Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 360, 7 April 2021

Mozambique: Palma attack paints a grave picture of Africa's security concerns
Apoorva Sudhakar

In the news
On 6 April, the UNHCR spokesperson said at least 11,000 people had fled Palma, a town in Cabo Delgado province, which had been under ISIS attack from 24 March. The people fled to other districts in the province, namely, Pemba, Nangade, Mueda and Montepuez. He said that close to 80 per cent of those who had been separated were women and children.

On 5 April, the army spokesperson announced that the army had regained control over the town and that several militants had been killed in operation. The secretary of State for Cabo Delgado said, "There was significant loss of human life, infrastructure destroyed. However, people are safe now."
On the same day, Aljazeera reported that since thousands had fled to Pemba, the district's food, water resources, and healthcare facilities had been overburdened. Aljazeera quoted the OCHA, which mentioned that Pemba had witnessed a population swell in February, which posed a problem.

Issues at large
First, the increasing role of non-state actors in Africa. Attacks by non-state actors like ISIS are not restricted to Mozambique. Over the years, factions of the Islamic State, like IS West Africa Province (ISWAP), and other terrorist groups like the Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabaab in Somalia, have established themselves in different countries. Other non-state actors include rebel groups like those operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, and Sudan. Such groups often use violence as a strategy to convey a message to the State or challenge it.

Second, the shrinking space for the State. The attack on Palma, though one of the first large-scale instances of violence, is not the first time militants struck. Previously, Cabo Delgado province has witnessed villagers' massacres, and the State has responded with military operations. However, the state response to violence, not just in Mozambique but across countries in Africa, has resorted chiefly to deploying security forces and has not effectively been preventive; it has mainly been retaliatory.  

Third, Palma as a reflection of the problems in Africa. The instability in Palma and Cabo Delgado at large has its roots in the lack of access to the people's socio-economic needs, thereby fuelling resentment against the government. This is a common problem in African countries though the reasons behind the same may differ. For example, in some countries, certain groups feel excluded when a person from another ethnicity is in power or vice versa. In other countries, the sentiment could be a result of belonging to the geographic or political periphery.

In perspective
First, in Mozambique, it is a relief that the army has regained control over Palma. However, it took ten days or more reflects the militants' preparedness for such operations and projects the government's and security forces' lack of the same. Further, the humanitarian situation in Pemba will worsen unless there is immediate attention to the needs of the people. 

Second, in Africa, the space for the State to operate seems to be shrinking. Every day, new and increased security concerns bring little to no respite to the people. Instead, the insecurity among populations who are frequently targeted has been on the rise.

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