SADC and Rwandan troops disperse Mozambique insurgents — but displace more civilians.

SADC and Rwandan troops disperse Mozambique insurgents — but displace more civilians.
Women and children in a shelter camp in Metuge which houses displaced people fleeing armed violence in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambique. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Luisa Nhantumbo)

The US has stepped up humanitarian aid to a growing number of internally displaced persons in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province amid successful efforts to disperse Isis-affiliated insurgents.

Southern African and Rwandan regional forces which have been fighting in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado since July 2021 are dispersing Isis-affiliated insurgents — but also driving them further west and south, displacing more civilians and threatening commercial mines.

The number of internally displaced persons has jumped from just under 800,000 to 946,508 since February this year, according to the UN. Of the newly displaced people, 83,983 people had fled attacks in Ancuabe and Chiure districts in June, as the war spread south, leading to a “deteriorating humanitarian situation in southern Cabo Delgado,” the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said.

The dispersed insurgents have conducted “more widespread and audacious insurgent attacks,” according to Mozambique expert Joseph Hanlon in his latest bulletin. 

US aid package

US under-secretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights Uzra Zeya, who visited Mozambique last week, noted that SADC and the Rwandan forces — plus US and European Union military training — had helped to “shift the momentum of the war against the insurgents.” 

“At the same time though, Isis Mozambique fighters continue to conduct attacks against villages in the north and that demonstrates that they remain a dangerous threat to the life, welfare and security of the people of northern Mozambique who have already suffered tremendously from terrorist violence,” she said.

Zeya — who met President Filipe Nyusi and the interior and justice ministers as well as senior officials — said she discovered that the conditions were not yet right for the hundreds of thousands of displaced people, most of them women and children, to return to their homes safely.

This was why she had announced in Maputo a $116-million package of humanitarian assistance to address their needs, including severe food insecurity, healthcare, water, sanitation, hygiene, agriculture and other critical needs. 

It would also help to address the effects of Tropical Cyclone Gombe which struck northern Mozambique in March, compounding people’s hardship.


Zeya’s concern about the hazards of displaced people returning home had been underscored when insurgents attacked the village of Mihecane in Ancuabe district on 19 July.

“A group of six residents who fled an earlier attack at the end of June are said to have returned to retrieve some belongings from their homes when they were accosted by insurgents,” according to the Cabo Ligado insurgency monitor. 

“One managed to escape on a motorbike while the other five are missing, presumed dead.”

The report described other recent attacks over a wide area of Cabo Delgado, in Ancuabe, Mocímboa da Praia, and Macomia districts. These included a large assault on the village of Mitope near the northern port town of Mocimboa da Praia on 22 July, when insurgents burnt many houses, looted goods and kidnapped several people.

The Cabo Ligado report expressed concern that Mitope is close to the crucial junction of Awasse, where several displaced families had recently returned home after government assurances that the area was safe. 

“This attack demonstrates that the Mozambican Defense and Security Forces (FDS) and Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), which is responsible for security in Palma and Mocímboa da Praia, are still struggling to permanently dislodge insurgents from the district, despite numerous clearing operations,” the report said.

The report also said one Lesotho soldier attached to the SADC Mission in Mozambique had been killed and seven injured when their armoured personnel vehicle swerved to avoid a cyclist and rolled near Nangade on July 22. 

Pemba concerns

Cabo Ligado noted that the London-based Gemfields company had expressed concern that the southward shift of insurgent attacks could now threaten its subsidiary, the Montepuez Ruby Mining (MRM) company’s operations in the southeastern Montepuez district. 

The report said the insurgents’ southward advance was provoking concerns about the safety of the provincial capital Pemba as well as other commercial operations. It recalled the killings of security guards at the Grafex graphite mining project in Ancuabe on 8 June, which prompted it and another neighbouring mine to shut down operations.

“Although insurgents have generally not targeted commercial interests since the insurgency’s inception, with some exceptions (ie mobile phone infrastructure, banks, etc), IS,(Islamic State) taking claim for the Grafex attack, made specific reference to the large number of “crusader companies” operating in Cabo Delgado, inferring these interests would be receiving more attention.”

Gas production

Hanlon said although the Rwandan and SADC forces had become more active and effective, their inability to keep Mocimboa da Praia and Palma districts safe was delaying any chance of the French company TotalEnergies returning to its gas production plant at Afungi peninsula, near Palma, “until next year at the earliest”.

The insurgents overran Mocimboa da Praia in August 2020 and attacked Palma in March 2021, killing many locals, a South African and a British contractor constructing facilities for the gas plant and causing TotalEnergies to withdraw. Mozambican soldiers later re-entered Palma and Rwandan soldiers recaptured Mocimboa da Praia in August last year.

But, as Hanlon noted, they have not fully restored security in those areas. 

Food security and other aid

US under-secretary Zeya told Daily Maverick that apart from the $116-million humanitarian package, the US had earlier in July announced an additional $9.1 million to help refugees, conflict-affected persons and internally displaced persons. This would also support accountability for those responsible for human rights violations.

Some of the aid was intended to help people affected by Russia’s war on Ukraine which has created food shortages, driving up prices and creating food insecurity. 

Zeya said Mozambique was one of the eight new Feed the Future target countries designated by President Joe Biden in June to address the global food security crisis.

Mozambique was also one of five focus countries and regions in a new US strategy to prevent conflict and promote stability, including law enforcement capacity building and training. This would address some of the underlying drivers of violent extremism.

Asked if she thought these drivers included democracy and human rights deficits, Zeya said; “ I do think advancing respect for democracy and human rights in Mozambique is part of the long-term solution to this crisis. And part of the process of building the foundations of a community that is resilient, that is able to achieve its full potential and enjoy economic opportunity so that it’s much less vulnerable to these kinds of predations.”

Human trafficking

Zeya said she also discussed human trafficking — a core US human rights priority — with the Mozambican government. Human trafficking was a universal problem, also present in the US. In Mozambique, human traffickers were exploiting vulnerable communities such as the hundreds of thousands of people displaced by the insurgency as well as foreigners who had come to Mozambique to seek safety and protection. 

She said it was a crime that transcended borders and needed a global approach in which government, businesses and civil society were all working together. The US had encouraged Mozambique “to finalise and vigorously implement a national action plan on human trafficking and also to support reforms that would bring Mozambique’s existing anti-trafficking laws into compliance with international standards.”

Mozambique was already making “very significant” efforts to combat human trafficking, but remained at Tier 2 in the State Department’s 2022 Trafficking in Persons report published this month.

Namibia visit

Zeya later visited Namibia, meeting President Hage Geingob, as well as the justice minister and other officials and handing over a copy of the Trafficking in Persons report to deputy foreign minister Jenelly Matundu.

She commended Namibia for achieving the top Tier 1 ranking in the report for the third consecutive year and noted that it remained the only African Tier 1 country. 

Zeya said the US was an active participant in Namibia’s National Coordinating Body (NCB) on trafficking in persons, among others. The US had funded the NCB’s analysis for Namibia’s 2021 to 2026 plan to counter human trafficking.   

She said in their meeting she and President Geingob had discussed “joint efforts to advance shared global priorities on transnational crime, economic and racial justice and human rights.”

She commended Namibia’s achievements in wildlife trafficking, media freedom and overcoming HIV and visited the law enforcement centre in Waterberg to see Namibia’s efforts to combat wildlife trafficking which the US was supporting.

This included visiting the Blue Rhino Task Force, a US-supported effort to protect the endangered black rhino which she said had been decimated by poaching.

She told Daily Maverick that helping Namibia counter wildlife trafficking was also a US priority “because there is a nexus with transnational organised crime as well as the issue of livelihoods, of resources and of the bounty of the beautiful nations that are being exploited and destroyed by the scourge.” DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

We would like our readers to start paying for Daily Maverick...

…but we are not going to force you to. Over 10 million users come to us each month for the news. We have not put it behind a paywall because the truth should not be a luxury.

Instead we ask our readers who can afford to contribute, even a small amount each month, to do so.

If you appreciate it and want to see us keep going then please consider contributing whatever you can.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox

Download the Daily Maverick Elections Toolbox.

+ Your election day questions answered
+ What's different this election
+ Test yourself! Take the quiz