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A Mozambican historian refuses to see ‘jihadism’ in the attacks that have been taking place for a year now in the north of the country, saying that extreme poverty is the root of the conflict.
The base of the violence is a collection of small armed groups scattered throughout the province of Cabo Delgado, with no flag, no leader or cause known to the world. They are people in revolt, Yussuf Adam, a professor at Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM) in Maputo. said in an interview with Lusa.
A researcher with an interest in Cabo Delgado since the 1970s, he describes this as “a campesinos and people’s uprising, people in the region who feel exploited, discriminated against and without access to social and economic benefits that, in their opinion, they should have”.
A few weeks ago, he said, some women from the Afungi peninsula raised their voices to demand jobs in the region’s natural gas pipeline after other peaceful protests had failed.
On another occasion, he recalls visiting villages unhappy at not receiving the 20% of proceeds from the timber harvest that they claimed they were entitled to, and which was being retained through corrupt schemes within the local administration.
Faced with these open wounds, Yussuf Adam says that the authorities made only a cursory analysis when, in October 2017, the first armed attack took place, leaving Mocímboa da Praia besieged by a group that had been proclaiming a purest Islamism in a mosque in the village.
“For me, it does not make sense to speak of ‘jihadism'”, he says, noting that the label is applied automatically to Islamic people, whereas “what is at stake [in the Cabo Delgado attacks] is nether holy war nor religious conflict”.
“These are people who find themselves marginalised, who do not receive the benefits they should receive.” They have never been heard in the proper manner, he says, and this is the lesson to be learned: to promote dialogue.
A lesson which is applicable throughout the country, because “these conflicts do not exist only in Cabo Delgado”, with among the flashpoints “the extreme poverty in which the people live, the misgovernment and the punishments they do not deserve”.
“When they go to villages [in attacks], they go with clear objectives. They are looking for a particular individual,” usually a “government-linked politician” or someone who has informed on the armed groups.
“To stop this war, the important thing is to negotiate with the people, to understand what they want” and to find an opportunity to make peace, the historian says.