Mozambique News: How Big Is the Islamic Threat in Mozambique? and Why Are Rwandan Troops There?

The Mozambican insurgents represent a new armed Islamic front, with entirely local motivations and command structures.

Rwanda has sent troops to Mozambique to assist the government in fighting against a four-year Islamist militant insurgency. Political scientist Phil Clark provides insights into the threat and why Rwanda is supporting Mozambique.

Do the insurgents in Mozambique represent a new front of Islamic terrorism on the continent?

Since 2017, jihadist militias in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado have mounted an armed insurgency against the Mozambican government.

Their stated objective is to instil Sharia law across northern Mozambique. This is said to be in response to the region’s chronic poverty, unemployment and weak public services under the Frelimo-led government in Maputo.

The Mozambican insurgents represent a new armed Islamic front, with entirely local motivations and command structures. However, their propaganda invokes common tropes of regional and global jihad.

They often claim responsibility for attacks using the name given to them by the local population, ‘Al-Shabaab’. But there is no evidence that they have any direct links to Al-Shabaab in Somalia. Recently, Islamic State (ISIS) claimed responsibility for jihadist attacks in Mozambique.

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But, again, there appears to be little direct connection between the Mozambican jihadists and the Islamic State. ISIS has previously attempted to claim responsibility for attacks by unassociated Islamist groups elsewhere in Africa, for example the Allied Democratic Forces in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

How big a threat do they represent?

The jihadists pose a significant threat to local civilians and foreign economic interests in Cabo Delgado. The four-year low-intensity civil war has killed more than 3,000 civilians, displaced 800,000 and caused widespread food insecurity.

Meanwhile, the energy giants ExxonMobil and Total have suspended their liquid natural gas projects in Cabo Delgado. ExxonMobil is investing US$30billion and Total US$20billion.

The insurgents have cited the perception that local people will fail to benefit from government deals with the multinational companies as one catalyst for their attacks.

The combination of widespread violence and threats to foreign businesses have led to a patchwork of international military and security interventions. This includes reports of:

  • the Mozambican government’s use of Russian and South African mercenaries
  • the presence of Portuguese military trainers, and
  • Total’s hiring of a former French foreign legionnaire to coordinate security for its gas plant on the Afungi peninsula.
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In addition, Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) — including South African special forces – have deployed peacekeepers to Cabo Delgado.

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