Mueda Town Square, site of the 1960 massacre Gordon Wall (CC BY 3.0)

Aslak Jangård Orre

Senior Researcher, Coordinator Governance

In October of 2017, Muslim youth assaulted the large coastal town of Mocimboa da Praia in the northern province of Mozambique called Cabo Delgado, which borders with Tanzania and hosts the sites where multinational petroleum companies are planning Africa’s largest ever private investment to extract the offshore natural gas. It caught the government by surprise and baffled the general public. 

By 2021, the conflict has claimed an estimated 2200 lives and displaced more than 700,000 people. The conflict has become increasingly international in character, and it threatensthe progressively more fragile and previously war-struck Mozambican state, as well as the region.

This research project is designed to acquire, and disseminate, a more comprehensive understanding of the multiple drivers of the escalating war in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado. The motives that may have turned the province into a hotbed for dangerous conflict: Religious extremism connected to a regional and global network; local grievances stemming from a sense of long-term political and economic marginalisation; and the greed and violence associated with a thriving smuggling economy and the poorly regulated extractive industries bonanza in Cabo Delgado.

The project will work with the following working hypotheses:

WP1 - Changes in ideological, political, and social tensions surrounding Islam and Muslim populations are important in explaining the jihadist radicalisation of some youngsters in Cabo Delgado. Notwithstanding the fact that international jihadist groups (even foreign fighters) may currently be influencing the actions of local militants.

WP2 - Some local disaffected youth found that jihadist ideology provided a justification to take on the state and the ruling regime that it associates with the social ailments, in a context where violent confrontation is seen as the only viable resort. This in turn hastriggered a response by the state that is shaped by decades of war, party-state authoritarianism and tinged with the interests of powerful elites pursuing private interests in the province. None of which is conducive to dialogue or compromise – and so the conflict has escalated from a local grievance to a threat to territorial sovereignty.

WP3 -  Frustrations associated with the rapid expansion of extractive industries in a
weak state/high poverty environment created a fertile ground and added to the conditions for militant uprising: A state confusing private and public interests, failure to provide for the welfare needs of the local population, and a state that allows/is too weak to disallow the penetration of illicit commerce and industry
run by aliens to the province. 

WP4 - Considerable secrecy of the involved actors and the information blockade
and disinformation surrounding the affected areas only adds to the tension with the state and the violence and conflict between the defence forces and the population at large.

WP5 - The particular place of women in the local society and the insurgency may bring about incompatibilities between the worldviews of local and foreign elements of the conflict, which may push towards reshaping the role of women among the afected populations.