As Zim deploys special forces Moza conflict is far from over
AS reported by The NewsHawks recently, Zimbabwe, which has had some troops on the ground in Mozambique earlier, is moving to deploy special forces in line with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Standby Force Mission in Mozambique, but as this Cabo Ligado Weekly summary report shows, the conflict is far from over. Mozambican and Rwandan forces are, however, gaining ground against the Islamist insurgents.
THE extent of violence in Cabo Delgado last week is unclear due to a lack of media access to southern Mocimboa da Praia district, where Mozambican and allied troops remain in action.
Though there is evidence that the government offensive south from Mocimboa da Praia town has pushed insurgents further south into Macomia and potentially Quissanga districts, reports this week indicate continued insurgent resistance in southern Mocimboa da Praia district.
On the morning of 31 August, local citizens discovered the dismembered bodies of three local citizens in Nivico, Quissanga district. Local sources suspect that the killings were perpetrated by insurgents. If insurgents were responsible for the killings, this would be the first recorded incident involving insurgents in Quissanga district since October 2020.
On 3 September, multiple sources reported insurgent attacks on Mozambican and Rwandan forces in Mocimboa da Praia district. The reports described attacks on military positions both in Mocimboa da Praia town and near the Muera River, south of Mbau. Details of the fighting are sparse, and no casualty estimates are available.
Mozambican helicopters were reportedly in action in southern parts of the district. Further north, a source reported that insurgents approached Mocimboa da Praia town from both the north and the west, suggesting that insurgents retain the ability to launch attacks from both Palma and Nangade districts.
Further north, Mozambican and Rwandan military units have been assisting in transporting people and goods from Quitunda to Palma town, in an effort to speed the resettlement of the town and help people escape the relative deprivation of Quitunda. Speaking to reporters, the Palma district administrator emphasised that displaced people are returning of their own accord.
New information also emerged last week about earlier incidents in the conflict. In its first official press release, the Sadc Standby Force Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) described two incidents that took place on 28 August. According to the release, one Tanzanian citizen deployed with SAMIM was killed in an “incident involving an aircraft” that SAMIM characterised as an accident. No further details were provided.
The release also claimed that SAMIM forces were involved in combat near the Muera River, in southern Mocimboa da Praia district on 28 August. Previously, only Mozambican and Rwandan forces had been reported in the area, following the retaking of Mbau on 21 August. The release said that SAMIM forces executed a raid on an insurgent position, capturing one insurgent as well as documents, vehicles, and weapons.
Included with the release were two photographs of equipment SAMIM forces recovered from insurgents, presumably in the raid near the Muera river. The photos include an industrial electric generator of a type frequently used by mines and large construction projects in remote areas. Generators of this type had been in Palma district prior to the insurgents’ March attack on the town, suggesting that the insurgents may have stolen the generator in that attack and then transported it south. Wherever they acquired it, possession of equipment of that scale indicates the level of the insurgency’s ambitions for its southern Mocimboa da Praia district bases.
In addition to the southern Mocimboa da Praia district deployment mentioned in the press release, a local source confirms that SAMIM has also sent forces to Nangade district. Personnel from Lesotho arrived on 28 August and were joined by Tanzanian troops on 1 September. Relations between local civilians and SAMIM forces in Nangade are broadly positive in the early days of the deployment.
Women food aid access
Overall food aid assistance to displaced people in Cabo Delgado has dipped in recent months, and is unlikely to recover soon. A new report from the Famine Early Warning Systems Network predicts that all Cabo Delgado districts except for Namuno, Montepuez, and Balama in the west of the province will face crisis-level food insecurity through the rainy season this year.
The report highlights that a major contributor to the crisis is the fact that World Food Programme (WFP) food distribution has been rationed in recent months due to lack of funding. The organization only made one distribution in July to cover July and August, and expects to make a single distribution in September to cover both September and October. This means that, absent an increase in funding for food aid, people reliant on WFP disbursements will only be able to take in an average of 39% of their calorie needs each day.
The rationing of food aid only increases the vulnerability of displaced people — largely women — who are being excluded from the existing food aid system or being exploited in exchange for access to that system.
In an article published in the Zimbabwean newspaper The Standard, Mozambican investigative reporter Estacio Valoi chronicled the experiences of displaced women who struggle to access food aid while living at the edges of the conflict zone. Valoi spoke to displaced people in Ancuabe district, who reported having to contend with significant challenges to receive international food aid that is meant to be freely available to them.
As has been frequently referenced in earlier reports, the challenges stem from problems with the distribution lists set up by local authorities to govern aid distribution. The lists are meant to include all displaced people requiring assistance in a given community, but in reality many displaced people are left off the list while some locals have allegedly been added to lists.
The displaced women Valoi spoke to recount local authorities who interface between them and the WFP distribution system demanding that they pay large sums for food. The authorities are able to enforce these demands because the displaced people are not on the local distribution list. As one woman said, “We questioned, why do we have to purchase the food? We were informed that our names were not on the list of people supposed to receive free food. They said we must wait to be registered before we could receive free food.” The woman said she had paid for food aid in both February and April of this year.
Controlling the distribution lists allows intermediaries substantial leverage over displaced civilians, many of whom have little access to other sources of food. In one area of Ancuabe, according to the article, the going rate for a food package of 25 kilogrammes of rice, 25 kilogrammes of flour, and five litres of cooking oil is 1 500 meticais (US$23.50) — a substantial outlay. In some cases, people reported that intermediaries were demanding sex in exchange for food.
WFP declined to comment on the specifics of Valoi’s article, but issued a statement condemning any abuses and touting its mechanisms for monitoring food aid distribution. Key among those mechanisms are telephone hotlines and other reporting mechanisms meant to allow displaced people to report instances of abuse. However, in a series of surveys conducted earlier this year in Metuge district, displaced women were found to report abuse to aid workers much less often than displaced men.
Beyond Valoi’s article, there is evidence from the humanitarian community itself to suggest that these monitoring mechanisms are functioning particularly poorly for women. The results of a focus group of displaced people in Metuge district released in early August shows that women face unique barriers to food access, even months after the most recent major displacement event — the March attack on Palma.
The focus group reported that “Single and/or unmarried women seem to be discriminated [against] during food distribution” and “If you are a single woman with no kids, if you are unmarried then you won’t be put on [food aid distribution] lists” and “Elderly women feel really isolated as they do not receive food as a priority.” There were no mentions in the focus group notes of men being targeted during food distribution.
It is not clear why the aid monitoring mechanisms in place function better for men than for women, but there appears to be strong evidence that they do. It appears that monitoring mechanisms may need to be reworked if the humanitarian community is to avoid the outcomes detailed in Valoi’s article.
Mixed signals from the Mozambican government about whether and when displaced people will be able to return home continued last week. After electrical power was restored last week at Mueda town following the repair of the electrical substation at Awasse, Mocimboa da Praia district, the mayor of Mueda took to the radio to encourage people and businesses who had left the town to come back.
Nangade and Palma, which are both also served by the Awasse substation, have not yet had their electricity restored.
Cabo Delgado governor Valige Tauabo, however, speaking in Meluco district last week, urged caution for displaced people considering returning to areas in the conflict zone. He asked displaced people to delay their returns at least until government services are restored in areas that were recently under insurgent control, and to instead devote their energies to seeking out and denouncing insurgents in their midst.
Despite Tauabo’s words of caution, there are significant pressures pushing people to attempt to return soon. With the international community’s weak record on aid funding up to this point, it is likely that local agricultural production will have to be increased to supplement food aid in order to adequately feed the population of Cabo Delgado.
In order for crops to be harvested in the coming autumn, seeds will have to be in the ground before the rainy season begins in October. Indeed, some people are already moving by sea from Pemba to Palma in order to prepare their fields for planting. The ships they are taking are ostensibly set up to carry workers expecting a resumption of work on the liquified natural gas projects near Palma.
In addition to malnutrition, many displaced people are contending with high rates of malaria. Mosquito nets are being distributed among displaced people in Balama, Nangade, and Macomia districts, but in many cases malaria has already struck displaced families. Médecins Sans Frontières, which provides healthcare for many of the most vulnerable displaced people, reported that in the course of 80,000 examinations of displaced people done in the last six months, the malaria infection rate was roughly 38%.
On the international front, the SAMIM press release mentioned above included more than just details on conflict incidents. The release declared that the mission is now at “full operational capacity” and lays out a set of goals that encompass supporting Mozambican combat operations, military logistics, policing, and humanitarian assistance.
The release emphasises the humanitarian relief aspects of the mission, a notable departure from earlier rhetoric about SAMIM which largely ignored the Cabo Delgado humanitarian crisis. According to the release, SAMIM is actively working with the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to support humanitarian efforts in the province.
South African defence expert Darren Olivier, however, urged observers not to take SAMIM’s claim of being “fully operational” at face value. Olivier told reporters that SAMIM’s work will take place in phases, as per the Sadc technical team’s recommendations, with the current phase focusing on intelligence gathering and future phases more oriented toward combat and holding territory.
Olivier’s analysis was borne out, at least in part, by an article in Vrye Weekblad reporting that no more than 200 South Africans had been deployed as part of SAMIM so far, and that the main South African force to be sent to Mozambique is still “preparing” at the Lohatla military base in Northern Cape.
SAMIM may be losing face in comparison to Rwanda’s fast-moving intervention, but, Olivier, pointed out, the Rwandan approach of quickly engaging in combat operations without deeply studying the conflict is far riskier to intervening troops than the SAMIM approach.
Rwandan president Paul Kagame, for his part, seems to feel that the risk has been well worth it. In a long press conference last week, Kagame spoke at length about the Rwandan intervention in Cabo Delgado. Kagame flatly denied widespread speculation that France or TotalEnergies are financially supporting the Rwandan intervention, saying that the intervention is relatively inexpensive and that Rwanda is paying for it from the country’s own coffers.
Rather than being rooted in a mercenary impulse, Kagame argued, the intervention took place due to a combination of solidarity politics and a concern about the effects of the Cabo Delgado insurgency on Rwandan security. Indeed, Kagame asserted, there have been Rwandans found among the insurgents, along with Tanzanians, Congolese, Ugandans, and Burundians.
The Rwandan president made no mention of other Rwandans in Mozambique he might perceive to be dangerous, such as Rwandan opposition journalist Cassien Ntamuhanga, who had been living in Mozambique before being arrested in the runup to the Rwandan intervention and has not been heard from since. Many see Ntamuhanga’s arrest as being part of a quid pro quo for Rwandan assistance in Cabo Delgado.
Kagame reported that lines of communication are open between the Rwandan deployment and SAMIM, and that there are no plans at present to expand the Rwandan deployment beyond the 1,000 personnel currently in Cabo Delgado. He also said that Rwandan forces have gathered intelligence through captured documents suggesting that insurgents intend (or, perhaps, intended) to expand westward into Niassa province.
Another notable intelligence breakthrough was reported last week, when, according to a Carta de Mocambique article, information gathered during the recent offensives in Mocimboa da Praia district allowed the Mozambican government to identify six people financing the insurgency. Three are reportedly based in Tanzania, two in Mozambique’s capital Maputo, and one in Pemba. No further information about the alleged financiers is available. – Cabo Ligado Weekly.