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Tracing the history of Mozambique’s mysterious and deadly insurgency



Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province has been held hostage by insurgents for nearly 17 months. Armed attacks, decapitations and the destruction of property have become common. Many are worried that the violence may escalate and destabilise the country’s economy further.

One of the biggest problems is that nobody really knows who the insurgents are. They don’t make public statements, so their motives are unclear.

Speculation and conspiracy theories abound. Many, including state officials and the new president of the Renamo opposition party, believe the insurgency is part of a struggle within the national elite for the control of Cabo Delgado’s oil, gas and mineral riches.

The government offers few – and contradictory – explanations. It has said both that the violence is committed by local unemployed “criminals”, and that the attacks are the result of global jihadism trying to move into Mozambique.

Lack of information and clashing explanations have led to confusion as to what’s happening in Northern Mozambique and what should be done to reverse the situation.

Roots of insurgency

The local population calls the group behind the attacks “al-Shabaab”. This means “youth” in Arabic and refers, of course, to the global terror group in Somalia (though the Mozambican insurgents have no formal links to them). In Mozambique, the group’s origins go back to the 2000s, when some young men within the Islamic Council of Mozambique began to develop a new reading and practice of Islam.

In Cabo Delgado, they created a sub-organisation within the Islamic Council called “Ansaru-Sunna” which registered legally with the state. It built new mosques and preached a stricter form of Islam across the province. Soon, a more radical and activist group formed within this sub-organisation and split off as a sect – what has become known locally as “al-Shabaab”.

This group initially concerned itself with religious debates, practice and opposition to the secular state. In 2010 the villagers of Nhacole in the Balama district decided to get rid of the group and destroyed its mosque. Sect members fled to the town of Mucojo, in the district of Macomia. There tensions flared with the local population and authorities.

The police had to intervene twice in Mucojo. In 2015 they were called in because the sect tried to forcefully impose a ban of alcohol in the town. Death and injuries ensued when a sect member fatally stabbed a policeman.

Resort to arms

Mainstream Muslim organisations and individuals, among them the Islamic Council from which the “al-Shabaab” sect split off, were disquieted by the group’s actions. They repeatedly asked the government to intervene.

In late 2016, the government finally acceded to their request and began to arrest and bring some group leaders to court across the province. The men were accused of engaging in disinformation, rejecting state authority, refusing to send their children to school, and using knives to protect themselves.

It’s not clear when the “al-Shabaab” members began to train militarily, but the state’s actions against their leaders seem to have been the tipping point towards their passing to armed action. Their first attack was in October 2017 in the town of Mocímboa da Praia and surrounding communities.

Since then, sect members have taken to the bush from where they attack isolated villages. The number of attacks and their brutality increased steadily in 2018. The insurgency seems to have become more organised. Its attacks and activities have focused on a coastal band about 150kms wide, from the provincial capital of Pemba to the Tanzanian border.

Seeds of discontent

It is clear, then, that the insurgency has built on some local social, religious and political tensions. Cabo Delgado is Mozambique’s poorest province; unemployment is high, particularly among the youth. It’s also largely rural. Government services are not reliable.

Major recent oil and gas discoveries in the area have generated many expectations, but communities have seen very few, if any, benefits, particularly in rural areas.

In addition, the fact that Muslims feel particularly marginalised in Cabo Delgado, where their ethnic neighbours have had privileged access to national political power since independence, helps explain how an anti-state Islamist discourse may have gained traction.

Another aspect is the group’s international connections. Much has been said about links to Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. But most connections are with Tanzania.

Mozambican Islamic clerics have trained in Tanzania for more than a century and exchanges have taken place for longer, among religious communities on both sides of the border. So it’s unsurprising that the Mozambican “al-Shabaab” connected with like-minded Muslims in Tanzania in the 2010s.

After Tanzanian radicals became violent and the state responded forcefully against them after 2015, and particularly strongly in early 2017, some of them took refuge with the Mozambican “al-Shabaab”. This has reinforced and partially internationalised the insurgency.

Seeking solutions

Since the “al-Shabaab” in Mozambique is not the result of an internal or external conspiracy, the state needs to focus on the social, religious and political dynamics at play to control and combat the insurgency.

While the Mozambican army has managed successfully to contain the geographical spread of the armed sect, the government needs to focus with equal force on redressing the local grievances which the insurgents are tapping into.

Mozambican scholar Yussuf Adam has put forward an interesting idea to start addressing these grievances. He argues that the state should hold district “general estate assemblies” to identify issues, and to design solutions from the bottom up.

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How Canadian churches are helping their communities cope with the wildfires



As wildfires burn across Canada, churches are finding ways to support their members and the broader community directly impacted by the crisis.

According to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre, as of June 13, there are 462 active fires across Canada – and 236 of them classified as out of control fires.

Whether it’s through phone calls or donations to community members, here’s how a few churches across Canada are handling active wildfires and the aftermath in their regions.

Westwood Hills, N.S.: St. Nicholas Anglican Church

In Nova Scotia, St. Nicholas Anglican Church and other churches in the area are collecting money for grocery cards to give to families impacted by the Tantallon wildfire. 

Right outside of Halifax, N.S., the Tantallon wildfire destroyed 151 homes. More than 16,000 people evacuated the area due to the fire.

The fire is now considered contained, but Tanya Moxley, the treasurer at St. Nicholas is organizing efforts to get grocery gift cards into the hands of impacted families.

As of June 12, four churches in the area – St. Nicholas, Parish of French Village, St Margaret of Scotland and St John the Evangelist – raised nearly $3,500. The money will be split for families’ groceries between five schools in the area impacted by the wildfire.

Moxley said she felt driven to raise this money after she heard the principal of her child’s school was using his own money to buy groceries for impacted families in their area.

“[For] most of those people who were evacuated, the power was off in their subdivision for three, four or five days,” she said. “Even though they went home and their house was still standing, the power was off and they lost all their groceries.”

Moxley said many people in the area are still “reeling” from the fires. She said the church has an important role to help community members during this time.

“We’re called to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and house the homeless and all that stuff, right? So this is it. This is like where the rubber hits the road.”

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Is it ever OK to steal from a grocery store?



Mythologized in the legend of Robin Hood and lyricized in Les Misérables, it’s a debate as old as time: is it ever permissible to steal food? And if so, under what conditions? Now, amid Canada’s affordability crisis, the dilemma has extended beyond theatrical debate and into grocery stores.

Although the idea that theft is wrong is both a legally enshrined and socially accepted norm, the price of groceries can also feel criminally high to some — industry data shows that grocery stores can lose between $2,000 and $5,000 a week on average from theft. According to Statistics Canada, most grocery item price increases surged by double digits between 2021 and 2022. To no one’s surprise, grocery store theft is reportedly on the rise as a result. And if recent coverage of the issue rings true, some Canadians don’t feel bad about shoplifting. But should they?

Kieran Oberman, an associate professor of philosophy at the London School of Economics and Political Science in the United Kingdom, coined the term “re-distributive theft” in his 2012 paper “Is Theft Wrong?” In simplest terms, redistributive theft is based on the idea that people with too little could ethically take from those who have too much.

“Everybody, when they think about it, accepts that theft is sometimes permissible if you make the case extreme enough,” Oberman tells me over Zoom. “The question is, when exactly is it permissible?”

Almost no one, Oberman argues, believes the current distribution of wealth across the world is just. We have an inkling that theft is bad, but that inequality is too. As more and more Canadians feel the pinch of inflation, grocery store heirs accumulate riches — Loblaw chair and president Galen Weston, for instance, received a 55 percent boost in compensation in 2022, taking in around $8.4 million for the year. Should someone struggling with rising prices feel guilty when they, say, “forget” to scan a bundle of zucchini?
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The homeless refugee crisis in Toronto illustrates Canada’s broken promises



UPDATE 07/18/2023: A coalition of groups arranged a bus to relocate refugees to temporarily stay at a North York church on Monday evening, according to CBC, CP24 and Toronto Star reports.

Canadians live in a time of threadbare morality. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Toronto’s entertainment district, where partygoers delight in spending disposable income while skirting refugees sleeping on sidewalks. The growing pile of luggage at the downtown corner of Peter and Richmond streets resembles the lost baggage section at Pearson airport but is the broken-hearted terminus at the centre of a cruel city.

At the crux of a refugee funding war between the municipal and federal governments are those who have fled persecution for the promise of Canada’s protection. Until June 1, asylum seekers used to arrive at the airport and be sent to Toronto’s Streets to Homes Referral Assessment Centre at 129 Peter St. in search of shelter beds. Now, Toronto’s overcrowded shelter system is closed to these newcomers, so they sleep on the street.

New mayor Olivia Chow pushed the federal government Wednesday for at least $160 million to cope with the surge of refugees in the shelter system. She rightly highlights that refugees are a federal responsibility. In response, the department of Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada points to hundreds of millions in dollars already allocated to cities across Canada through the Interim Housing Assistance Program, while Ontario says it has given nearly $100 million to organizations that support refugees. But these efforts are simply not enough to deliver on Canada’s benevolent promise to the world’s most vulnerable.

The lack of federal generosity and finger-pointing by the city has orchestrated a moral crisis. It’s reminiscent of the crisis south of the border, where Texas governor Greg Abbott keeps bussing migrants to cities located in northern Democratic states. Without the necessary resources, information, and sometimes the language skills needed to navigate the bureaucratic mazes, those who fled turbulent homelands for Canada have become political pawns.

But Torontonians haven’t always been this callous.

In Ireland Park, at Lake Ontario’s edge, five statues of gaunt and grateful refugees gaze at their new home: Toronto circa 1847. These statues honour a time when Toronto, with a population of only 20,000 people, welcomed 38,500 famine-stricken migrants from Ireland. It paralleled the “Come From Away” event of 9/11 in Gander, N.L., where the population doubled overnight, and the people discovered there was indeed more than enough for all. It was a time when the city lived up to its moniker as “Toronto, The Good.”

Now, as a wealthy city of three million people, the city’s residents are tasked with supporting far fewer newcomers. Can we not recognize the absurdity in claiming scarcity?

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