Conflict & Resilience Monitor

People-centred pathways to sustain peace in Cabo Delgado

15 Sep 2021

ACCORD COVID-19 Conflict & Resilience Monitor
Photo: Joaquim Nhamirre/AFP via Getty Images

The uprising in Cabo Delgado has roots in both a rising Islamist presence in the region, and predictable grievances about economic marginalisation, a National Plan of Action for Preventing Violent Extremism is a paramount priority.

Violent extremism is often a symptom of state fragility and weak social cohesion. It tends to take root in marginalised areas where the state is not adequately attending to community needs and grievances, which are then easily mobilised. Young people with little hope for their future are particularly vulnerable. While governments tend to pursue ‘hard security’ responses in such contexts, there is a growing awareness that this will not solve the issues. The causes of violent extremism are complex and multifaceted – stemming from a mix of historical, political, economic and social, and psychological push and pull factors, including grievances around economic and political exclusion on the one hand, and ideology and material benefits that transform grievances into violent extremist action, on the other. 

The causes of violent extremism are complex and multifaceted, stemming from a mix of historical, political, economic and social, and psychological push and pull factors @McCandlessErin

The alarming conclusions of US military intervention in Afghanistan, where an estimated $2.26 trillion was spent to dismantle and defeat the Taliban reveals the limitations of a security driven approach. What if that money had instead gone into improving public services and local governance capacity? 

Research by UNDP on recruits to violent extremist groups in Africa reveals that they strongly believe that governments only look after the interests of the few (83% of respondents), and that they have little trust in politicians or law enforcement (75% of respondents). These views indicate weak state capacity to carry out basic functions, manage risk and develop trusted relationships with society. 

The uprising in Cabo Delgado has roots in both a rising Islamist presence in the region, and predictable grievances about economic marginalisation, lack of jobs, security sector and human rights abuses, adverse livelihood impacts and not receiving the benefits associated with the region’s vast mineral resources – notably rubies and gas. Despite this wealth, Cabo Delgado is the region poorest in human development, wielding a huge illicit economy including gems, wildlife, drugs and human smuggling. The involvement of local officials creates distrust amongst the population and undermines the state’s capacity to tackle the issues in the region. The state’s weak administrative reach and security presence allowed the insurgency to take root. Decentralisation, despite policy agreement, is sluggish and politicised, compounded by the lack of community voices and participation. Mozambique’s steadily rising fragility score backs up this analysis (the 80thmost fragile country in 2006 by FSI rankings, today it is 22nd of 179 countries). The worst scores are uneven development (where Mozambique scores 9.2 out of a high fragility score of 10) and public services (9.9 out of 10). 

Lively debates have occurred around the nature of external intervention in Cabo Delgado, though there is little disagreement on the need for assistance to stem insurgent advances given the weaknesses of Mozambique’s security sector. The government’s invitation to Rwanda, outside of its Southern African Development Community (SADC) home, drew criticism and questioning. Rwanda’s achievements on the ground are proving fruitful. As ICG has argued, military assistance must be targeted, avoiding the heavy external deployments that might fuel complexity and intractability, and law enforcement in the region to counter jihadist expansion is paramount. 

Considering that much more is needed to achieve peace and sustain it than silencing guns – what more is required? The United Nation’s (UN’s) sustaining peace agenda – backed by twin 2016 Security Council and General Assembly resolutions, suggests that sustaining peace is a goal and a process to “build a common vision of society,” with activities aimed at preventing the outbreak, escalation, continuation, and recurrence of conflict moving towards recovery and development – in a holistic manner and with a focus on addressing root causes. Applying this lens to Cabo Delgado shifts attention to the development of nationally and locally owned visions and policy action to address structural causes. 

A social contract framing which targets contexts of conflict and fragility is helpful in this instance. Prior research would suggest that in Cabo Delgado this means: i) tying a political solution to agreements around inclusive, participatorily developed, and nationally-owned policies, ii) building responsive institutions that reflect local needs and radically improve service delivery, iii) improving social cohesion vertically and horizontally by tackling the resentment and mistrust of the state that paves the way for terrorist narratives to gain a foothold, and, the inter-communal cleavages caused by struggles for resources and internal displacements (horizontal). Positive communications strategies as part of wider behaviour change efforts are key, escalating respected local voices that can displace insurgent narratives. Local disengagement and reconciliation processes that build new avenues to cultivate a sense of belonging are also vital.

The need to shift attention towards more integrated, structural and inclusive solutions designed to prevent further occurrence and escalation of such threats remains paramount for Cabo Delgado and beyond @McCandlessErin

Advancing political and economic inclusion is a cross-cutting priority and must centrally involve young people: 77.4% of Mozambique’s population is under 24. People-centred approaches that build ownership through planning and budgeting are vital for addressing the illicit economy and harnessing Mozambique’s natural resource wealth as a pathway for inclusive development. Questions around community benefits from mining activities are central to improving natural resource governance; despite good policies in place (2.75% of mining revenues allocated for local communities) there are complaints that money is not reaching local levels.

Development money appears to be flowing in. This includes a $100 million World Bank grant focusing on social cohesion, access to basic services, public infrastructure and restoring livelihoods – the first part of a $700m grant. This will flow through the government’s Integrated Development Agency – yet there are already concerns about transparency and effectiveness of this institution. Critically, the state’s extraordinary development challenges rooted in fragility demand attention. 

Humanitarian and development efforts need to be driven with steadfast attention to peace, as the rising policy embrace of the HDP ‘triple nexus’ suggests. This means joint assessment and planning to address the root causes, both push and pull factors, through conflict and environmentally sensitive measures. A National Plan of Action for Preventing Violent Extremism is a paramount priority and should draw lessons from elsewhere – ensuring direct engagement with the local context and prioritisation of meaningful inclusion – especially youth and women. While the question of why the Mozambique government did not act sooner prevails, the need to shift attention towards more integrated, structural and inclusive solutions designed to prevent further occurrence and escalation of such threats remains paramount – for Cabo Delgado and beyond.

*Thank you to interviewees Horacio Zandemela and Thomas Selemane

Erin McCandless is an Associate Professor in the School of Governance at Witwatersrand University in South Africa and a Research Associate with the German Development Institute (DIE).

Article by:

Erin McCandless
Associate Professor in the School of Governance at Witwatersrand University, South Africa

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