Terrorism in Cabo Delgado: A 12-Month Outlook


    Since 2017, Ahlu-Sunna wal Jama’a (ASWJ), a loosely organized terror group, has terrorized northern Mozambique. ASWJ has ties with the Islamic State (IS), and pledged allegiance to IS in 2019. The US embassy maintains the groups remain in contact.

    In 2021, ASWJ attacked Palma, a town 6 kilometers from liquid natural gas (LNG) concessions the Mozambican government gifted to foreign oil consortiums. One consortium, headed by Exxon Mobil, decided to slow but not suspend operations because their assets were mostly offshore. The Total Energies consortium was forced to suspend their project entirely.

    Shortly after the attack, the government passed the Cabo Delgado Recovery Plan (CDRP), aimed at improving infrastructure and alleviating poverty, and acquired foreign troops. Rwandan and SADC troops have had success in pushing ASWJ away from LNG concessions, killing 30 in a late November raid. Nonetheless, questions linger around the legitimacy of the CDRP, and local discontent continues to worsen.

    KJ-1: it is highly likely that ASWJ will continue to carry out disparate attacks in Cabo Delgado, threatening civilians and LNG projects over the next 6 months.

    • ASWJ has spread further south and west, committing attacks in previously unaffected areas of Cabo Delgado. (source)(source)(source)
    • Between the 15th and 17th of September, ASWJ carried out 4 separate attacks on Mozambican Defence Forces (SDF) positions in the north of Cabo Delgado. IS claimed responsibility for the attacks.(source)
    • In the same period, two attacks occurred on SDF positions near Macomia, in south central Cabo Delgado. ASWJ militants overran a SDF position and recovered arms and ammunition. (source)
    • ASWJ perpetrated more attacks in June than in any month since 2019. (source)
    • The SDF is unable to hold territory captured by the SADC and Rwanda. According to ISS Africa, the SDF must improve intel sharing and border security. (source)(source)
    • In October there was a surge of attacks in south central Cabo Delgado; ASWJ burnt down houses in Chiute, Nguida, Mesa, and Nonia, and attacked a ruby mine near Macomia. Gemfields, a British company that runs the mine, suspended mine operations. (source)

    KJ-2: it is likely that local conditions will continue to contribute to discontent and drive Mozambicans in Cabo Delgado into terror networks over the next 12 months.

    • Locals blame bad governance and discovery of natural resources for the insurgency; they do not expect to see any benefits from the concessions. (source)
    • The government seized land from locals in Cabo Delgado for gas infrastructure. (source)
    • The government is reluctant to accept blame for creating any of the conditions that led to the insurgency. (source)
    • In 2017, police committed grave human rights abuses while clearing artisanal miners from the mining site the government conceded to Gemfields. After the incident, several artisanal miners joined ASWJ. (source)(source)
    • Fishers and artisanal miners have become unemployed because of the LNG and mining concessions. (source)
    • The CDRP prioritizes the reconstruction and construction of infrastructure near LNG concessions. (source)
    • The CDRP’s ambiguous management mechanisms raise questions about patronage and power consolidation. The government placed itself in control of the plan’s administration, casting to the side local administration. Corruption is rampant in Mozambique. (source)(source)(source)
    • Over 60% of Mozambicans are in extreme poverty. Cabo Delgado is one of the poorest districts in the country; 20% of the population has a cell phone and 11% have electricity. Inequality is rife. (source)(source)(source)

    KJ-3: it is likely that Total Energies will announce a resumption of its LNG project, and the Exxon/ENI consortium will begin exporting LNG from its offshore platforms in the next 6 months.

    • An influx of 3,000 Rwandan and SADC soldiers has driven ASWJ away from LNG concessions. (source)(source)
    • Although the Total Energies project remains suspended, subcontractors returned in June and Total presented its plans for re-initiation to its project partners. (source)(source)(source)
    • Total Energies project director Stephane Le Galles stated the project’s “direction was good” and the Mozambican Finance Minister is “optimistic” about the prospects for resumption. (source)
    • Amid insecurity, the Exxon/ENI consortium changed their project structure. The consortium adjusted construction methods, accelerated the project timeline, and moved all project assets offshore. The project’s first shipment of LNG to Europe is imminent. (source)(source)

    Intelligence Cut-Off Date: 19th of December, 2022.

    Ethan Sanderson
    Ethan Sanderson
    Ethan is a recent MA graduate of Conflict, Security, and Development from King's College London that specialises in armed groups, terrorism, and the security/development nexus. He also holds a degree in International Affairs and Doing Business in Emerging Markets from Northeastern University, and has lived and worked in the USA, United Kingdom, and Chile.

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