For much of the conflict in Cabo Delgado, Nangade has been one of the most hostile districts for security forces, but from February to May this year, it enjoyed a tenuous peace, reporting no incidents of insurgent violence. One of the last confirmed sightings of the insurgents was on 25 March, when a group of fighters was spotted around Namatil, where they later surrendered, according to a local source. The rest, Cabo Ligado’s source claims, have joined insurgents in Muidumbe district. This respite has encouraged many displaced civilians to return to their homes and rebuild their lives in recent weeks. But despite promising signs of normalization, the spectre of conflict still looms large.
This piece is from the Cabo Ligado Monthly: April 2023
Although, for the moment at least, the insurgents appear to have left Nangade, the effects of the conflict will scar the landscape for some time. Out of Nangade’s 51 villages, only six were untouched by attacks, according to local sources. Each village used to have its own school, but now just 15 are still operating. Furthermore, banks were forced to close in many of the areas affected by fighting, including Nangade district headquarters, making it extremely difficult for both the local population and soldiers to access cash. The nearest available banking services are in Mueda, about 90 kilometers from Nangade town, but lingering security concerns deter people from making the trip.
Nonetheless, these challenges have not prevented returning civilians from attempting to revive a sense of normalcy. People are once again working the fields around villages such as Quinto Congresso, Chitama Mmuna, Ngongo, Muangaza, and even Nkonga, near which the insurgents had once established one of their principal bases in the province. Civilians regularly find abandoned weapons, which they report to the authorities. Security forces are conducting their own searches for insurgent arms caches, and at the end of April, a team discovered a stockpile of seven assault rifles and a machine gun with ammunition for both, as well as 16 mortar tubes with eight 60-millimeter shells. Less than two weeks earlier, the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) found another similarly sized arms cache while on patrol in Nangade.
There are currently three forces providing security in the district: the FDS, the SAMIM, represented by the LDF and the Tanzania People’s Defence Force (TPDF), and a ‘Bilateral Force’ of TPDF operating independently of SAMIM. The Bilateral Force based in Mandimba is generally regarded positively, despite earlier complaints that the TPDF was failing to pursue the insurgents. It seems that the TPDF has tried to address these concerns and is now taking a more proactive role in patrols with other forces. With a strong TPDF presence on the Tanzanian side of the border, the Bilateral Force at least can operate in a joined-up manner with colleagues in Tanzania. However, elements of the FDS, especially the police Rapid Intervention Unit (UIR), still have a reputation for violence against civilians and are widely distrusted, according to Cabo Ligado’s local source. Two abductions by UIR, in January and February this year, may justify such distrust.
Local Forces are also active in Nangade. Most are former soldiers and veterans of the war of independence, or children of soldiers and veterans. Some of the better-educated fighters have received further training from police in Maputo, but their role is largely to act as guides for the professional security forces.
While the military presence in the district remains substantial, SAMIM has considered a greater focus on community issues, as indicated by its official switch from Scenario Six to Scenario Five last September. This would entail a greater focus on community, policing, and correctional issues. SAMIM deputy head of mission visited Nangade in February with this in mind. However, it is not clear that progress is being made. Cabo Ligado’s source says that there has been no SAMIM police deployment yet in the town, despite Tanzania’s announcement of such a deployment in January.
Insurgents have concentrated largely in Muidumbe district to the south, especially in the area surrounding the Messalo river. Nonetheless, security along Nangade’s northern border with Tanzania has not yet been relaxed, and traders can only use the Unity Bridge at Negomano to cross legitimately. There is a plan to open the Chacamba border post near Mandimba, but there is no indication as to when this will happen. Informal crossings across the Rovuma river from Nangade are still used for business and medical purposes, but they are illegal.
Cabo Ligado’s source credits the coalition of forces in Nangade for working together to realize this “semi-peace.” Security forces can rightfully claim a significant victory in driving insurgents out of the district, but this victory is far from complete. Recent attacks in the Muidumbe lowlands around the villages of Mandava and Miangalewa prove that the remaining insurgents are still a lethal force that could, at any time, return north. To maintain the peace, the forces will likely need to remain in place for some time.
Postscript: After the publication of this report, a group of insurgent fighters returned to Nangade and kidnapped 12 people from Nkonga village on 19 May. All of them were later released but it is clear insurgents have re-established a presence in the district.
This article was produced by Zitamar News under the Cabo Ligado project, in collaboration with Mediafax and ACLED. The contents of the article are the sole responsibility of Zitamar News.