By Prince Kurupati
A recent report by Save the Children has unearthed massive atrocities perpetrated by Islam extremists towards families located in the Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique. The report states that children as young as 11 are among several dozens of people that have been beheaded in recent times. Though not explicitly laying blame on the extremists, testimonies by victims in the report point to one direction that is, Islam extremists being the perpetrators.
Since the beginning of 2017, the Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique has witnessed disturbing instances of violence largely perpetrated by the extremists. Up to date, reports suggest that over 2500 locals have lost their lives while over 700 000 have been displaced. Those who have been displaced have narrated gruesome scenes that take place in the province.
The Cabo Delgado province is predominantly Muslim but hasn’t had any instances of extremism incidents until 2017. The start of the extremism incidents as reported by local media outlets coincided with the discovery of new gas and ruby deposits. The first gas and ruby deposits were discovered in 2009.
Amongst the locals in Cabo Delgado, members of the extremist group in the region are referred to as al-Shabab meaning The Youth in Arabic. This, in essence, meaning the extremists largely consist of the young unemployed people in the region. In 2019, the Mozambican extremists announced that they identified with the Islamic State group. Soon after, the Islamic State released a video stating that the Cabo Delgado region in Mozambique was its Central Africa Province. In the same video, young Muslim fighters were shown holding some AK-47 rifles and rocket propelled grenades.
In the Save the Children report, one mother whose identity was withheld for security reasons said that she lost her eldest son to the extremists and she had to run and lives in fear together with her husband and surviving children. “That night our village was attacked and houses were burned… When it all started, I was at home with my four children. We tried to escape to the woods but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too.”
Speaking in response to the mother who lost her child, Chance Briggs who is Save the Children’s country director in Mozambique said the testimony on attacks on the child and all the others “sicken us to the core.” Briggs added saying “Our staff have been brought to tears when hearing the stories of suffering told by mothers in displacement camps.”
On the reasons behind the beheadings, Briggs said that the need to conscript more and more members is the reason why some end up dead if they refuse to join. “They co-opt young people in to joining them as conscripts and if they refuse they are killed and sometimes beheaded. It’s really hard to see what is the end game.”
Determined to investigate the motivations of the extremists in Mozambique, the BBC in 2020 did an investigation and released a video in which one militant leader said, “We occupy (the region) to show that the government of the day is unfair. It humiliates the poor and gives the profit to the bosses.”
The Mozambican government response in the beginning was very lackluster with many attributing this to the poorly equipped Mozambican army. However, things have slowly been changing for the better as Mozambique has been holding talks with the regional body SADC and other neighbouring countries including Zimbabwe and South Africa to solicit support towards fighting the extremists. The Mozambican government also had a stroke of luck last year when the US Embassy in the country said American military personnel would be deployed to train soldiers for two months while at the same time providing medical and communications equipment. The European Union also promised to offer military training to Mozambican troops.