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The defencelessness of Mucojo

The insurgency in Cabo Delgado province may be weakened, but it is still more than a match for Mozambican security forces

Today’s front pages in Maputo. Photo © Faizal Chauque / Zitamar News

Good afternoon. Just as French energy firm TotalEnergies is expected to announce the restart of work on its giant gas project in Cabo Delgado province, the security situation there, which the firm judged to have improved enough to resume work, seems to be worsening. The occupation of the village of Mucojo by Islamic State-backed insurgents (see below) is an alarming development in the insurgency in Cabo Delgado. Since they were driven out of the town of Mocímboa da Praia in 2021, the insurgents have generally been nomadic, living in the bush and keeping on the move. But the flight of Mozambican security forces from the village last week opened up an opportunity for them to take control.

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The security forces in the area were already worn down after suffering losses in insurgent attacks last month. They may also have been demoralised due to a lack of supplies, a constant problem for Mozambican troops who are short of basic equipment like helmets, boots and bulletproof vests. A warning from the insurgents that they were about to attack was apparently enough to send them fleeing. It is not so much that the insurgents are strong, but that their Mozambican opponents are weak.

This coastal region of Cabo Delgado is already in the heart of insurgent country. Most of the insurgents seem to come from there, and they already exert an influence, preventing the sale of alcohol from street kiosks in villages like Mucojo and Pangane. As well as being mainly Muslim, the area is home to many people from the Mwani ethnicity, traditionally hostile to ruling party Frelimo. And the poor reputation of the Mozambican forces — this particular unit has been accused of killing several civilians as revenge for last month's attack — means that some villagers may have welcomed their departure, although some evidently fled in the face of the insurgents.

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