Mozambique is no stranger to militia attacks and the stench of gunpowder. It has a past of RENAMO and FRELIMO tensions, from which the guns have since been silenced. However, the recent spate of attacks by the ISIS-aligned terrorist group Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah, have raised concerns.
While this ISIS-backed terrorist group made itself known recently through various methods of terrorism, it is not at newcomer at all. There have been reports of Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah being linked to the Somalian terrorist group, Al Shabaab, which have been proven to be untrue.
In the early hours of 5 October 2017, a group of young men armed with machetes and machine guns launched an attached on police and government offices in Moćimboa de Praia, in the Cabo Delgado province, north of the country. In the reports that followed two days later, the death toll was at 17 and 14 of those being the terrorists, two police officers and one civilian. Whether or not there is a direct link to the geographical location of the Cab Delgado province and the insurgency, is a question that unanswered. The Cabo Delgado region is very rich in minerals and there are reports of offshore gas fields, which rank as one of the biggest in the world.
The recent attacks have led to major displacements in the province. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there is an estimated 210 000 people who have been displaced from their homes and villages. It is undeniable that women and children become soft targets for extremist groups, especially in an attempt to force more men to join their organisation. People have been tortured, killed, threatened and their homes burnt. This is evidence enough that this group is making a statement and the government has shown no interest in coming forward with a solution, despite people dying in large numbers. This further burdens a country that is already struggling with the most basic of services for its citizens.
The elephant in the room is the fact that Mozambique is not only part of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), but it also borders South Africa. Whether this is a blessing or a curse is yet to be discovered, however, the hope is that this ISIS-backed terrorist group is stopped before that. It is no assumption that the Jihadists are very much aware of the capabilities of South Africa; therefore, it may cause so much damage to the Mozambican coast that it sends a strong signal to the South African government. This is in addition to the presence of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) in Mozambique as part of Operation Copper, a maritime operation that has seen piracy drop drastically in that part of the country.
Mozambique being part of SADC also raises a question as to whether there will be an intervention from other countries as it is faced with this series of terrorist attacks. SADC is the most stable region in the African continent, therefore much is expected of it, specifically South Africa. A Member of Parliament of the official opposition party in South Africa, the Democratic Alliance (DA), Kobus Marais posed questions at the Department of Defence Minister, Nosiviwe-Mapisa Nqakula regarding the operational mandate of the SANDF. It was then clarified that such operations are classified and parliament will be notified in due course.
The SANDF and other SADC member states’ armed forces may find themselves in a very unfamiliar form of asymmetrical operations, which, if unprepared for, will definitely lead to many casualties. Counterinsurgency operations require enough preparation and all the necessary support needed, the SANDF must be very much equipped to conduct such complex operations successfully.
One thing that constantly lingers in the minds of many people around the world is the reason people decide to join these extremist groups. Terrorist extremist groups are very opportunistic in their recruitment techniques, and they are rarely unsuccessful. The main target is always young people who feel that they have been sidelined by their government, who want to be part of something bigger. The Institute for Security Studies has reported that a large number of young people have been radicalised since 2014. The modus operandi has always been the use of religion and exploiting the socioeconomic disparities of the target groups, like the youth.
Young people are introduced into a world of extreme indoctrination, where they willingly choose death rather than to turn their backs on their newly found family and set of values. Africa has in the past decade been a good place to harbour ISIS ideologies and advance its agenda. This is based on the severe corruption of government officials, which leads to extreme poverty and a very disgruntled citizenry. When young people burn with the desire to make a change but are denied the platform, they easily fall prey to extremist (terrorist) groups.
Despite the Mozambican government’s claim that these are isolated incidents, and that this terrorist extremist group is a way of inciting fear to capture the minds of the people, it cannot be ignored. Should it get out of hand, it is not only Mozambique that will pay the price. The world’s eyes continue to be fixed at SADC to find a solution to the Mozambican problem, before it is rather too late.