Mozambique: Cabo Delgado Civil War – Refugees Kill Leader ‘For Bringing Cholera’

Thousands of refugees last week abandoned the camp in Nangua, Metuge (near Pemba), Cabo Delgado, fleeing cholera which had killed at least five people. They said they preferred to risk the war than die of cholera. A local leader named only as Amade was beaten to death, accused of bringing the cholera to the camp. (VoA, 26 Nov) There was rioting in the camp and the military intervened, but the residents apparently destroyed the camp. (Zitamar 27 Nov)

Cholera has become common along the coast since January, when the outbreak began among refugees on islands off the coast. Prime Minister Carlos Agostinho do Rosario in September said 27 people have died, but there were press reports of 28 deaths in Macomia district in July alone. Little was done until a vaccination campaign began in September.


The killing of Amade is another in a long string of killings of leaders and health workers accused of putting cholera in local water. This has occurred along the coast of Cabo Delgado and Nampula for more than two decades. The late Carlos Serra led important research into the phenomenon, and was shocked to discover that local people believed that elites did not simply want to exploit them, but wanted them dead. Such elites could not possibly do anything good for them – even health workers would not be putting chlorine in the water to
prevent cholera for nothing, because they demanded money for all other treatments, so they must be putting the cholera in the water. Other myths are of vampires and magic lions who supposedly are the elites in disguise and kill people in Cabo Delgado. (For a more detailed history: [4] and [5])

In the crisis of cholera in the Nangua refugee camp, some people thought they had to kill Amade to save their own family’s lives. The war started in 2017 on just such a vendetta – villages were raided and the heads cut off of one or two better off people accused of helping to steal instead of sharing the wealth. Metaphorically, they were dramatically killing the people they saw as sucking their blood.

As the war escalated and gained initial support from Islamic State and freelance jihadists, some researchers pointed to the 2004 book _The Management of Savagery_ showing how jihadists can take advantage of savagery to win popular support, or at least acquiescence. It led to the argument that the terrorism in Cabo Delgado was “Islamic” and allowed
blame to be put on the current global enemy, IS.

There are two reasons this is not true. First, as already noted and shown by the lynching of Amade, this is unfortunately already a local response. Second, the 2004 book was merely adapting what were already common and often used guerrilla tactics. In 2006 I wrote my book “Civil War, Civil Peace” for an Open University MSc course on civil wars, and
for that we looked closely at the 1991-2002 civil war in Sierra Leone, in which “Maoist” rebels cut off hands. In the early 1990s the provisional IRA, supposedly “Catholic”, ran a major bombing campaign in the UK. In the 1980s Renamo rebels fighting for “democracy” burned people alive in buses. And it is being used today by drug lords in Mexico and by the Renamo Junta in Mozambique.

All are using terrorism to frighten the opposition and show their power and status. This is not specifically a Maoist, Catholic, democratic, narcotic or Islamic tactic. For a long time it has been a standard tactic by insurgents in small wars. To call it specifically Islamic terrorism is to ignore history – both the long history of guerrilla struggles across the world, and the more recent history of anti-cholera lynchings in Cabo Delgado.

The body count is this three year civil war is now 2,370, according to ACLED. It is a nasty and savage war. But Islamic State did not invent terrorism, and to claim they did is to shift the focus away the local origins both of the war and the tactics. And to support a Mozambican government which claims that someone else is responsible for the Cabo
Delgado civil war. jh

The documentary film “The Letter” is Kenya’s official submission to the Academy Awards (Oscars). It is an compelling film about one family caught up in Kenya’s epidemic of killing of “witches”. Christianity is used to claim that village elders are witches doing the work of Satan, as a way of killing them to steal their land. [6] A year after the film was made, Kenya is in the middle of another wave of “witch” killings, some with videos posted on social media. (Sahara Reporters, 21 Nov,

Ban on humanitarian aid for insurgent zones;  100 new villages to resettle war displaced

Government will not send any humanitarian aid to people who remain in areas being regularly attacked by insurgents, Cabo Delgado provincial secretary of state Armindo Ngunga said today. Even though the government is aware that people are still living in those areas, it does not want insurgents to steal the aid, as had recently happened. According to
Ngunga, the only way for the government and partners to send aid is to send it to where people have moved as refugees – effectively imposed a ban on humanitarian agencies going to insurgent-controlled zones. (_Noticias_, Zitamar 3 Dec)

The government will construct 100 new villages and relocate war displaced, rather than help them return to their old villages, the Cabo Delgado Secretary of State Armindo Ngunga said Monday. (Lusa, Radio Mocambique, 30 Nov) Displaced people are being encouraged to build new houses where they are, rather than return to their previous home. The
100 new villages would have houses, schools, health posts and basic services.

Government has no money for such a project, so it must be hoping for donor grants or World Bank loans.


This is an usual war in which, at least near the coast, both government and insurgents appear to be wanting to clear the land, and push local people to leave and become displaced persons. For government it creates a free fire zone – and the displaced are cared for by UN agencies. For the insurgents, it may clear obstructions to illegal

But the massive resettlement programme, accelerated by a ban on food and basic goods, sounds like the communal village programme of 45 years. It looks like an attempt to keep the land empty and not have people return. Are both sides looking to create empty land to attract foreign investors after the war? jh

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