Washington Joins Fight Against Mozambique Insurgency

24 March 2021 Conor Fowler, FDI Associate

The insurgency in the north of Mozambique has raged for four years, with extremists recently increasing the brutality of their attacks. The horrific acts of violence have led to US assistance, with the training of Mozambican marines to combat the violence.


In October 2017, the Cabo Delgado province of northern Mozambique has been mired in conflict, due to the rise of an Islamist insurgent group. Since the insurgency began, more than 2,600 people have been killed, and 700,000 have fled their homes. Throughout 2020, the violence escalated, with children as young as 11 beheaded, farms destroyed, and villages burned down. The United States has reinforced its support for Mozambique, pledging to train Mozambican marines to combat the insurgency.


Cabo Delgado has traditionally been one of the poorest provinces in Mozambique, but in 2009 and 2010, the discovery of large reserves of natural gas and a huge ruby deposit raised hopes for more jobs and a better life for many local people. Unfortunately, the promised jobs did not materialise, and many people in northern Mozambique began to feel forgotten by the southern-based ruling élite. Human Rights Watch’s Mozambique researcher Zainada Machado has said that, ‘insurgents thrive, where there is poverty and where there are divisions and where there is discontent’. Due to the poverty and discontent in Cabo Delgado, the insurgents have been very effective in their recruitment. From those conditions, an insurgency was bred and the group, known locally as al-Shabaab but with no affiliation to the Somali group of the same name, have ravaged villages and committed horrific acts of violence on civilians.

Liazzat Bonate, an expert on Islam in Mozambique, suggests that the insurgency has snowballed from 2017 into what it is today, and that the current situation is not what was envisaged by the insurgents in the beginning. The lack of a known manifesto, along with little information shared by the group, means it is difficult to ascertain the motivations behind the insurgency. Some argue the insurgency is retaliation against a small élite in the government accruing benefits from the province’s resources to the detriment of the local population. There is a perception that it is unjust that the people who have always lived near the previously undiscovered wealth are not benefitting from it. Another reason could be a desire to establish an Islamic government. In 2019, the group pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS) and, since then, IS has taken credit for some of their attacks.

The violence has led to some assistance from other countries, most recently from the United States, which, on 15 March, launched a military training programme in which US Special Operations Forces will train Mozambican marines to support their efforts in preventing the spread of terrorism and end the violent extremism perpetrated by the radicalised insurgents. As well as military support, the US has also invested more than US$23 million ($29.8 million) in humanitarian projects that promote ‘community resilience, economic opportunities and skills training’. This approach is consistent with US efforts to prevent the spread of terrorism and extremism through civilian protection and community engagement.

While the insurgency will continue for some time, it is hoped that the US assistance will lead to a reduction in the size of the insurgent group and prevent the horrific killings and destruction of local communities that have occurred in recent years.

About the Author

Conor Fowler is currently undertaking a Master of International Relations and Journalism at Monash University in Melbourne. Conor has a specific interest in development of the third-world, counter-terrorism and intelligence. His studies have predominantly focused on East Africa, the Middle East, and US Foreign Policy, and after the completion of his degree, hopes to work overseas in investigative journalism. Conor previously interned at Future Directions International as a research assistant.

Any opinions or views expressed in this paper are those of the individual author, unless stated to be those of Future Directions International.

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