WASHINGTON - A major opposition party in Mozambique has called on the government to declare a state of war in the northern part of the country, where an Islamist insurgency has been going on for several years.
Daviz Simango, president of the Democratic Movement of Mozambique (MDM), the third largest party in the country, said that such a move would mobilize the international community to provide assistance to the Mozambican government in its fight against armed Islamist groups in Cabo Delgado province.
“It is important for the government to declare war in Cabo Delgado, so that the population receives humanitarian aid and the international community helps Mozambique to fight evildoers,” the Mozambican O País newspaper quoted Simango as saying Monday.
Since 2017, the Muslim-majority Cabo Delgado province has been the target of terror attacks claimed by Islamist militants, some of which are affiliated with the Islamic State terror group.
Such attacks in the region have killed at least 500 people, while hundreds of homes have been destroyed or burned down by militants, according to rights groups.
At least 28 attacks have been carried out in Cabo Delgado since the beginning of 2020, the U.N. says. The violence has also displaced more than 100,000 people throughout the province, UNHCR said.
The party’s recent call for the declaration of war in Cabo Delgado has sparked debate among experts, with some believing it would harm Mozambique’s image abroad.
“Nobody would like to invest in a war zone,” said Tomas Vieira Mario, a legal analyst based in Maputo.
“If this happens, it would be a bad move as the government is trying to bring more investors to the region,” he told VOA.
In recent years, Mozambique has been seeking to increase foreign investment in gas-rich Cabo Delgado and other parts of the country.
Several multinational oil and gas companies have shown interest in investing in new exploration projects in Mozambique. But foreign companies have asked the Mozambican government to increase its military presence in the restive Cabo Delgado.
It is not clear whether the government would consider the opposition’s proposal to declare a state of war in northern Mozambique.
“It’s not a decision that should be taken easily since there are legal implications,” analyst Mario said, adding that “it would require the constitutional court to change the current mandate from local insurgency to a state of war.”
Other experts, however, believe that embracing the idea could be an effective measure to combat Islamist insurgents in the north.
“If the government was to declare a state of war, the military would be mobilized to get involved in the conflict in Cabo Delgado,” Jose Machicame, a Mozambican political analyst, told VOA.
Only local police and security forces are engaged in combatting militant threats, he said.
Last week, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi said his government will not rest until stability returns to Cabo Delgado. But to do so, he said support from the international community would be essential.
Some experts stress that Mozambican armed forces have been facing challenges in providing adequate security in northern Mozambique.
“President Nyusi and his new Mozambique government have finally acknowledged the need for international support as the insurgency worsens in Cabo Delgado,” said Alex Vines, head of the Africa program at Chatham House.
“Experimentation with several private military companies in 2019 had poor results and demonstrated the need for urgent reform of the Mozambican armed and security forces and better training,” he told VOA.
But other analysts, like Emilia Columbo, a senior Africa researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, think the government should look for new ways to benefit from any possible international assistance.
“International assistance would be effective if the Mozambican military, local police and community are all engaged to find a solution to the conflict,” she told VOA.
U.S. officials have expressed similar views in the past.
“The United States and other regional and international partners have been engaged in helping the [Mozambican] government develop a holistic security, community engagement and communication approach,” Stephanie Amadeo, director of the Office of Southern African Affairs at the U.S. State Department, said last June during a speech at CSIS.
VOA’s Ramos Miguel contributed to this report from Maputo, Mozambique.