God, grievance and greed? Understanding Northern Mozambique’s new Islamist war
The conflict that arose in 2017 between the state and an Islamist militia in the northern province of Cabo Delgado has developed into a full-scale war. 2,500 people have been killed and more than 500,000 have fled their homes. The conflict threatens the stability of the Mozambican state and the giant investments in Cabo Delgado’s offshore gas, but also the countries in the region. There are many unknowns: The Islamists’ objectives, their patrons abroad and in-country, what triggered the insurgency and the forces that now drive the war.
An interdisciplinary group of researchers from Norway, Mozambique and other countries seek understanding – and aims to share it to help prevent further destabilisation. The three Gs in the title suggest hypotheses for exploration.
Good: What role does religion play? The militias now fighting government forces and their mercenaries consist of local youths, but also foreign fanatical and militant Islamists. ISIS has tried to intervene. The researchers will look at the development of Islam in northern Mozambique and its regional influences.
Grievance: Has a failed and imposed development policy ignited a local sense of injustice? We seek understanding in the context of Mozambican and local history – its violence, authoritarianism, political abuse of ethnicity – and recent increase in poverty and youth hopelessness. With special attention to the role of women, we seek the stories and explanations given by refugees and the people of Cabo Delgado.
Greed: Has brutalization followed the struggle for natural resources? In the 2000s, Cabo Delgado's vast natural resources and extractive industries fuelled the country's “economic miracle", but little benefited the locals. Offshore gas discoveries led to claims that Mozambique was rich. Have the resources become a curse? The project will study how increased resource extraction affected the local population.
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.