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The president without a plan

As the humanitarian impact of the insurgency worsens, Nyusi can offer only bluster

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

Good afternoon. Depending on whom in the government you listen to, the Islamic State-backed insurgents in Cabo Delgado province are either not engaging in serious fighting at the moment, just firing shots in the air and burning down the odd hut; or they are so much of a threat that they will reach Maputo if the country does not unite to defeat them. The first comment was made by defence minister Cristóvão Chume last month, and the second by President Filipe Nyusi in a speech last week (see below).

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From the Zitamar Live Blog:

Zitamar Mozambique Live Blog
Today’s front pages on the streets of Maputo. Notícias leads with the Mozambican government reiterating its stance against nuclear proliferation at a UN summit in New York. That is followed by pieces on conflicts between people and wildlife in Maputo province, which have caused eight deaths in the last year; and the allocation of 580m meticais for road maintenance throughout the country. Weely Domingo leads with police using breathalysers to test for drunk drivers, and says that 48,000 people have been affected by tropical storm Filipo. Público leads with the headline “Homeland at risk”, referring to a percieved lack of unity in the fight against the insurgency. Other headlines concern efforts by defence forces to remove insurgents from Quissanga district; and an internal crisis within opposition party Renamo, with a bishop speaking publicly. Sign up to the Zitamar Daily Briefing for an in-depth look at the biggest stories in the Mozambican media each week day 📷 Faizal Chauque / Zitamar News

Nyusi’s speech came as the government had taken questions from members of parliament on the funding of Rwandan troops fighting the insurgents, and on the possibility of a dialogue with the insurgency. Nyusi did not tackle those issues head-on, but instead called for unity — which for him apparently means not asking difficult questions about how to end the insurgency. Along the way, he criticised journalists, a popular target for the ruling party Frelimo and no doubt a source of many unhelpful queries about the war.

Nyusi’s defensiveness, his irritability, and his lack of answers can only damage confidence that the government knows what it is doing. That confidence is further undermined by the incoherence of the message coming out of the government: are the insurgents threatening Maputo, or are they a paper tiger? The confusion over the presentation seems, on the face of it, to reflect a deeper and more serious confusion about strategy. Regional forces from the Southern African Development Community are withdrawing from Cabo Delgado; how will the gap left by them be filled? How is the government going to support the thousands of people starving in the town of Quissanga, occupied by insurgents since 2 March, and on the island of Quirimba, which is cut off by what is in effect a government blockade on sea traffic? Why has the government not attacked the large insurgent presence in Macomia district?

The more than 100,000 people forced to leave their homes to escape the insurgents do not need to be told how real the insurgent threat is. Some of those people face hunger or starvation if aid agencies cannot feed them all (see below). If the government does not find a way to contain the insurgency, there could be more displaced people very soon, and the aid crisis could worsen.

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