Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province is being held to ransom by an Islamist guerrilla movement. After months of skirmishes between police and members of the Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah, the region has now erupted into full violence.
Since mid-May, 35 people have died in a series of brutal attacks. Various people have been beheaded, hundreds of houses have been burned and residents have been advised to be cautious.
On June 8 local staff at Anadarko, an international oil and gas company, refused to go to work because they feared an attack. The company then asked its foreign staff not to leave their compound. The US embassy also asked its nationals to leave the province immediately.
The state has in recent months responded forcefully to the emergence of this threat. Hundreds of men and women have been arrested. Some mosques have been closed and others have been destroyed.
In some areas, Muslims have been discouraged from wearing religious garb. This has prompted some sheikhs to warn that Mozambique’s government must not alienate all Muslims because of a fringe group’s activities.
There are economic as well as religious and security issues at play. Cabo Delgado province borders Tanzania and is home to 2.3 million people, 58% of whom are Muslim.
In the past few years massive oil and gas reserves have been discovered. These resources are set to lead to the development of a multibillion dollar industry in Cabo Delgado, and a rosier future for Mozambique’s economy as a whole.
The prospect of a full-scale war has alarmed many people. The state, civil society and oil explorers are worried about what the violence will mean.
How did it reach this point? Several factors—social, economic and political—have allowed an Islamist insurgency to develop in the north of Mozambique. Most are local issues rather than the outcome of an international, cross-border conspiracy.
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