MORE than 565,000 people in northern Mozambique have been forced to flee their homes because of an intensifying Islamist insurgency, the United Nations has said.
The violence began in Cabo Delgado province in late 2017, led by militants linked to Islamic State. Since then, the UN estimates that at least 2000 civilians have been killed and more than half a million displaced.
In December last year, the UN launched an appeal for $254 million to protect more than one million people affected by the conflict, including those in the areas which have gained a huge influx of refugees. It describes the situation as “a complex security, human rights, humanitarian and development emergency”.
The UN’s humanitarian co-ordinator in Mozambique, Myrta Kaulard, said: “In 2020, people were forced to flee their homes with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing. They lost their belongings, their livelihoods, their future. Humanitarian assistance is vital to alleviate their suffering.”
The Rt Revd Manuel Ernesto, who runs the missionary diocese of Nampula in the Province of Southern Africa, said this week that the situation since Christmas has been “relatively calm”, but was still dangerous.
“The displaced people are still coming to the south of Cabo Delgado, to Nampula,” he said. “Many are fleeing the hardships in the area. People have no food, have no water, they’re just trying to survive.”
One of the thousands of internally displaced people is Joana, a 49-year-old woman from Cabo Delgado. She recounts that in one night her five children and four grandchildren were all killed by militants. Joana fled with her husband, only to be caught by insurgents, who murdered her husband in front of her. She managed to escape, fleeing into the bush. After three days and nights with nothing to eat or drink, she was found by another group of refugees, and invited to travel with them by boat to Pemba, the region’s capital, where she found a house in which to stay.
Displaced people in the area were receiving some support from the government, Bishop Ernesto said, but they needed much more: “The national relief agency is mainly operating in camps, where they provide food, water, and security. But the needs are immense.”
Bishop Ernesto confirmed reports that the violence was spilling across Mozambique’s northern border into neighbouring Tanzania. “The border area is very insecure, and people are afraid to come to Nampula. Many are using the inland route. Before the escalation they were using the coastal area, but the roads along the Indian Ocean are very dangerous now.”
Mozambique is Africa’s third largest holder of liquefied natural gas reserves, after Nigeria and Algeria, the US Energy Information Administration reports; but local people have been excluded from the wealth generated by the extractive industries.
Bishop Ernesto reported that many of his parishioners believed that the oil and gas industries were to blame for the violence. “The conflict is not in the whole of northern Mozambique. The conflict is just in nine districts of Cabo Delgado around the oilfields. That’s why the people are saying that it is related to the investments in the area.”
Despite this source of wealth, Mozambique remains one of the world’s poorest countries, its resources stretched thin even before the latest escalation in violence.
In 2019, Cyclone Idai destroyed more than 400,000 homes and killed at least 1300 people. Muassite Miguel, who runs community development projects for the Nampula diocese, said this week that she feared that the aftermath of the disaster would increase the likelihood of violence.
“Hunger and conflict will continue until this time next year. I am scared there will be serious fighting on top of the ongoing conflicts in that part of the country. We cannot replant any crops until November and December.”
The coronavirus is now adding to the problems in the region, spreading from urban areas to remote villages without access to health facilities, Bishop Ernesto said: “People are just living from one emergency to another. Climate change, conflict, Covid-19. People are overwhelmed with all these situations.
“We know that the situation is complex, that it has roots in politics, economic issues, social conflicts. . . What we need to hear is dialogue, especially community dialogue. If we manage to bring people together and start talking about the situation, we can find a solution within.”