In early June, unidentified individuals armed with guns and machetes raided three isolated villages in Macomia and Quissanga districts, in Cabo Delgado province. They killed 12 people and set fire to over 260 residences. The attack followed a spate of similar events that have afflicted the province since October 2017 and have intensified over the last two weeks, causing at least 24 deaths.
The recent wave of attacks started on 27 May in the village of Monjane, Palma district, where 10 people were beheaded. Two villages in Macomia and Mocimboa da Praia districts were targeted afterward. Defense and security forces recently announced that they had killed and arrested a number of alleged members of those armed groups. They also claimed to have intercepted 40 Mozambican nationals who were reportedly traveling to the province to join the fighters, attracted by promises of employment and better prospects.
The raids have been associated with Islamist-inspired violent extremism, namely the Somalia-based group Al-Shabab. However, a recent study conducted by a Mozambican institution refuted that link, despite a clear association with religious motives and interference from radical foreign individuals. Instead, the study emphasized that economic motivations were the main drivers, particularly in relation to the fact that regional instability helps promote illicit activities, such as illegal trade in timber, ivory and precious stones.
Regardless of the real inspiration behind the attacks, significant impacts have been noted at the social and economic levels. In fear of further attacks, local populations have fled inland areas in favor of the coast and the Quirimbas archipelago. In addition, the police impeded a civil society group from holding a protest against the violence and the government’s failure to ensure security.
Meanwhile, the events have raised alarm among foreign investors and operators in a province that hosts large natural gas reserves. For instance, on 6 June, Norway-based oil and gas company Wentworth Resources announced that the National Petroleum Institute (INP) had acceded to a formal request for a one-year license extension on the onshore Rovuma concession, where it is conducting pre-drilling activities in the Tembo block. As per a company press release, the request was driven by security concerns toward staff and contractors.
In early June, Interior Minister Basilio Monteiro announced the establishment of an operational command in Quissanga and Macomia districts to restore order. This clearly demonstrates the government’s concern over the threat posed to local populations as well as to planned and ongoing investments in the region.
In our view, recent events and Wentworth Resources’ response will lead authorities to increase the police presence in the province, in order to give security assurances to IOCs and the local population. A military deployment may also be in the cards if attacks continue to mount. We also assess that local employees of natural gas projects may suspend activities for fear of potential attacks. Overall, popular unrest is likely to increase in the main urban centers of Cabo Delgado province ahead of the October 2018 elections. Meanwhile, we expect the government to introduce further incentives for IOCs to offset the increased operational risks.