On September 2, Portugal’s Prime Minister, António Costa, completed a two-day official visit to Mozambique, where the main focus of his meetings with his Mozambican counterpart, Filipe Nyusi, was economics. During the visit, Costa also offered Portugal’s support to Mozambique’s counter-terrorism struggle against Islamic State (IS)- militants plaguing the country’s north (theportugalnews.com, September 2). Nevertheless, Costa highlighted that Mozambique’s disarmament, demobilization, and rehabilitation of the repentant or surrendered jihadists had been making significant progress (africanews.com, September 1).
The optimism underlying the bilateral meetings was seemingly countered by the recent success of the militants, who began launching a new offensive in August (voaafrica.com, August 23). Whereas previous offensives since 2018 have generally seen the jihadists push north, this one has seen them, in contrast, move further south to Ancuabe, Chiure and Mecufi districts. Typical of previous jihadist offensives, the fighting is causing numerous civilians to be displaced, including nearly one-million during this offensive.
IS also has taken note of the Mozambican jihadists success as well as the simultaneous attacks by their fellow Congolese jihadists, who until this year were all part of IS’s “Central Africa Province.” It was only this year that IS decided to detach the Mozambican jihadists from the rest of the province, while establishing a separate “Mozambique Province.” The Mozambican jihad has nevertheless been designated as a distinct terrorist organization by the U.S State Department since August 2021 (state.gov, August 6, 2021).
Most recently, on August 19, IS released videos from both the Congo and Mozambique, with the jihadists in each country calling for attacking Christians (Twitter/Jihad_Analytics, August 19). Indeed, one of the main similarities—and certainly challenges—for IS fighters in both Congo and Mozambique is that they must recruit Muslims in predominantly Christian nations. Therefore, they need to frame their narratives in terms of embattled Muslims seeking to implement sharia law in the face of “infidel” laws surrounding them. At the same time, they must recruit hyper-locally within Muslim villages based on narratives opposing the un-Islamic governments under which they live and promoting the broader narratives of establishing an Islamic state and eventually the establishment of a global caliphate.
One of the key factors determining whether Mozambique can turn the tide of the recent jihadist offensive is the contribution of Rwandan troops to the country’s counter-terrorism effort. There is no sign Rwanda is relenting in its mission in Mozambique, which is fortunate for the Mozambicans. On August 16, for example, Paul Kagame, who is not only the President but also the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) Commander-in-Chief, promoted Major General Eugene Nkubito to lead the RDFs battle against the Mozambican jihadists (ktpress.rw, August 24).
On the economic front, what Mozambique needs is to restart the Total Gas facility that was crucial to the country’s GDP (allafrica.com, September 1). It was shut down in April 2021 during the last major offensive by the Mozambican jihadists, which prompted international attention to be directed towards ensuring Mozambican security and the ensuing Rwanda-led intervention (aljazeera.com, April 26, 2021). If, as the Mozambican government expects, the facility can reopen in 2023, the jihadists will need to be held at bay while the economy has a chance to recover its pre-war trajectory.