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Updated Mar 26, 2020

Islamist insurgents have captured the northern Mozambican port town of Mocímboa da Praia, overrunning a military base and hoisting their flag, according to local police. The Mozambican military, with assistance from Russian mercenaries, has launched a counteroffensive in response. This is the first time jihadists in the Cabo Delgado province have attacked an urban center. The identity of the attackers is still unknown. Attacks by jihadist groups operating in the region have claimed more than two hundred lives since 2017, but no one has claimed responsibility. Locals refer to the group as al-Shabab, but it is unclear if there is any connection to the Somali terror group.


Why It Matters

Cabo Delgado is one of Mozambique’s poorest regions. Most people in the region rely on subsistence farming for their livelihood, and have struggled to receive sufficient financial and political attention from the Mozambican government since industrialization began in the 1960s. In 2010, significant oil and gas deposits were discovered off the coast of Cabo Delgado in the Rovuma Basin, leading to petroleum extraction projects worth up to US$60 billion. French and Indian oil and gas companies hold the majority of the stakes, and the locals have seen little economic benefit.

This latest attack also calls into question President Filipe Nyusi’s decision to invite Russian private military contractors into the country to assist instead of African-based contractors. Wagner, a Kremlin-linked private military contractor, sent two hundred soldiers to Mozambique in September, according to reports in The Times of London and The Moscow Times, and they have sustained some losses since then. Some say the Russians have no experience of the kind of guerilla warfare waged here, and they’re not up to the task. This view also casts doubt on the long-term viability of Russia’s military involvement in other African conflict zones, such as the Central African Republic, Sudan, and Libya.

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