Rwandan and Mozambican forces recently recaptured the port city of Mocímboa da Praia in northern Mozambique. The gain is just the latest in a series of victories by military forces to repel an Islamist insurgency in the country that has claimed nearly 3,000 lives and displaced more than 700,000 people since 2017. For many African countries, the resorting to war is a preferred tactic against violent extremism. But this tactic is not as effective as governments would like to believe.
In 2010, when the Nigerian government launched its military offensive against Boko Haram, everyone thought the government would succeed. Ten years and $ 132 billion later, the Nigerian government not only failed to suppress the group, but its influence has grown in many countries in West and Central Africa. Likewise, in Somalia, Al Shabaab, the terrorist group affiliated with Al Qaeda, continued to strengthen its influence by controlling important territories in the country and killing more than 1,000 people and claiming 4,000 victims despite an offensive and a 8-year military assistance. to the Somali army amounting to over $ 1 billion. The same is true outside the continent. More recently in Afghanistan, where after spending 20 years and $ 2 trillion, the US campaign against the Taliban failed within a day of the US evacuation.
From the point of view of the Mozambican government, bringing the fight to the insurgents to reconquer the neighborhoods of Cabo Delgado is a priority, especially if it intends to persuade the French oil giant Total to resume its investment project of 20 billion dollars in gas. liquefied natural gas (LNG), which it had been suspended earlier in April due to growing insecurity in the region. Such an investment could dramatically increase income in a country facing an economic contraction in 2020 for the first time in decades. The problem, however, is that Mozambique, like many other African countries facing insurgency, continues to focus on the wrong tools to tackle violent extremism within its borders.
The insurgency in Cabo Delgado has its roots in grievances exacerbated by the loss of economic livelihoods and exclusion after the discovery of natural gas in the region. According to the International Crisis Group, the majority of Al Shabab soldiers are poor fishermen, frustrated small traders, former farmers and unemployed young people whose main motivations are economic. The group relies on these grievances to recruit soldiers to its cause. This model of exploiting the grievances of local populations is similar to the growth of other insurgent groups in Africa. For example, in Kenya and Somalia, Al Shabaab has deployed this tactic by exploiting local grievances exacerbated by poverty and unemployment to expand its operations. A similar tactic was adopted by Boko Harm in northern Nigeria, where many of its recruits came from largely economically marginalized populations. All these elements suggest a link between structural violence, poverty and susceptibility to radicalization of insurgent groups. These are factors that cannot change through the barrel of a gun.
It is important that Mozambique takes a more cautious approach in its fight against Al Shabab. He cannot bear to repeat the mistakes made elsewhere in Africa in the fight against the insurgency. A brutal military response would cause significant hardship for the civilian population, lead to more casualties, intensify economic hardship and, therefore, delegitimize the government of the region and increase the vulnerability of the young population to recruitment by Al Shabab. This could lead to a prolongation of insurgency activities as has happened elsewhere in Africa.
While a military solution is important in driving insurgents away from civilian populations and recapturing insurgent-held towns, it is equally important in the long term for the government to focus on the development of the largely troubled and exploited region by providing health care. and improving education and employment, especially for young people.
Africa has long favored a military approach to resolving conflicts like this, especially with the international community willing to fund military and peacekeeping missions to stem violent conflicts on the continent. Currently, just under 50,000 people are deployed in six United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa to enforce peace agreements, prevent atrocities and protect civilians. Unfortunately, despite all these efforts, the conflict continues. Even with increased spending [PDF] on security by African governments, poor governance, poverty and economic hardship continue to increase grievances and make the young population increasingly vulnerable to radicalization by insurgent groups.
In the words of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former President of Liberia, “It is clear that the root causes of civil conflicts in Africa are poor governance, disrespect for human rights, socio-economic inequalities and policies and crushing poverty. The Mozambican government can learn from the mistakes of other African countries in handling the insurgency by embracing a fair military effort and combining it with development incentives such as providing jobs to address the economic grievances fueling the insurgency. .
Wodu, a New Voices Fellow at the Aspen Institute, is a lawyer, peacebuilding practitioner, and doctoral student in global governance and human security at the University of Massachusetts, Boston.