Mozambique: Insurgents Briefly Take Control of Mocimboa da Praia, Calls for Foreign Assistance Increase

On 27 June, Islamic State-linked armed insurgents raided and took control of Mocimboa da Praia, Cabo Delgado province. The group calls itself Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ) and is known locally as Al-Shabaab. The Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) claimed responsibility for the attack, specifying that it had targeted two military barracks, killing 10 and wounding other members of what it calls the “South African Alliance.” The group looted weapons and ammunition before withdrawing. Government forces, backed by air support from a private military company, retaliated and retook control of the town in the evening of 28 June.

This was the second time that the town was captured since the start of 2020. The villages of Macomia, Muidumbe and Quissanga were also briefly occupied this year. Armed violence has led to at least 700 deaths and more than 210,000 people internally displaced, many of whom fled to the neighboring Nampula province. These developments are taking place at the same time that the regions are still recovering from last year’s two tropical cyclones.

Rising displacement has raised the alarm amid the coronavirus pandemic, spikes in other diseases like malaria and ongoing malnutrition, especially in Cabo Delgado and Nampula provinces. As such, the government has been engaged in efforts to deliver food and fuel to the region given that logistics chains have been disrupted. The port of Mocimboa da Praia is key to these processes, so government control is essential. Other ports in the province are also at risk.

After the attack on Mocimboa da Praia, Interior Minister Amade Miquidade noted that the insurgents are using the shoreline to conduct raids and escape government forces. This happened in the latest attack, in which the insurgents entered the town by land and sea while deploying militants to the town’s access points. Miquidade added that they travel along the shoreline at night in order to avoid being spotted.

These recent developments not only reflect the government’s inability to end the violence and control coastal areas, but also the insurgents’ high levels of organization and operational capacity. Calls for foreign assistance from civil society have increased, and discussions are ongoing with regional partners. South African authorities recently admitted that they had approved the sale of weapons to Mozambique, although details on types and quantities were not revealed. Those officials have expressed concern over the threat that the insurgency poses to the region and claim that plans are in place to address it. Notably, our contacts said that the government is looking to secure coastal surveillance support from South Africa given its lack of human and material resources to conduct effective operations. This is especially important considering that the government recently relaunched shipping services along the coast.

As regional countries and other international partners discuss possible cooperation, we expect the armed groups to continue staging attacks and taking control of villages and towns, especially those that are key for provincial logistics. Investors and operators should expect increased risk of collateral damage, particularly to staff and contractors along main roads, although there is currently no indication that IOCs and associated interests are direct targets of the insurgents.