God, grievance and greed? Understanding Northern Mozambique's new Islamist war.
The questions in the project can be summarized in the three G's in the title. What role does religion and changes in the religious landscape play? (God). How have the rebels exploited local indignation and a sense of injustice? (Grievance). How has the greedy struggle for Cabo Delgado's vast natural resources built up historical conflict lines? (Greed).
The war in the province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, between an Islamist militia and the authorities and their allies, has now been going on since 2017 with no sign of a respite, negotiations, or other indications that the war is coming to an end. By the end of 2022, military combats, terror, and widespread human rights violations have cost five thousand people their lives and sent a million people fleeing their homes.
Already in 2020, it was clear that the insurgency was about to destabilize the entire northern part of the country, as the authorities were about to lose control over the entire province. The militia forced a halt in the development of the gas deposits offshore Cabo Delgado – which was estimated to be one of the largest single investments in Africa ever and the solution to the problems in Mozambique's economy and development. In mid-2021, the government felt compelled to ask for international help in order not to lose the province. They made a deal with Rwanda and SADC (Southern African Development Community) to send thousands of troops. Rwanda now controls the areas around the gas investments, and the SADC troops have a somewhat larger area of operation. But the foreign troops also bring their own interests and new problems.
The militia leaders have sworn allegiance to IS, and use a rhetoric not unlike other jihadist movements, with talk about establishing a caliphate and introducing sharia. Yet questions still remain about their connections nationally and abroad. It has nevertheless become clear that this is a Mozambican movement, capable of recruiting new soldiers by exploiting local political cleavages and grievances.
Since the beginning of the conflict, the authorities have treated the insurgents almost exclusively as a terrorist movement and a security challenge that must be solved by military means. At the same time, they have largely ignored the many dividing lines which in the north provide fertile ground for frustration against the regime based in Maputo, 2,000 km further south. A weak understanding of the driving forces of war can, as in many other conflicts, mean that the interventions can worsen the situation.
The interdisciplinary group of researchers from Norway, Mozambique and several other countries is already contributing to increased understanding and knowledge to prevent further destabilization. Both in Mozambique and international forums, we contribute with knowledge into the origins of the conflict in Mozambican and local history characterized by violence, authoritarian central government, political manipulation of ethnicity, poverty and a lack of hope for the future among young people. We look at the war's changes for women, the struggle for the large natural resources and the importance of the gas deposits.
In late 2017 jihadist militants started attacking towns and villages, sometimes with shocking brutality, in Mozambique’s northern province of Cabo Delgado. They have recently sacked towns and destroyed government infrastructure – while criticising the government and pledged a fundamentalist Islamic agenda. The conflict that has taken currently the forms of an escalating war. The government response has first and foremost been bellicose and authoritarian, increasingly militarising the province of Cabo Delgado – while blaming the violence on external aggression.
Since the conflict both global links and roots in local grievances, this project is designed to acquire a more comprehensive understanding of the multiple drivers of the escalating war. The title alludes to a cocktail of 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 illicit transnational flows and the poorly regulated extractive industries in Cabo Delgado.
This project will be carried out by a multidisciplinary team of historians, social anthropologists and political scientists, and includes researchers based in Norway, Mozambique, and in South Africa. Each has specific competence relative to the Work Packages (WPs). WP1 will inquire into the role of and changes in the local Islamic ideology. WP2 will look into the context provided by the politics and history of conflict, war and youth protest in Mozambique. WP3 looks into the role of the extractive industries boom characterising the country and its role in amplifying the conditions for the conflict. WP4 is a PhD candidate who will focus on the battle for control of the narrative and information. WP5 is a post-doc research which will focus on the role of women in the insurgency, and the changing gender roles under the conflict.