nomination for the party’s presidential candidate. When President Guebuza tried in 2010 to secure permission to do a third term, he did so to prevent a Makonde takeover of the party leadership.

The government’s collectivisation initiatives in the 1980s in Cabo Delgado, known as the “Machambas do Povo”, were widely rejected and lent support to the Renamo resistance movement under Renamo’s Makonde leader Vincente Ululu.

A cultural driving force of insurgency in Cabo Delgado is the African spiritual belief that the land and water are the source of all concepts of deity, because they sustain life.

A paper stamped by some unknown and faceless people living 2000km to the south, in a city calling itself the “capital” of an abstract notion of “nation”, is not a good enough reason to allow foreigners, or worse “white devils” (mulungos), to fence in areas, dispel the people living there, cut trees, kill the animals, divert rivers to dig up colourful stones, and establish alien settlements.

This, however, is what happened when former LNG concession holder Anadarko (now Total) appropriated in 2015 an area of 7000ha in Afungi, for the installation of storage and processing plants. The land was taken without local consultation. Young men from the displaced families became the initiators of the current insurgency.

The popular perception is that the exploration companies will enjoy a 10-year royalty and tax holiday and thereafter will be allowed to recuperate $30 billion in development costs, before paying any benefits to Mozambique.

A further contributor to the insurgency in Cabo Delgado is Mozambique’s tense and even hostile relations with its neighbours Malawi, in the west, and Tanzania in the north. Malawi-Mozambique relations were already strained in the 1980s when Malawi was actively supporting Renamo. Currently, Mozambique refuses to allow Malawi access to the ocean through navigation rights on the Shiré river.

Tanzania is still seething about the sudden expulsion of 7000 Tanzanian traders and artisans from Cabo Delgado province in 2015, as a first demonstration of force by Mozambique’s then newly elected president Nyussi.

More severely, the natural gas deposits in the Rovuma basin stretch deep into Tanzania’s exclusive economic zone. Both presidents Guebuza and Nyussi refused to discuss Tanzania’s proposals for a Joint Exploration Zone. Instead, Mozambique offered the most favourable (or zero-rated) exploration conditions to oil and gas majors, causing LNG exploration works in Tanzanian waters to be abandoned.

An independent Republic of Cabo Delgado would probably seek a Joint Exploration Zone agreement with Tanzania. The prevailing focus on an Islamic threat in Cabo Delgado is not convincing. Some commentators insist that an Islamic State would be directly involved with arms, commanders and funding, coming from Iraq, Syria, Somalia and the DRC.

There are photos of Islamist flags being hoisted or flown during attacks in Cabo Delgado. Amateur videos record young insurgents shouting battle cries of “Allahu Akbar”.

However, no evidence exists of insurgents performing Islamic prayers or speaking Arabic.

Young women abducted and made to work in insurgents’ bush camps have, after escaping, recounted that insurgents did not pray in any obvious manner, but drank alcohol and kept Makonde women as sex slaves.

Photographs show the insurgents use Western weapons or AK47 rifles with the characteristics of Pakistani manufacturing. These are not in use by Mozambican or other SADC security forces. In one video a M249 light machine gun is fired by an insurgent wearing a state-of-the-art bullet-proof vest and helmet with ear muffs.

The M249 is manufactured for the US army under the licence of Belgian FN. The foreign armament must have been supplied by Tanzania or Pakistan.

Pakistani presence in Mozambique is strong and traditionally anti- Western. More importantly, 25% of the heroin exported from Afghanistan and Pakistan is routed through Cabo Delgado into South Africa and Europe.

It suits the drug trade to fuel insecurity, and this is easiest done under an Islamic flag.

Another oddity are the alleged claims by Islamic State of victories in Cabo Delgado against “crusader forces” in a newsletter identified by commentators as Al-Naba.

The Al-Naba war reports on Cabo Delgado always appear a considerable time after the events and give inaccurate details in a strangely stilted reporting style.

The loss of food and physical security for 2 million people in Cabo Delgado invokes the international law principle of the responsibility to protect. This Responsibility to Protect (R2P) resides first with SADC and then with SADC member states that have the capacity to intervene - South Africa, Angola and Botswana.

The intervention of the Mozambique security forces has been characterised by human rights violations.

Tied-up villagers are beaten to their death with sticks and pipes to extort information about insurgents.

The beatings are filmed for the soldiers to be able to claim food bonuses.

Ears are cut off as trophies.

The videos are circulated on social media. A stabilising R2P intervention could protect the human rights record of Southern Africa.

It could also establish a good governance context for the services of private military companies, in support of a regular and internationally lawful intervention. A modern R2P intervention could be designed to be a comprehensive intervention, to include the rebuilding of bridges, roads, telecommunications and civil administration infrastructure.

The security, reconstruction and development programme for Cabo Delgado would provide economic stimulus to construction and logistics industries. Most importantly, it could prevent the gas and oil majors from giving up altogether on the Rovuma basin LNG deposits.

* Prof Andre Thomasbausen is an international law professor at Unisa.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

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