Cabo Delgado insurgency is far from over – Opperman

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The introduction of external security forces into Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province has proven pivotal in the battle to reclaim the region from an Islamist insurgency, but until the region’s social, economic and political issues are addressed, the insurgency will not stop.

This is according to independent terrorism expert, Jasmine Opperman, who believes the insurgency by Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ) may be pushed back and forced into hiding through military intervention but this will not completely eliminate it.

Opperman will be addressing defenceWeb’s Countering the Insurgency in Mozambique virtual event on 16 November. Opperman will be participating in a panel discussion focused on the role that external forces are playing and what this means for the security of Mozambique and the southern African region.

Join defenceWeb as we examine regional and international efforts to counter the violence in Mozambique, through a new virtual conference, with the theme ‘Developing a multi-theatre approach to restoring peace in Cabo Delgado’.
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The insurgency started in 2017 as a grassroots revolt by northern Mozambicans who felt disenfranchised from the profits of foreign companies extracting natural resources in their region and who felt the government in Maputo in southern Mozambique had disassociated from them altogether.

Since the insurgency’s inception, ASWJ has killed around 3 000 people and displaced over 850 000. Last year, ASWJ officially became an affiliate of Islamic State (IS). Experts and security forces are hesitant to disclose the level of communication happening between ASWJ and IS but indications point to some level of communication due to training materials and IED materials having been found during operations by Southern African Development Community (SADC) Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) and Rwandan forces.

IS has warned South Africa to not get involved in the conflict, but South Africa is one of the five SADC members that is contributing soldiers and military equipment to SAMIM. South African National Defence Force soldiers have been in Mozambique for more than three months and the SADC earlier this month extended the mandate of the SAMIM force.

Successes, such as the SAMIM offensive that killed insurgent leader Sheikh Dr Njile North, SAMIM capturing an insurgent training base and stabilising parts of Cabo Delgado, are just the beginning of a long counter-insurgency struggle, according to Opperman. The short-term successes that the external hard power brings do not translate to the long term of elimination of ASWJ, she believes.

“Recent attacks [by insurgents] in Quissanga have shown that cells have freedom of movement, can execute small scale attacks with severe brutality; hence we are not even near a stage where they can declare a defeat of the insurgency, for the root causes have not been addressed.”

“What is the Mozambican government’s long term goal in Cabo Delgado?” Opperman asks. “Is it the energy sector and a security corridor? Or is it to address the forgotten Cabo Delgado in all its complexities?”

Solving the complex issue of ending a homegrown Islamist insurgency takes a strong domestic effort to address the social, political and economic issues that led to its creation. Opperman is sceptical about Mozambique’s ability to combat insurgents and solve root causes, and questions whether the government and the Mozambique Armed Defence Forces (FADM) will be in a position to handle ASWJ without the aid of external security forces. “I do not think they have the power, the finances,” she said, adding that protecting corrupt senior officials appears to be a top priority.

Opperman believes that with the current response, “the insurgency in Cabo Delgado will remain present and the insurgency as we have seen with so many others, will merely resurface.”

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