Interrupting the Cycle of Violence in Cabo Delgado

Photo by JOHN WESSELS/AFP via Getty Images
Photo by JOHN WESSELS/AFP via Getty Images

The conflict in the North of Cabo Delgado has been presented in international media as a phenomenon of terrorism and Islamic radicalization. This kind of analysis does not pay due attention to the political economy of the region, nor does it capture the complex internal and external causes of the phenomenon.

The analysis of power relations in the province of Cabo Delgado over the last century reveals the existence of multiple socio-political cleavages. At the end of the 19th century, the transfer of the administrative capital from Ilha de Moçambique to Lourenço Marques started a long process of imbalance between the North and the South of the country. This affected public investment, development and socioeconomic integration, a phenomenon that continued after independence.

There are complex internal and external causes of the violence in #CaboDelgado which characterize a vicious cycle of conflict

The province is a space marked by ethnic-linguistic diversity, with emphasis on the peoples on the coast (mostly Islamic, traders, and economically integrated in the Indian Ocean) and the people of the plateau (mostly Makonde, historically under the influence of Christian missions, and integrated into markets through mandatory agricultural crops). In the rest of the province, the Macuas predominate. As a result of the strong involvement in the liberation struggle led by Frelimo, the Makonde population acquired, after independence, an important political and economic visibility, reconfiguring power relations in the province. Frelimo’s anticlerical policies, the denial of ethnic specificities and the ethnic-linguistic disproportionality in the access to positions in the State, subsidies, or licences to exploit natural resources, have been triggering resentment among coastal peoples, with increasing intensity. Despite decades of interethnic coexistence, including through family relations, the reality is that discourses of envy, distrust, and denial of the Other persist, not only between Makonde, on the one hand, and the Muanis and Macuas on the other, but also between locals and outsiders, between North and South populations (known as Maputo) or between Mozambicans and foreigners. 

The social discontent of the populations from the coast and from the south of the province was skilfully capitalized by the Renamo party, both during the 16-year war and after the conclusion of the General Peace Agreement, where it built an important electoral support base.

At a time when the Province of Cabo Delgado is becoming known for exploration of natural resources, poverty rates in the province remain among the highest in the country, with a worsening trend. The establishment of the extractive industry generated international migrations, a strong pressure on land and natural resources, contributing to the increase of social inequalities, partly structured around the different possibilities of access to the State and, through it, subsidies, jobs and natural resources.

In addition, there is a growing youth population in a situation of waithood facing challenges like socio-economic integration, competition with older and established generations, but also among themselves, often for low-paid and socially non-prestigious jobs. In a scenario of consolidation of an extractive and exogenous economy, with few relations with local entrepreneurs and little employment generation, young people seek solutions in the informal sector, often at the margins of legality. 

In a scenario of greater access to information, the coexistence of poverty in an emerging consumer society and the frustration of the high initial expectations surrounding extractive activities contributed to the worsening of tensions. The situation is aggravated by the absence of formal channels for socio-political participation and negotiation, with the absence of political representation, contributing to the development of a perspective of violence, as a legitimate vehicle for participation.

The situation is aggravated by the absence of formal channels for socio-political participation and negotiation, with absence of political representation, contributing to the development of a perspective of violence, as a legitimate vehicle for participation

In terms of external elements, a number of factors have been mentioned, often with little solid evidence or even somewhat speculative, including;

– International energy interests: the entry of a new player in the energy industry generates competition between large economic producers, who are interested in preventing a new energy source from entering the world market, seeking to destabilize or delay additional energy production;

– Islamic State and internationalization of the conflict: even though the armed conflict in Cabo Delgado has local origins, the reality is that, over time, it was internationalized, with more and more evidence of the presence of foreigners among armed groups, suggesting possible links with the Islamic State;

– Security industry: in consolidating the Mozambique Channel as an important energy transport corridor (not only gas, but also coal and other strategic raw materials), important questions arise about the security of circulation in the Indian Ocean. With regard to security costs and the significant increase in gas production costs, an interesting security business emerges, exploited by external groups in alliance with local Big Men, feeding and fuelling the conflict;

– International trafficking networks: Reports from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime reveal the consolidation of heroin trafficking routes in the Mozambique Channel, as well as human trafficking and the illegal trafficking in wood and precious stones. As a way of money laundering, part of the profits are applied locally in the construction sector, hotel industry, in financing the marketing of exportable goods, or in financing political campaigns, in a discreet but observable way. This situation feeds debates around disputes over the control of different types of trafficking and relations with the armed insurgency.

The armed conflict has had a profound impact on the province therefore generating a vicious cycle of poverty, injustice and violence. The lack of education, social exclusion and feelings of injustice make populations vulnerable to recruitment by violent groups. The violence perpetuated by violent groups generates destruction, kidnapping and murder of populations, in a scenario of an absent state and widespread violence and injustice. The feeling of insecurity then leads to the abandonment of school, productive activities and interruption of commercial circuits, leading to the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of individuals. In this situation, displaced people are vulnerable to abuse of power from defence and security forces, and worsened poverty thereby contributing to a new type of social injustice which makes them potentially recruitable for violent groups.

In order to interrupt the cycle of violence which is sacrificing an entire generation of young people, it is important to think about the following measures, in the short and medium term. In the short term, strong alliances are needed at the regional level between States (at the level of intelligence sharing, criminal investigation and border patrol), including between research centres and civil society associations. There needs to be a strengthening of intelligence services, capturing telecommunications and identifying group leaders and open communication channels. Short term strategies must also include the promotion of amnesties, accompanied by the creation of integration centres for deserters, involving the informal leaders of Cabo Delgado with charisma (trained by specialists) in the process of socio-professional reintegration of young people, including through sports, internet and citizenship activities. Access to justice must be strengthened and this includes investigating and punishing human rights violations in fair trails. The social participation of citizens must be promoted so that they abandon the belief of violence as a legitimate space for social participation.

In the long term, socioeconomic development in the region must be promoted. This includesstrong investment in health, technical professional training and support for the creation of small businesses. It must also incorporate diversification of the economy, through the promotion of small family farming; livestock farmers; fishermen; small industrial transformation and services.

Dr João Feijó is a Mozambican sociologist and PhD in African Studies. He is a member of Observatory of Rural Areas, where he coordinates the research on Poverty, Inequalities and Conflicts.

Article by:

João Feijó
Sociologist and PhD in African Studies

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