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Residents start returning to Mocímboa da Praia despite government advice

Efforts to restore destroyed infrastructure and re-establish security are underway, but the authorities have not permitted the displaced population to come back

By Tomas Queface, for the Cabo Ligado Monthly: January 22, published 18 February 2022

The recapture of the main town of Mocímboa da Praia in August 2021 was one of the major landmarks of the foreign military intervention in Cabo Delgado. The Mozambican defence forces, assisted by Rwandan forces, conducted operations that culminated with the recapture of the Diaca-Awasse area, the district capital, and the strategic port of Mocímboa da Praia, which had been in the hands of insurgents for over a year. Since then, the Mozambican authorities have worked to restore destroyed infrastructure and re-establish security as preconditions for the return of the population. However, the Governor of Cabo Delgado, Valige Tauabo, recently acknowledged that the return of the population is a rather complex process.

The complexities mentioned by Tauabo refer to the fact that, when government forces regained control of Mocímboa da Praia, the district lacked electricity, water supply, and telecommunication infrastructure, as well as a health system, education services, and other government services. Government efforts to re-establish these services started in September 2021 with the reconstruction of about 45km of electricity line, from the Awasse substation to Mocímboa da Praia, which led to the return of electricity in October. In the same way, the mobile phone network was re-established, both in Mocímboa da Praia and in the town of Palma. Later, roads were restored and public infrastructure rebuilt in the main town of Mocímboa da Praia. Despite these efforts, the 63,000 inhabitants who lived in Mocímboa da Praia before the insurgents' attacks have not yet been allowed to return back to their areas, because the re-establishment of security and infrastructure as well as basic services continue to represent huge challenges for the government.

Security is one of the fundamental pre-conditions for the population to return to Mocímboa da Praia. Reports of clashes between insurgents and the joint forces of Mozambique and Rwanda are scarce, mainly due to a media blackout. However, there are signs that insurgent hotspots remain in Mocímboa da Praia district. On 30 January, Mozambique’s police chief announced that Mozambican and Rwandan forces killed an insurgent leader, Tuahil Muhidim, in Naquitengue, in southern Mocímboa da Praia district. Muhidim was responsible for directing attacks on the main town of Mocímboa da Praia during the insurgent assault on the district capital. Also during January, the joint forces carried out a "cleaning operation" in which about 3,000 homes were searched. As a result of the search, several uniforms of the Mozambican armed defence forces were found. For the Mozambican authorities, this is a clear sign of the presence of insurgents in the area. The Minister of Defence has therefore asked those displaced to wait for authorisation from the military to return to their areas of origin.

So far, there is no concrete plan on the ground to return people from Mocímboa da Praia district to their areas of origin. Some people are already returning voluntarily to western Mocímboa da Praia, particularly to the villages of Diaca, Nanili, Mitope and Namandaia. Current estimates point to about 4,200 people living in the village of Diaca, 3,900 in Nanili, 1,600 in Mitope and 1,300 in Namandaia, mostly women and children. But the number of people in these villages fluctuates due to the entry and exit of people, as in the case of internally displaced persons (IDPs) fleeing from attacks in the villages of Macomia, who sometimes find refuge in Mocímboa da Praia. Due to the increasing number of civilians in Diaca and Nanili, the government was forced to restore some basic services in these villages. Two schools started operating in Mocímboa da Praia, one in Naniil and another one in Diaca. Health services are also provided in infrastructure that survived the attacks, tents or under trees.

The restoration of electricity in the district of Mocímboa da Praia had no impact on the residents of Diaca and Nanil. There was a re-establishment of the power transmission line, but there was no re-establishment of power services to households by the public company Eletricidade de Moçambique. As a result, families are unable to have electricity in their homes. With regard to road traffic, from Mueda to the administrative post of Diaca, traffic is open to the public, with public transport running with some frequency. But from Diaca to Awasse and onwards, circulation is limited both by security forces and because the remaining areas are not habitable, with the exception of Palma district. In terms of rebuilding government infrastructure, in Diaca, Nanili and the main town of Mocímboa da Praia, most of the government buildings are destroyed and there are no signs of rehabilitation. The reconstruction of the justice buildings in Mocímboa da Praia is expected to start this year, according to the Chief Justice, Adelino Muchanga, but that is dependent on the improvement of security in the area.

The return of the population to Mocímboa da Praia may be far off, considering that the conditions determined by the government for its authorisation are not yet met. But the pressure that the IDPs face in the resettlement centres is greater. The lack of food, land conflicts between the displaced and native populations, and other issues are creating a psychological strain on the IDPs, who see no other alternative but to voluntarily return to their villages of origin.