from ARMANDO DOMINGOS in Maputo, Mozambique
MAPUTO – THE rising insurgency by Islamist militants in northern Mozambique has emerged the common denominator to a myriad of crises afflicting the Southern African country.
Among other catastrophes that have been worsening as direct or indirect result of the terror in Cabo Delgado province include the coronavirus (COVID-19) and other outbreaks, a crumbling health sector, human rights violations by the military deployed to quell the banditry as well as imminent starvation.
On its own, the insurgency, mostly perpetrated by the sect known as Ansar al-Sunna, has left some 2 500 people dead since 2017, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED).
As it escalates its campaign to establish an Islamic state in the north, the sect has extended its reach, coinciding with disclosure of its affiliation to the globally-dreaded Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Storms are brewing in the areas of health, human rights and food security, among others.
Mozambique, the impoverished country of about 30 million people, has not been spared the global outbreak of COVID-19.
Cabo Delgado, particularly the capital Pemba, is an epicentre of the virus that has, at the time of publication, claimed 64 lives from a total of 8 979 cases.
In Pemba, the COVID-19 scourge has been worsening as thousands of civilians flee the terror attacks in towns and villages in search of safety in the city.
Most refugees are living with families or relatives, placing an additional strain on them and increasing the kinds of overcrowded conditions that fuel the spread of the virus.
Physical distancing at some makeshift camps is highly impossible.
The Red Cross opened the country’s largest COVID-19 treatment centre in Pemba, but in another twist to the crisis, the same humanitarian organisation recently suspended its work indefinitely in some areas affected by the terror.
“It is unfeasible and unsafe to respond to this crisis emerging within a crisis,” a nurse from the organisation told CAJ News Africa.
The nurse is one of more than 600 health care workers that have reportedly fled their posts in Cabo Delgado. More than 20 health centres have closed.
This is exacerbating issues in a country prone to outbreaks of diseases.
These outbreaks include cholera and acute watery diarrhea, which thrive under inhabitable conditions as these ones in the province.
Children are at most danger of contracting the illnesses.
Cabo Delgado has the second highest rate of chronic malnutrition with more than half of children under five years chronically malnourished.
Community leader, Zefania Cumbe, told CAJ News Africa the situation was dire.
“Parents are helpless with the future of their children under so much threat,” he said.
Cumbe said community leaders had pleaded with health organisations to stay.
“They cite that the safety of their workers and equipment is not safe as the attacks continue,” he lamented.
Hunger is another unfolding humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado, which is still recovering from the effects of Cyclone Kenneth.
It was the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in Mozambique in modern times.
At least 52 people were killed and vast farmlands destroyed.
Thousands will still face the gloomy prospects of inadequate food as agriculture has ground to a halt, worsened by the insecurity.
There have been incidents of insurgents attacking civilians as they work on their fields.
Insurgents reportedly beheaded five individuals they found tending their fields on the outskirts of Novo.
ACLED has reported similar attacks on civilians in Palma town and Macomia districts.
Palma remains under threat of being cut off from the rest of Mozambique as attacks on land routes into the town continue.
Aid groups are struggling to access affected communities.
“The growing insecurity and poor infrastructure have meant that reaching out to people in need has become harder and now with COVID-19 the crisis becomes even more complex,” Antonella D’Aprile, World Food Programme (WFP) representative for Mozambique, said.
WFP, which urgently requires US$4,7 million monthly to assist those internally displaced in the north, has warned that without additional funding, it would be forced to reduce food rations as early as December.
Last week, insurgents killed a worker for state electrical utility Electricidade de Mocambique (EDM), who was working on an electricity line in Awasse, Mocimboa da Praia district.
Attackers also burned a vehicle belonging to the company and forced other employees to flee, abandoning their work.
It is a strategy by the terrorists to attack public infrastructure such as power lines to make the work of aid agencies unbearable.
The current crises are reminiscent of the civil war that Mozambique experienced from 1977, two years after independence from Portugal, to 1992.
Some 1 million people died from the war and subsequent famine.
However, around 200 people were killed between 2013 and 2019 following an insurgency by the opposition Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO) in a renewal of tensions with the governing Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO).
The military deployed to curb the insurgency has lurched into another human rights storm in the wake of video material alleging the beheading of civilians accused of collaborating with the terrorists.
Men thought to be soldiers are captured executing the people.
The security forces have reportedly killed over 100 civilians this past month during operations against the rebel group.
“Numbers remain difficult to verify, given the government’s reticence to share casualty counts,” a security think-tank stated.
Among other disturbing images that have been circulating on social media, four men in army uniform kill a naked woman accused of being a terrorist.
It has sparked outrage.
Even the government of President Filipe Nyusi, which has over the years has absolved the military from wrongdoing, demanded a probe.
The Defence and Security Forces (FDS), while it could not confirm if men depicted in the video were military men, condemned the alleged trend.
“The FDS reiterate that they do not agree with any barbaric act that substantiates the violation of human rights,” it said in a statement, calling for an investigation into the video’s authenticity.
Uniformed forces have been accused of arbitrary arrests, molesting media and abusing suspects in custody.
Dewa Mavhinga, Southern Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the Mozambican government had a responsibility to protect anyone who was in custody and investigate alleged abuses against them.
“The gruesome execution of an unarmed and naked woman requires swift action from the Mozambican authorities to identify and appropriately punish those responsible,” Mavhinga added.
He said authorities must ensure that security forces, including those deployed to areas of conflict, respected human rights and protect everyone in their custody.
Mozambique has formally requested support from the European Union (EU) to help its counterinsurgency effort in Cabo Delgado.
Nyusi’s government has requested assistance in the form of counterterrorism training and logistics, technical training, and medical equipment.
It has also appealed for humanitarian assistance for the estimated 100 000 people displaced by the conflict.
Former head of state, Joaquim Chissano, who was president when the civil war ended, and is now a statesman, also advocated for dialogue to resolve the terrorism.
“Dialogue should never be discarded. It should never be put aside,” he said at a just-concluded conference.
– CAJ News