Escalating Insurgency in Northern Mozambique: The Growing Threat to Regional Stability and Mining Operations 

In 2017, militants later recognised as part of the Islamic State’s network in Mozambique launched an ongoing insurgency in the northern Cabo Delgado Province which to date has killed nearly 5,000 people and resulted in the displacement of over a million civilians. 

In addition to the impact on the local population, the insurgency has gained infamy for the threat it poses to Mozambique’s liquefied natural gas (LNG), particularly after militants captured the strategic Mocimboa de Praia town, Mocimboa de Praia District in 2020 and attacked Palma in Palma District in March 2021 – the latter of which led to over 1,000 civilian casualties and prompted the suspension of TotalEnergies-led multibillion LNG project in Palma District.  While the subsequent intervention of Rwandan and Southern African Africa Development Community (SADC) troops in the region has helped push militants back from key LNG assets in the north, the consequence of this has been a shift southward of militants towards crucial mining concessions. 

Notably, since mid-January, at least 50 insurgents have moved southwards from their strongholds in the coastal regions of the Macomia District and the Catupa forest through the Metuge and Mecufi districts, at times within 20 km of Cabo Delgado’s provincial capital, the port city of Pemba. In addition to the risk of further attacks resulting in loss of life, the southward movement threatens to disrupt roadways between Pemba and commercial mining operations in the Ancuabe, Montepuez and Balama districts, risking damage to Mozambique’s crucial extractive sector, as well as the security of the neighbouring Nampula Province. 

Northern Mozambique
Insurgent attacks 27 January – 02 February. For an interactive map, see here. Please note that some incidents mapped are approximate locations based on available intelligence.

2024 begins with a southward march from Macomia District

Key developments over the last week alone highlight this trend. 

On Friday 26 January, a group of almost 50 insurgents was seen by the residents crossing the National Road 1 (N1), between the villages of Nanlia and Impriri, in the district of Metuge, according to local sources. Local sources additionally indicate the group likely travelled from the coastal region of Macomia District, where they maintain a significant operational presence, particularly in the town of Mucojo, which was occupied by the insurgents on Sunday 21 January 2024. After crossing the N1 road, the group then reportedly dispersed into smaller units and travelled both northwards and southwards. 

The next day, Saturday 27 January, a group of insurgents beheaded at least one person in Pulo village, Metuge District, approx. 40 km west of Pemba, and 18 km from the N1 road [Incident 1]. A male victim was reportedly returning from an agricultural area near the village when he was attacked and decapitated, with unconfirmed reports indicating a second person was also decapitated in the machambas (small agricultural areas) outside the village. The same group of insurgents were reportedly then seen travelling through the village of Impiri/Impire along the N1 road from Ancuabe to Pemba, where they kidnapped an unconfirmed number of women and children [Incident 2].

Later, on Monday 29 January, the Islamic State-Mozambique claimed insurgents killed a civilian in Ambagua village in the Pemba area the previous day, Sunday 28 January [Incident 3]. No attack was confirmed by the authorities in Pemba District, and the location may have been a propaganda attempt by the insurgents. Rather, the attack site likely refers to Namúngua, located along the R762 road on the Quissanga side of the Quissanga-Metuge border, although this has not been confirmed.

The same Sunday, insurgents reportedly killed one person at Nicavaco, approx. 30 km west of Pemba on the northern side of the N1 road near Impiri in Metuge District, although some sources indicate the death toll may have been higher [Incident 4]. 

On Tuesday 30 January, insurgents ambushed Mozambican security forces near Nahavara/Narenga village, within 20 km of Pemba in the southern Mecufi District, killing at least two and injuring several others [Incident 5].

Outlook

Local sources indicate insurgents may be launching incursions southwards into the Metuge and Mecufi districts from the coastal Macomia District as part of a recruitment drive into Nampula Province. Districts bordering northern Nampula Province have long been known to be recruitment bases for the insurgency. However, the province has avoided sustained attacks over the course of the six-year insurgency with the exception of a two-month period in the last quarter of 2022, and an isolated incident in June of the same year. Between 02 and 11 September 2022, up to 50 insurgents launched a coordinated incursion across the Lurio River from Cabo Delgado Province into Nampula Province, attacking at least 13 sites in the border districts of Erati and Memba. Over the course of nine days, at least 15 civilians were killed, and over 100 houses, churches, and other infrastructure were burned. Insurgents circulating the Metuge and Mecufi districts reportedly have similar manpower, and a new incursion into the province cannot be overruled in the short term.

In addition to the elevated risk of attacks in Nampula Province, the latest insurgent movements, often within 10 km from the key N1 and N14 roads threatens to disrupt mining operations in the Ancuabe, Montepuez and Balama districts, The nearby AMG Graphite and Triton Minerals’ graphite mines in the Ancuabe District, located 80 km west of Pemba and only 30 km from the recent attack site at Impiri, face the most elevated short-term direct and indirect risk to their operations and assets

Insurgent attacks on commercial mining operations in southern Cabo Delgado Province are not unprecedented. Indeed, in July 2022, Australian mining company Triton declared force majeure on its Ancuabe Graphite Project, following the decapitation of two of its workers at the site. Similarly, the Gemrock ruby mine was attacked in October 2022, where insurgents destroyed key infrastructure. Both mines later resumed operations, with Triton posting positive economic returns in Q4 of 2023. The growth of the Triton project was bolstered by improved security conditions and freight transport in the area following the deployment of a Rwandan Defence Forces (RPF) contingent to Ancuabe in January 2023. 

Although current insurgent movement to the immediate east of the Ancuabe District is unlikely to result in a large-scale attack on mining projects, the potential for suspension of operations, evacuations, roadside ambushes and road closures cannot be overruled should insurgents move west of Metuge and Mecufi. Indeed, on Sunday 28 January, an insurgent spy monitoring the activities of the Mozambican military was arrested in Silva Macua (Sunate) along the N1 road in Ancuabe, within 15 km of the graphite mines. 

In the immediate term, although the presence of RDF personnel in the Ancuabe District, where they remain deployed, may dissuade insurgents from launching raids, on Friday 05 January this year, insurgents brazenly attacked a village within 5 km of Mocimboa da Praia town, which hosts a significant Rwandan military presence, emphasising the audacity of insurgents to conduct operations near areas with substantial military deployments. With TotalEnergies’ imminent return to the Mozambique LNG Project in Palma District, it is anticipated that insurgent groups may intensify their efforts to undermine the Mozambican economy and assert their presence as a persistent threat to the authorities, potentially by shifting their targets to include the country’s crucial mining assets. 

The above article features in Castor Vali’s Mozambique weekly report as part of its Security Information Service country subscription packages. For a free trial of this service on Mozambique or other countries, please contact us via our website.  

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