ISS: Mozambique shifts gear with its new strategy for the north


Five years after violent extremists began attacking Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, the country is developing its first counter-terrorism strategy. This Resilience and Development Strategy for the North is expected to be funded by donors to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

Written by the government with input from donors, it is scheduled to be approved by the cabinet in the first half of 2022. The strategy is the first official document to recognise the role of internal factors in creating the conflict. It cites socio-economic inequalities, frustration related to the exploitation of natural resources, especially among youth in the north, political and economic exclusion, and perceived marginalisation by the local population.

But is this mere rhetoric to solicit funding? And funding for what – or who? Or does the new strategy show a genuine change in attitude by Mozambique’s government?

On paper, the strategy represents a major change in the government’s approach to the insurgency, which it initially called an ‘external aggression perpetrated by terrorists.’ As recently as December 2021, President Filipe Nyusi told lawmakers that ‘what we are facing is pure banditry driven by others’ greed against a nation that is about to make [a] qualitative and quantitative leap.’

Through the strategy, Maputo intends to mobilise funding to prevent and counter violent extremism in Cabo Delgado and its neighbouring provinces of Niassa and Nampula, which share the same social and economic structure. Donors already ‘shortlisted’ include the African Development Bank, World Bank, United Nations and European Union – all of whom made inputs into the strategy. The final budget is estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars, to be disbursed in three phases over five years.

Other donors might also be forthcoming. At the Southern African Development Community’s 12 January heads of state extraordinary summit in Lilongwe, leaders welcomed the idea of an international conference to support Cabo Delgado’s economic and social reconstruction. They called on international partners to back the initiative.

The Resilience and Development Strategy for the North has three pillars: support for the construction of peace, security and social cohesion; reconstruction of the social contract between the state and the population; and recovery economics and resilience. These will be carried out by a government agency.

The first pillar aims to strengthen social cohesion, including between displaced people and host communities. It intends to develop state and community capacity to build peace and reconciliation through participatory dialogue and actions to prevent violent extremism and radicalism. It also aims to support inclusive justice and community security, and facilitate cross-border cooperation to strengthen citizenship and business.

The second pillar covers fair access to public services, and strengthening inclusive governance and citizen participation. It also intends to fight corruption, and ensure redistribution and fiscal transparency. It aims to promote sustainable and participatory management of land and natural resources, and support social housing, particularly for young people.

The third pillar deals with repairing the damage caused to livelihoods, especially in the agricultural, fisheries and forestry sectors. It promotes economic recovery through supporting the private sector, including the tourism industry, and fixing and maintaining infrastructure. The focus is on improving the role of extractive activities in the socio-economic integration of Niassa, Cabo Delgado and Nampula’s people. Better access to financial services and capacity building is also included.

The strategy is a step forward as it proposes solutions to local problems that are driving the insurgency. But the country’s political leaders will need to commit to resolving socio-economic inequalities, social frustrations among the youth, political exclusion and perceptions of marginalisation. Will this happen – or has the strategy been drafted for the purpose of bringing in funds more than anything else?

The country’s leadership and influential members of the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) still don’t accept that there are internal grievances behind the Cabo Delgado conflict. For example Jacinto Veloso, a Mozambican liberation struggle veteran and National Defence and Security Council member, believes the attacks are funded by overseas competitors bent on sabotaging Mozambique’s gas projects. Nyusi has said something similar – that Mozambicans are killing each other because of the gas issue.

By recognising internal grievances as a driver of the Cabo Delgado conflict, FRELIMO – which has governed the country since independence in 1975 – would be acknowledging that its governance has failed. It would be admitting that instead of wealth and cohesion, it has generated socio-economic inequity, youth frustration and political and economic exclusion.

Most importantly, FRELIMO would need to convince its comrades that the current style of government must change. This would mean an end to party elites benefitting from business opportunities, jobs and the country’s most fertile lands.

A commitment to change is vital for the poor communities of Cabo Delgado, Niassa and Nampula – and the entire country – to also benefit from the country’s riches, such as the Montepuez rubies, or the fertile lands of Macomia. Without this, the Resilience and Development Strategy for the North will fail and donor money will have enriched the elite rather than addressing internal grievances.

In fact, says Jakkie Cilliers, Head of the Institute for Security Studies’ African Futures and Innovation programme, Mozambique’s government should commit to ring-fencing some gas revenues for the funding of social grants. And, he says, external donations shouldn’t exceed the contribution from Mozambique’s government itself.

The counter-terrorism strategy also needs to be implemented by credible bodies that have the trust of local populations – rather than those responsible for applying public policies that exclude the poor. For the strategy to succeed, there must be zero corruption, zero nepotism, and zero political patronage.

Written by Borges Nhamirre, Consultant, ISS Pretoria.

Republished with permission from ISS Africa. The original article can be found here.