Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Mozambique's Misery

The number of internally displaced people has doubled in the past five months in Cabo Delgado, a province in northern Mozambique. Thousands of people have fled a violent insurrection by a group of Islamist militants with ties to the Islamic State (IS) group and are now living in overcrowded camps or the homes of friends or relatives. Humanitarian organizations on the ground are calling for more assistance.

Since October 2017, a group of armed Islamist militants-- known locally as Al Shabaab, though they have no ties to the better-known Somali group-- have been carrying out a series of violent attacks on the resource-rich province of Cabo Delgado. In the past three years, more than 1,400 people have been killed in these attacks, according to the NGO The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (Acled). The attacks have intensified this year. Between March and June, insurgents seized numerous villages as well as the local capitals in the districts of Mocimboa da Praia, Quissanga, Muidumbe and Macomia. Photos posted online show charred ruins of homes and buildings and abandoned government buildings. Thousands of people have fled, by land and sea. Despite repeated attempts, Mozambique hasn’t managed to control the situation in Cabo Delgado. In May, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) recognized that the insurrection in Mozambique posed a threat to the entire region. But, for the time being, there hasn’t been any regional or international intervention.

In July, there were 250,000 internally displaced people in Cabo Delgado, double the number in March, according to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha). That represents close to 10 percent of the population of this province, which is home to 2.3 million people. Many of the displaced people fled to the coastal city of Pemba, which is the capital of Cabo Delgado. Many are staying with friends or family but their living conditions are precarious and they lack food.
The UN World Food Program (WFP) is currently trying to come up with a strategy to help the rising number of displaced persons. They hope to provide assistance to nearly 200,000 people in August. By September, they hope to establish a system of vouchers that can be redeemed in local shops.
There are nearly 40,000 displaced people in Pemba, many of them women, children and the elderly. Some have been there for the past six months, but most of them arrived more recently. Most of them are staying with friends or family. Sometimes 10 or 20 or even 30 people will be crowded into someone else’s home. The government and international aid organisations have a presence there, but the need is great and the assistance doesn’t reach everyone.
In the neighboring district of Metuge, not far from Pemba, the provincial government set up five shelters that are now housing 10,000 people. Many of the tents on site were supplied by humanitarian organisations like the UN’s International Organization for Migration (IOM), which housed victims of Cyclone Kenneth last year. Other people built their own shelters with whatever they had lying around. The diocese of Pemba and Caritas, a Catholic relief organisation, regularly brings aid to these camps. But taking care of victims of conflicts is complex.

According to the Mozambican Institute for the Management of Natural Disasters (INGC), a further 8,000 people, , including nearly 4,400 children, have fled to the neighboring province of Nampula. On July 14, the government of Nampula announced the opening of a special centre for displaced people. The provincial government also says it will provide land for displaced people to farm. Roughly 87 percent of the displaced people are farmers. Another centre for displaced persons will soon be opened in the province of Niassa.

However, many organizations say that a large number of displaced persons haven’t been counted yet, or are currently living in zones that are difficult to access. The Islamic Community of Mozambique (CIMO), which plays an active role in providing humanitarian assistance to displaced people in Cabo Delgado and Nampula, has expressed worries about the people who didn’t leave the affected districts and surviving in extremely difficult circumstances.

Maulana Mansur, a member of CIMO, met with survivors in Quissanga, the site of many attacks.

"...I saw nearly 350 burned homes with my own eyes. There were no more shops, nothing. The people who had stayed behind were sleeping in the marsh at night. Those who stayed behind were too old or too poor to flee. For the past few weeks, no one travelled to these zones, and so people left their shelters to fish or search for water... I have never seen anything like it..."

in July, researcher Martin Rupiya from the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (ACCORD), said that Southern African Development Community should be "officially asked to intervene".

"The countries wait until the last minute before turning towards this institution. They try other techniques first, like using private security companies, because no one wants to see this region categorized as a conflict zone,” he explained. Essentially, Mozambique engaged a private security company, whose helicopters are used in the fight against the insurgents.

Jasmine Opperman, an analyst at the NGO Acled said that the response of the Mozambican security forces so far were characterized by "coercive tactics and human rights violations”. A regional intervention using these same methods could destroy the trust within affected communities.

 Martin Rupiya also agreed that the military option alone wouldn’t be enough: “There is need for investment to create infrastructure, employment and restore hope".


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