New video gives clues about motives behind attacks in northern Mozambique

Mozambique army personnel. Photo by Steve Evans, CC-BY 2.0

For over two years, Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province has faced successive attacks from unidentified armed groups. More than 900 people have been killed since the attacks began, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).

In February, Cabo Delgado’s provincial government released a report stating that more than 150,000 people have been affected by the conflict. The latest assaults took place in late March and early April 2020 and, after one of them, a district was temporarily occupied by the attackers.

While the group's motives remain unknown — although the local population calls it “Al Shabab,” it is not known if there is a connection with Somalia's Al Shabaab group –, a video released on April 7 seems to give some clues.

Recorded in Ntchinga village, the video shows the insurgents holding an Islamic State flag and a leader addressing the local population in the Kimwan and Kiswahili languages, gathered as if attending a rally.

According to Voice of America (VOA), the video suggests a change in the group's strategy by apparently seeking support from local people.

VOA reported that these are the words spoken in the video:

Nós queremos que seja respeitada a lei islâmica. Cabo Delgado nos pertence e vamos impor o Estado Islâmico, está bem?

Aqui entramos duas vezes, e desta, como todos vocês viram, não matamos ninguém e nem destruímos nada, e vamos vos deixar em paz.

Se vocês continuarem a colaborar com o Governo a denunciar-nos e a não seguir o islão, voltaremos uma terceira vez e vamos queimar tudo e matar todos, deixar isto vazio, está bem?

We want Islamic law to be respected. Cabo Delgado belongs to us and we're going to impose the Islamic state, okay?

We came here twice, and this time, as you all saw, we did not kill anybody or destroy anything, and we will leave you in peace

If you continue to collaborate with the government to denounce us and to not follow Islam, we will come back a third time and we will burn everything and kill everybody, leave this [place] empty, okay?

Days after the video’s release, the attackers destroyed a Catholic church in the region. Pope Francis then asked for a blessing for the people of Cabo Delgado:

In late March, photos of the group bearing an Islamic State flag in what looks like the administration offices of the village of Quissanga circulated widely on social media (Global Voices has attempted to verify the authorship and date of the photo but could not):

The central government stated that these attacks must stop and the perpetrators must be arrested and sentenced:

O Governo condena veemente os hediondos e violentos ataques e continuará a perseguir todos os assassinos, levando-os, como está a acontecer, à barra da justiça

The government strongly condemns the heinous and violent attacks and will continue to pursue all the killers, bringing them to justice

As well as the attacks, there are reports of disappearances of journalists. The most recent disappearance was that of a local radio presenter, RFI Portuguese reported:

De acordo com as informações do MISA-Moçambique Ibraimo Mbaruco saiu de casa para a Rádio por volta das 15,00 horas do dia 7 de Abril em curso, onde esteve a trabalhar até cerca das 18,00 horas do mesmo dia. O jornalista teria sido sequestrado quando regressava a casa, entre as 18,00 e 19,00 horas.

Esta instituição refere ainda que momentos antes, Ibraimo Mbaruco teria enviado uma curta mensagem (SMS) a um dos seus colegas de trabalho, informando que estava cercado por militares. A partir desse momento, não mais atendeu às chamadas, embora o seu telefone continuasse a dar sinal de estar ainda comunicável.

According to information from MISA-Mozambique, Ibraimo Mbaruco left home for the radio at around 15:00 on 7 April, where he was working until about 18:00 the same day. The journalist was reportedly kidnapped on his way home between 18:00 and 19:00.

MISA-Mozambique also stated that moments before, Ibraimo Mbaruco had sent an SMS to a colleague, saying that he was surrounded by soldiers. Afterwards, he answered no more calls, although his phone still signalled it was connected

In a report published on April 13 by the Institute of Economic and Social Studies (IESE), the researcher Sérgio Chichava argues that everything indicates the country is facing a radical Islamic group which wants to impose Islamic law.

For now, more research is needed to understand the changes the group has gone through over the last two and a half years, and the reasons for it choosing military means to achieve its goal, after initially favoring nonviolent action.

Who is the “enemy” attacking Cabo Delgado? The +recent #IDeIASn_127 of @schichava, presents the different hypotheses of the Mozambican government about the identity and objectives of the group that, since 5 October 2017, has been attacking the province. Read it here.

Recently, a group of local artists released a song in local languages to call for the attacks in the province to stop:

The first song I’ve heard condemning the attacks in #CaboDelgado. The group is from Mueda and sings in Maconde, Swahili and Portuguese.


Why they kill us, cut us like chickens,
why do they kill us, why do they wrong us
What have we done?!

The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) highlighted that if control over the situation is lost, a major crisis could be triggered throughout the southern African region::

Há uma necessidade da intervenção da SADC (comunidade de países da África Austral), é verdade que a SADC é aquela entidade que todos nós conhecemos, amorfa, mas tem que ser mobilizada para intervir aqui.

There is a need for SADC (Southern African Development Community) intervention, it is true that SADC is that entity we all know, amorphous, but it has to be mobilized to intervene here.

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