Exploring the Complexities of Mozambique’s Insurgency: Insights from Community Perspectives

By Published On: 10th October 2023


Mozambique, a country grappling with a persistent insurgency, has become the second case study for the OSISA project, titled “Shifting Narratives on Violent Extremism in Africa.” As part of this project, the objective of a recent trip was to delve into community perspectives on the root causes of the insurgency, evaluate current approaches to addressing extremism, and analyse the potential for innovative strategies, including aspects of transitional justice. This article presents the key findings and takeaways from the research conducted in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province.

The Military-Centric Approach

Thus far, Mozambique’s response to the insurgency has been predominantly military-focused. Rwandan troops have occupied key districts, where Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) resources are located, while the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) is stationed in other strategic areas. Although the European Union Training Mission has provided training on human rights, its operations are limited to distant locations for security reasons, creating a disconnect from the actual ground situation.

Insights from Field Visits

The districts visited during the research are active recruitment sites for the insurgency and are home to numerous internally displaced persons (IDPs). Montepuez, which witnessed attacks on the Gemfields Ruby mine, and other areas like Mecufi and Pemba have experienced sporadic attacks. However, the main logistical hub, Pemba, has not been directly targeted.

Insurgency as an Outcome of Exclusion and Marginalisation

The primary contention with the military response is that it fails to address the underlying problem in Cabo Delgado, known as Cabo Esquecido (the forgotten Cape). The province suffers from exclusion and marginalisation, with limited prospects for the youth. Moreover, the region serves as a major transit point for illicit activities such as drug and arms trafficking, gem smuggling, and weapons trade.

Key Engagements and Research Takeaways

Through focus groups, consultations, and community engagements, several common themes emerged:

Dire Humanitarian Situation: The influx of IDPs worsens the already limited access to basic services like healthcare, education, and clean water. The reception of IDPs varies across different areas, often influenced by religious, ethnic, and occupational differences.

Corruption and Human Rights Abuses: State actors, including local leaders, police, and the military, are accused of corruption and human rights violations. Incidents of sexual harassment, beatings, torture, and unfair distribution of resources were reported. The absence of peacekeeping operations in these areas exacerbates the situation.

Lack of Government Support: The communities expressed frustration with the government’s absence and lack of communication. Consultation with IDPs during project development is lacking, resulting in interventions that are not contextually appropriate. Specialised support for women and children is limited, and access to services requires identification documents, creating exclusionary dynamics.

Demand for Dialogue and Reconciliation: Communities strongly believe that the government is aware of the perpetrators behind the insurgency. They advocate for dialogue, emphasizing that “war does not end with another war.” Reintegration strategies used during Mozambique’s civil war between RENAMO and FRELIMO were cited, but participants stressed the need for additional approaches due to the severity of Al Shabaab’s atrocities.

Transitional Justice and Rebuilding Trust: Traditional mechanisms for transitional justice have weakened over time. Communities look to the government for guidance and propose strategies such as imprisonment, re-education centers, amnesty periods, and practical avenues for forgiveness and reconciliation. Transparency, a clearer policy, and strategies beyond militarisation are seen as crucial for rebuilding trust and establishing a renewed social contract.


The findings from the research highlight the multifaceted nature of Mozambique’s insurgency and the challenges faced by affected communities. It is evident that a solely militarised approach is insufficient in addressing the root causes of the conflict. Building trust, fostering dialogue, and implementing contextually appropriate interventions are essential for the reestablishment of a social contract between the citizens and the state. By addressing basic human needs alongside comprehensive strategies, Mozambique can take meaningful steps towards a sustainable and inclusive resolution of the conflict in Cabo Delgado province.

Professor Cheryl Hendricks is the Executive Director, while Amanda Lucey is a Senior Project Leader at the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR), Cape Town.

The views and opinions expressed in the article are solely that of the author, and not the IJR.

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