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Tracing the history of Mozambique’s mysterious and deadly insurgency

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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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Saoirse McHugh: We need to talk about capitalism

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N HER FORTNIGHTLY column for TheJournal.ie, Saoirse McHugh of the Green Party writes about what we can do as individuals in the face of climate chaos.   

A most ludicrous situation is taking place in which we are disrupting weather systems we have relied on for centuries, poisoning drinking water, destroying habitats that provide food and fuel and pushing ourselves outside of the relatively stable climate we have enjoyed for the past few thousand years.

Despite all of this, most of our media and the great majority of our politicians refuse to talk about the reason why I believe this is happening. What is driving us to continue down such a grim and unpredictable path? The answer is capitalism.

Extracting profit from resources (often privately owned) and labour only to reinvest in further extraction has wreaked havoc on our world. The accumulation of profit as a shaping force in society leaves so much unaccounted for and undervalued.

In general, there is no cost given to implications such as resource use, pollution, and (much and all as I don’t like the term) ecosystem services such as air and water cleaning, pollination and nitrogen cycling.

When these are factored into cost it can have an alleviating impact, but of course the natural world does not trade in dollars and no amount of money can ever compensate for species extinction, coral reefs dying or the damage caused by oil spills like the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010.

The need for growth and the relentless expansion into and enclosing of new commons, such as carbon use and genetic information, means that capitalism is entirely incompatible with a finite planet and a just world.

Despite all this it is rare to hear our economic system discussed openly in Ireland outside of a few groups or lone politicians. It has developed the impression of being outside of our control, almost like some God imposed this system upon us.

When the conversation comes up politically, our elected representatives shy away from it and speak in vague terms about prosperity and growth. They do not delve into the idea that not only do we have the power to begin changing our economic system, but we have a moral and environmental imperative to do so.

‘But look at North Korea and Cuba’ 

I am not fully sure why there is such hesitancy to speak about capitalism. Is it because decades of American television have well and truly damaged the ability to talk about it without somebody bringing up the Soviet Union and communism?

I myself have had so many conversations where capitalism comes up and is met with: “But look at North Korea and Cuba, look at how many people died in Soviet Russia.” No doubt atrocities occurred in countries which were under a different economic system.

However, that argument ignores and minimises the atrocities that have been carried out in capitalist countries. The suffering and destruction capitalism has caused and is continuing to cause in the world is immeasurable.

It is a system with its origins in colonialism and to this very day there is a massive extraction of wealth from previously colonised countries. The social, physical, and economic violence used to keep these relationships in place is beyond comprehension and much of it has become accepted as normal.

It is ridiculous to talk about environmentalism without talking about capitalism, yet many people do so. Not only is it a part of our lives but it is the system within which we all operate.

It is all that most of us have ever known and for that reason people tend to avoid the conversation, perhaps for fear of looking radical or outside of the world of common sense.

The promises of green growth or sustainable capitalism are tempting, yet I fear that every year spent chasing these will-o-the-wisps is a year lost while continuing to worsen our predicament.

There will be no climate justice until we move to a different economic system. We need to halt the extraction of wealth from previously colonized countries and, more than that, repay and compensate these countries as fully as possible.

Obviously, it is not just capitalism that damages the environment. There are discussions of petroleum-based socialism and of communism focused on growth, which are extremely damaging too but we have arrived at a time where capitalism is the dominant economic model.

There is no point in skirting around the issue, we need to transform our economies and recognise that any politician who is not engaging in the conversation about our economic model and ways to change it is wasting everyone’s time. 

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Letter: Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness

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Socialism may not be the cure but capitalism is the illness. All Hanson offers is more of the same prescriptions that brought us to climate change, inequality, huge government, corporate and private debts, erosion of our infrastructure, a health care crisis, international turmoil, etc.

How about some ownership and something new? If we redefine the goal as sustainability instead of growth, universal equity in services and opportunity, building community instead of dominance, and building a world for the seventh generation in the future, then we must acknowledge that capitalism as we have known it is broken.

Rather than try to pigeonhole the opposition with a derogatory label, let’s find a way to utilize human character to fulfill the promise of a better world for all living creatures both now and in the future.

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Let’s restore our values, do away with capitalism

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One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures, the writer says.

In this past decade, we witnessed a degeneration of politics across the spectrum, with social media, notwithstanding its use, becoming the worst platform for corrosive politics.

We also witnessed moral degeneration and character assassination as influenced by capitalism.

The moral degeneration in SA is very high and that directly reflects the politics of our country.

This open letter is an invitation for us, more especially ANC and Alliance partners, to think critically about who we are as a society and perhaps champion ways in which we can restore some of the values that we have lost.

No more buyers for the escapism Top Billing is selling

Of all the feasts and feats of Top Billing in the past 23 years, there are perhaps not enough Gucci slides that can quite help it dodge its flip and …Opinion1 month ago

One of the worst things that colonialism, apartheid and capitalism did to our people was to destroy the black family structures. And one of our loopholes as the ANC from 1994 onwards was not to restore our values of ubuntu and revive the black family unit.

Twenty-five years into democracy, it is in our hands as ANC to dissociate ourselves with capitalism because capitalism is an evil that causes the corruption we are seeing now.

It is capitalist ideas that are behind killings of our comrades.

Capitalism is an inherently evil system that thrives on hate, jealousy and inhumanity.

Viwe Sidali, Duncan Village, East London

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