The insurgency in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado is rooted in poverty, unemployment, underdevelopment, poor government and governance, and porous borders contributing to human trafficking, drug smuggling and poaching.
While a regional multinational force has been deployed, the gains made, such as the recapture of the towns Mocimboa da Praia and Palma, was achieved as a result of the withdrawal of the Ansar al-Sunnah insurgents rather than the actions of the security forces, risk analysis and intelligence firm 14 North Strategies Africa analyst Jasmine Opperman said this week.
Durban-headquartered nongovernmental conflict management institution the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Accord) political analyst Welile Nhlapo commented during a webinar that the conflict was multilayered and included anger over the loss of land and livelihoods, intra-Islamic differences related to different interpretations of the faith, inter-generational tensions, resentment over alleged corruption, the disproportionate use of violence by police and private security companies and the locals not receiving benefits from international extractive industries.
Informal and illicit economies are also important considerations. The political-criminal nexus benefited from both the legal and illicit extraction of natural resources. Local community members are often punished for being involved in illicit economies and local communities are denied the benefit of formal investment and economic development.
"Insurgents stepped into the vacuum and are providing opportunities and mobilising recruits to violently challenge the existing power relations," he said.
Following five conferences Accord held with local communities and local religious organisations, the institution recommends that, to solve the conflict, dialogue must be encouraged and knowledge building and sharing must take place in the region. This is a critical factor to ensuring all parties and local communities understand what is happening and what it means.
Cabo Delgado has a history of religious harmony and the current situation is out of the ordinary. Interfaith collaboration may have dismantled the idea that it is a radical Islamic insurgency that pits religions against one another, Nhlapo noted.
"The government of Mozambique must take control of porous borders to reduce illegal immigration and the flow of foreigners marginalising local communities, which contributes to unemployment and radicalisation.
"Additionally, better employment opportunities for youth and their recruitment by local companies should be provided. Revenue from multinational operations must be used to build up local development, especially fisheries and mining, which will also lessen the appeal of radicalism."
The security challenge in Cabo Delgado has captured global attention. The situation endangers tens of thousands of people and has destabilised the north of Mozambique and threatens economic development and foreign direct investment in large-scale infrastructure mining and other projects in the entire southern African region, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Africa senior researcher Liesl Louw-Vaudran told webinar participants.
"ISS studies confirm that, primarily, the cause is governance challenges. Analysts concur that the insurgency is rooted in local grievances and marginalisation and the insurgency risks aggravating political and ethnic rivalries and dissatisfaction with government," she said.
There are multiple root causes of the insurgency and, as seen in other similar conflicts on the continent, a lasting solution is needed. Only through long-term development, job creation and rooting out corruption will the crisis be solved, she said.
Additionally, any foreign intervention will prove ineffective because there is no national government strategy, hence no national security strategy. Without a national security strategy, there is no framework for intelligence, law enforcement and armed forces and a disconnect between these necessary elements, private military company Executive Outcomes founder and chairperson Eeben Barlow added.
"Similarly, technology is a force-multiplier, not the force itself. We have a disconnect between reality and what governments think is happening on the continent.
"Until we, as a continent, can account and take responsibility for Africa, we will not solve these challenges. We keep looking to someone else to solve our problems, when we have the solutions to our problems," he said.
Cabo Delgado is being used as a transit route by terrorism group Allied Democratic Force (ADF), which is active in the Democratic Republic of Congo, to South Africa and there are people in South Africa helping with their training and funding, he stated.
"We do not listen to information when it does not match our preferred narrative of the events taking place," he said.
This has been highlighted by the intelligence failure preceding the insurgency, and the disconnect between all these elements means that millions can be poured into resolving the conflict without leading to a resolution. The problems caused by the lack of national strategy causes an inability of the Mozambican government to reach out to resolve most of the problems, Barlow said.
"We have to realise that a fundamental shift is needed in how we are going to approach the people of Cabo Delgado. The human dignity of the people of Cabo Delgado has been stolen from them, and this view comes out strongly when we listen to internally displaced persons. They long for a return to their lands and way of life," said Opperman.
Relying on a war on terrorism mentality is creating an illusion of victory and the illusion that the insurgents are already defeated. It is also creating the illusion among the people that they are on the brink of moving back to their land, which is not the case, she warned.
"The question in the medium to long term is: are the forces focused on the correct areas? If we are talking about retaking insurgent locations, they had withdrawn long ago and prior to the Rwandan forces arriving. Our information said it looked like a highway as they left Mocimbao da Praia. Where are they? They did not go to traditional conflict zones.
"These intelligence factors are creating the narrative and informing perception, but do not speak to the reality of what is happening in Cabo Delgado."
The insurgents have time on their side. The Southern African Development Community force will not stay longer than the budgeted three months. The insurgents are well-informed in terms of what can be achieved in the long term and it is important not to underestimate them, Opperman said.
In terms of militarisation, she proposed that the gas industry must be ignored in the interim to focus on the needs of the people of Cabo Delgado.
"Where security interventions are needed, we are not opposed to them, but they are but a part of the bigger puzzle," she emphasised.
The most important lessons from the victory of the terrorism group Taliban in Afghanistan is what diplomatic and intelligence failures can end up in, Opperman said.
"Political sanity and situational awareness are important and intelligence services must not only provide a mirror of what the clients wants to hear, but the actual state of affairs. If the issues at play, not only in a regional context, remain and are not addressed, the insurgents will bide their time and then, once the forces return, they will reset themselves. This is the fundamental lesson from Afghanistan."
"We are concerned that we are seeing similar dynamics, albeit unintended, playing out in Cabo Delgado. Further, we cannot say that Ansar al-Sunna is an Islamic extremist insurgency, but rather these diverse root causes that gives a foothold for international terrorism groups, including the Islamic State.
"As long as we believe we are winning in Mocimboa [da Praia], Palma and Awasi, we are living in never-never land," she stated.
Risk management company Focus Group CEO Joe van der Walt said the creation of an exclusion zone by Rwandan forces means that displaced people will not be coming back to the area.
Internally displaced persons camps in Cabo Delgado are the scenes of extreme poverty and poor hygiene, and food aid is insufficient and is not sustainable, he illustrated.
"People are under the impression that they are going back. They will not. Similarly, the insurgents were not pushed out; they actually left. We have identified from our sources that some of the insurgents are blending into the internally displaced persons camps, and have families in the area.
"This means that all they have to do is wait. Insurgents have also elevated their activities south of the area in Nampula, and there is evidence of radicalisation happening in Nampula."
Terrorism is a tactic, not a strategy. Similarly, the forces involved do not have a strategy for the long term. Military forces win the conflict, but politicians win the peace, said Barlow.
"This is usually where we fall down. Any tactical success let down by political machinery will encourage, incentivise and provide additional momentum to the insurgents," he said.