The insurgents behind the deadly attacks in northern Mozambique are exploiting links with African crime syndicates, whose assistance is seeing arms and munitions flowing into the region.
This is according to the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime, which spoke to TimesLIVE on Monday.
On Wednesday, Islamic State (Isis) linked rebels seized the Mozambique port of Mocimboa DA Praia, expanding their territory in the mineral and gas rich Cabo Delgado province.
Northern Mozambique has Africa’s largest offshore gas fields, which also has some of the continent’s biggest ruby deposits.
Despite sustained counter attacks carried out by the Mozambican authorities, the insurgents have entrenched themselves and fought off multiple attempts to dislodge them from the port town over the weekend.
Alastair Nelson, a senior fellow at the Global Initiative, said recent calls for SADC to become militarily involved were unwise.
“That definitely will not solve anything. In fact it will make the situation a lot worse,” he said.
Nelson began researching the Ahlu Sunnah wa Jamaa group in 2012 while investigating poaching and ivory trafficking in the region. He said the only way of dealing with the rebels, who were growing in strength from a military perspective, was if the Mozambican government addressed the root causes of the insurgency.
“And they will not do this. Some in the Mozambican government realise this is what needs to happen, but there are just too many vested economic interests for the root causes to be dealt with.
“The insurgency is being driven not only by an extreme religious ideology, but also by ethnicity and economic hardships, which that country’s elite are exploiting.
“This makes this a highly complex situation to try and resolve.”
Nelson said the insurgents had over the past couple of months shown their prowess, exploiting military intelligence and their knowledge of the region to overrun remote Mozambican military and police outposts, seizing a vast number of weapons.
“Those fighting in the insurgency seemed to be largely Mozambican, although there may be some from Tanzania and possibly the Democratic Republic of the Congo. ISCA [the Islamic State’s Central African Province] has been trying, through propaganda, to lay claim to the insurgents’ successes, which has pushed the group onto the international radar.
“Intelligence shows that some from this group have received training from the extremist group, Alliance of Democratic Forces [ADF], which operates in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC]. Several Mozambican nationals have been caught in the eastern DRC in crackdowns on the ADF.”
Nelson the group appeared to be assisted by some former Mozambican police and military officers, who had joined their ranks. He said while the group was formed in 2007 by young men angered by the government’s economic neglect of the region, it was only in 2017 that they started carrying out violent attacks.
“When the state started cracking down in the region, they upped the level of violence.”
Nelson said some of those involved in the insurgency were linked to criminal activities including the illegal ivory and timber trade and illegal ruby and gold mining.
“Almost the entire economy of the region Is linked to the illicit economy, including heroin, ruby, gold, timber and human smuggling. The port of Mocimboa DA Praia plays a major role in this economy.
“While at the moment the group has not controlled these illicit trades, intelligence suggests that they are plugging into these networks. Until now most weapons the group has used are captured military weapons, but they now also seem to be involved in weapons smuggling.
“From research into ivory poaching in the region, we know that AK-47s are being brought down from the eastern DRC and Burundi to southern Tanzania, with some ending up in this area.
“One thing we may now definitely see more of is the flow of weapons into the region.”
Nelson said information indicated that the group was setting up funding resources through the taxation of the region’s illicit economies.
He said the group was recruiting artisanal ruby miners, who had been criminalised by the Mozambican government, to work with them.
“As well as being involved with ruby miners, they appear to be involved in the illicit and artisanal gold trade.”
Nelson said the insurgents had shown that they were clearly a force to be reckoned with, and were growing their support base.
“Human rights abuses by government forces in their crackdown on the insurgency has played right into their hands. The people in northern Mozambique have been angered by the government, who they feel alienated from.
“To deal with the insurgency effectively, good local governance systems must be created, which the government must use to improve people’s lives.”
He said SADC could play an important role in addressing organised crime links, which undermined the rule of law in Cabo Delgado, which the insurgency may develop, to help curtail the illicit flows of weapons into the region.