TWENTY per cent of the population of Cabo Delgado, in the northernmost part of Mozambique, have fled for their lives in the face of an Islamist insurgency that has killed more than 2200 people this year.
A UNICEF tent in the Namiola camp in Nampula
The attacks by jihadist groups linked to Islamic State have intensified since they began three years ago. Predominantly agricultural, Cabo Delgado also has newly discovered large oil and gas fields, which continue to operate despite the attacks. The area still has huge untapped oil and gas reserves, estimated to be worth $60 billion.
Bishop Manuel Ernesto, of the newly formed missionary diocese of Nampula, said that Muslims and Christians in the region had lived in peace for generations, and that the conflict was not a religious conflict, but had begun since the discovery of the oil and gas reserves. “We have been peacefully living here as Christians and Muslims since the fifth century,” he said, “but, since the oil and gas industry started their prospects and operations, we are no longer in peace.”
Many of the half a million people who were displaced from their homes were children whose parents had been killed or gone missing, he said. Many were living in crowded camps, or out in the wild in remote areas, with little or no food.
“The attackers are not directly targeting Christian communities: they attack anyone who is found to be in the perimeter of 100 to 200km within oil fields. It seems like they want to drive people away from their ancestral lands.
“Churches are attacked, but we do not believe that the attackers, at least by now, have the intention of targeting churches only. They burn down Christian and Muslim worship sites.”
Aid supplies in the Namiola camp in Nampula
The origins of the fighting were complex, he said, but they included disputes over ownership of the untapped oil and gas reserves; also, many of those supporting the insurgency were young Muslims educated outside the region who had been radicalised and were fighting against the traditional Muslim communities.
“The situation is getting worse and worse. Numbers are larger than the official figures, and security on the ground is deteriorating every day. We are fortunate to have good relationships with Muslim leaders, we know each other. But, now, people are taking sides. . . We are a place of diverse cultures, but this is changing.”
The diocese is funding a project to support the refugees, which is being supported by the diocese of London, through the Angola London Mozambique Association.
Nampula diocese, which was formed last year, has seven parishes served by 15 clergy and 480 Readers, and, in its first year, it has already developed a new parish and two new congregations, despite the challenges of the insurgency and Cyclone Kenneth, which devastated many communities last April.