The Islamist insurgency in Mozambique's northern Cabo Delgado region is growing. Tactics Institute talked to Emilia Columbo about jihadi activities in the area. She is a senior associate of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Prior to her current position, she served as a CIA senior analyst, covering African and Latin American political-security issues.
Mozambique is a country in Southeastern Africa and, until now, was rarely featured in the global news. But the conflict in Cabo Delgado has been brewing for some time. Over one hundred thousand people have been displaced and there have been hundreds of casualties. It seems that the regional insurgency is at least partly fueled by the grievance of the local people towards a central government that is also accused of censoring information coming from Cabo Delgado. Mozambique faces a perfect storm of political instability, climate change impacts, and terrorist activities.
"Even though the organization in Cabo Delgado has been operating for three years or so now, information about the group is still limited. What research has shown is that this group was probably born out of disaffected Muslim youth who had their economic expectation disappointed,“ Emilia Columbo explains in the interview. According to her, young people have embraced the ideas of radical Islam imported from East African sources.
What suggests a shift in tactic and strategy of the group known as the Ahlu Sunna wa Jama or by locals simply al-Shabaab (Youth), is the fact that this organisation was recently able to attack ports in Cabo Delgado, Mocímboa da Praia and Quissanga.
The organisation is probably bigger and stronger than previously suspected: "Those attacks were a huge shift for the organisation. At one instance they attacked by sea, and by land, demonstrating a level of coordination and planning that we haven't seen before. Their confidence grows. I would also argue that the videos where we actually see the black flag are the best evidence of their links to the Islamic State," Columbo explains.
ISIS has claimed responsibility for a string of recent attacks in Mozambique. It is not a completely new thing. ISIS has been doing this for almost a year now. "But for the first time, we have seen a group response embracing the Islamic State. The next question is: What does that mean in practice?," Columbo says. She has also mentioned that the connection between ISIS and its African affiliates is often more of a marketing tool than practical-tactical relationships, but is visible in a propaganda realm. "We have seen this in Cabo Delgado. They went from no media presence to dramatic videos and photographs,“ Columbo explains.
While some skills sharing between ISIS and the Mozambique group might be ongoing, it does not automatically mean the Islamic States controls the jihadi organization in Cabo Delgado. And Columbo thinks that it is still possible to contain the group's activities in order to stop the conflict in Cabo Delgado spilling over into neighbouring states. It depends on how well they will be able to project their power and to develop a message that has a broader appeal,” the expert concludes.
See the full analysis of the presence of the Islamic State's black flag in Mozambique below.