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The two largest displacements occurred in Mbau Administrative Post in southern Mocímboa da Praia district

Civilians pictured in Cabo Delgado in 2020.

The IOM recorded over 8,000 newly displaced people in Cabo Delgado province last month. People were fleeing attacks, or the fear of attack, in Macomia, Mocímboa da Praia, and Muidumbe districts. This comes in the wake of the killing of Bonomade Machude Omar in August, and in the days preceding the 11 October municipal elections. It also comes at a time when TotalEnergies is considering lifting force majeure on its LNG project.

This article was first published on 17 October 2023 as part of the Cabo Ligado Monthly: September 2023
Cabo Ligado Monthly: September 2023 — Cabo Ligado
Cabo Ligado — or ‘connected cape’ — is a conflict observatory established by ACLED, Zitamar News, and MediaFax to monitor political violence in Mozambique.

The two largest displacements occurred in Mbau Administrative Post in southern Mocímboa da Praia district. Following the 14 September killings in Naquitengue village, over 2,000 people arrived in Mocímboa da Praia between 14 and 20 September. The route from Naquitengue to the district headquarters follows a sand track through mostly uninhabited bush for nearly 25 kilometers. The town’s new arrivals from Naquitengue were likely traumatized, after the killing of at least 11 of their neighbors.

Many of those displaced by the Naquitengue attack were likely from other villages. Naquitengue is a small settlement, and as with all such incidents, news of the killings traveled fast; ACLED received initial reports of the incident early on the morning of 15 September. The news will have instilled fear in people across southern Mocímboa da Praia, as is the purpose of such attacks. As was stated in al-Naba in January, “the beheading of one Christian in a village became sufficient to displace hundreds of Christians in the neighboring villages.”

Later in the month, between 27 September and 2 October, IOM recorded 4,700 people fleeing on foot to the Mocímboa da Praia district headquarters from Calugo, Luxete, Marere, and Nazimoja villages of the Marere Administrative Post, fearing attack. These villages lie approximately 30 kms south of Mocímboa da Praia town. 

People had good reason to be fearful. Mbau saw considerable insurgent activity last month, and has seen a significant increase in insurgent activity compared to last year. In the past month, the area saw a number of IED incidents on the road running east from Mbau village, and a clash between insurgents and RSF at Limala, a village on that road on 26 September. That clash, and retreat of insurgents from it, likely prompted the wave of displacement that began on 27 September.

As it was in Mocímboa da Praia, so it was in Muidumbe district. IOM recorded 560 people as having fled to Muidumbe district headquarters due to “attack or fear of attack.” In Xitaxi, at least, it was again an attack against civilians that forced people to flee. The area has seen persistent movement of small groups of fighters in recent weeks. 

In Macomia, things were more complicated. Over 800 people fled Pangane village by boat, according to IOM, traveling over 40 kms southwards to Quissanga district, arriving in Quissanga district headquarters, and on Quirimba and Matemo islands. It is thought an attempt by insurgents to abduct people into their ranks sparked the exodus. 

Forced recruitment in Pangane, the killings in Naquitengue, and people’s flight in face of ISM attacks indicate that ISM’s so-called “hearts and minds” approach has lost any traction it may have had with communities. While devastating for affected communities, these events have less impact on wider developments than ISM may have hoped for. In Mocímboa da Praia municipality, campaigning for the October election passed off peacefully during September. TotalEnergies’ consideration of the lifting of force majeure is also unlikely to be influenced by events in poor communities. The risk for Cabo Delgado is that the remaining leadership may wish to intensify its targeting of civilians and enforced displacement in coming months.