The first 123 civilians authorised to return to Mocímboa da Praia after being displaced by the ongoing insurgency arrived in the town on Thursday 9 June, despite some apprehensions about their safety and the suspension of TotalEnergies’ community projects over the security situation.
The civilians were escorted by Mozambican and Rwandan forces from Quitunda, the resettlement village on the edge of the Mozambique LNG project site which turned into a huge camp for displaced people in the wake of the insurgency’s attack on Palma town in 2021.
They have been taken to the neighbourhood of Nanduadua, in Mocímboa da Praia, where they were formally welcomed by the district’s municipal council leader Momba Cheia Carlos and other local leaders, according to a statement from the Rwandan Ministry of Defence.
Nanduadua is the neighbourhood where the insurgency can be said to have been born, having been home to the first mosque built by the fundamentalist sect known as Al Shabaab, which later took up arms as the insurgency. It is also the neighbourhood whose police station was first to be taken in the insurgency’s first attack, on 4 October 2017.
The group of people taken to Nanduadua last week was a mixture of Christians and Muslims, sources told Zitamar, despite the neighbourhood traditionally being strongly Muslim. Some of the returnees have houses there, while others will be accommodated in tents.
Both Palma and Mocímboa da Praia received a visit from Mozambique's interior minister and chief of police over the weekend. However, the Mozambique government has said nothing formally about the return of IDPs - leaving communication to its Rwandan counterpart.
The feeling among displaced people about the return is said to be mixed. A source in Nampula, where many displaced people from Mocímboa da Praia are living, told Zitamar that a large proportion of people living in camps such as Quitunda are desperate to get home as soon as possible, even without the authorization of the government.
However, distrust of the government and the LNG companies, who are supposed to be making the area safe to return, is widespread. The village of Olumbe, 40 km away, was raided for food twice in May. Much of the road between Palma and Mocímboa da Praia remains unprotected, allowing several vehicles to be ambushed on 28 May. Some of the attackers wore uniforms of the Mozambican security forces, multiple sources said, leading to suspicions that at least one attack was carried out by members of the Mozambican security forces in order to steal from travellers.
A Nampula source observed that many living in camps are convinced that the government is allowing attacks to take place in Palma to deliberately deter people from moving home so that the LNG companies do not have to pay out compensation to people affected by the gas project. Theories such as this reflect a dire lack of confidence in the authorities.
The LNG companies are evidently also anxious about the security situation in the area. Mozambican newspaper Savana reported on Friday that TotalEnergies suspended its community initiatives in the villages of Olumbe and Mondlane at the end of May, following insurgent attacks.
Nonetheless, the government is pressing ahead with its programme to return civilians to their homes, beginning with 3,556 people living in the Quitunda camp, who will be authorised to return in phases, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.
The Quitunda village was built initially by Anadarko, the leading LNG concessionaire on the Afungi peninsula before TotalEnergies, to accommodate 300 families displaced by the gas project. It has since become a sprawling displacement camp, swelling to shelter almost 30,000 people in April 2021 in the wake of the attack on Palma.
News article produced by Zitamar under the Cabo Ligado project, in collaboration with ACLED and Mediafax. The contents of the article are the sole responsibility of Zitamar News.