Mozambique: Government Still Blocking Aid to Palma; the Focus On ‘Terrorists’ Makes it Worse

There is still no aid reaching up to 20,000 people not being allowed to leave Quitunda near Palma. Finally Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) has spoken out. “Significant restrictions are placed on the scale up of the humanitarian response due to the ongoing insecurity, and the bureaucratic hurdles impeding the importation of certain supplies and the issuing of visas for additional humanitarian workers,” said Jonathan Whittall, MSF Director of Analysis, on 14 May.

It is also made very difficult for foreigners to visit the area. The UN was allowed to send a team to Quitunda on 21 April, but could not negotiate aid access. After the visit, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) called “for full humanitarian access and a reduction of bureaucratic impediments, including the issuing of visas [for UN experts], to ensure timely and efficient delivery of humanitarian aid.” There is also a need for “greater and strategic engagement with the Government,” said Laura Tomm-Bonde, IOM’s head of mission in Mozambique. But the call fell on deaf ears.

Whittall, too, recently visited but apparently without gaining access.

He writes: “What does seem set to scale up is the regionally supported and internationally funded counter-terrorism operation that could further impact already vulnerable people. In many conflicts, from Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan, I have seen how counter-terrorism operations can generate additional humanitarian needs while limiting the ability of humanitarian workers to respond.

“Firstly, by designating a group as ‘terrorists’, we often see that the groups in question are pushed further underground – making dialogue with them for humanitarian access more complex. While states can claim that they ‘don’t negotiate with terrorists’, humanitarian workers are compelled to provide humanitarian aid impartially and to negotiate with any group that controls territory or that can harm our patients and staff.”

“For Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), successfully providing impartial medical care requires reserving a space for dialogue and building trust in the fact that our presence in a conflict is for the sole purpose of saving lives and alleviating suffering.”

Whittall is showing why the Mozambique government is trying to keep out the foreign humanitarian workers. The government says that it cannot find anyone with whom it can negotiate. MSF says it can “negotiate with any group that controls territory” – and clearly has in Cabo Delgado.

“Counter-terrorism operations try to bring humanitarian activities under the full control of the state and the military coalitions that support them. Aid is denied, facilitated or provided in order to boost the government’s credibility, to win hearts and minds for the military intervening, or to punish communities that are accused of sympathising with an opposition group. The most vulnerable can often fall through the cracks of such an approach, which is why organisations like MSF need to be able to work independently. … Being aligned to a state that is fighting a counter-terrorism war would reduce our ability to reach the most vulnerable communities to offer medical care.”

“In counter-terrorism wars around the world, we often see civilian casualties being justified due to the presence of ‘terrorists’ among a civilian population. Entire communities can be considered as ‘hostile’, leading to a loosening of the rules of engagement for combat forces,” Whittall writes.

And he concludes: “The current focus on ‘terrorism’ clearly serves the political and economic interests of those intervening in Mozambique. However, it must not come at the expense of saving lives and alleviating the immense suffering facing the people of Cabo Delgado.”

54,023 people from Palma have been forcibly displaced, and are outside Palma, IOM (UN Migration) said Wednesday (19 May). Displaced people are fleeing to the districts of Mueda (15,651), Nangade (14,067), Pemba (11,741), Montepuez (6,448), and Ibo (1,867), and most (83%) are hosted by local communities. Over 660 unaccompanied and separated children have been identified as of 19 May. IOM says that an addition 23,000 displaced people are still in Quitunda. IOM reports are issued daily – the most recent is on UNHCR’s financial requirements for the Mozambique operation in 2021 total $ 25.7 mn, but as of 11 May only 25% of these needs have been funded.

UNHCR has protested at Tanzania forcibly returning Mozambican refugees, fleeing over the border to escape the insurgency. UNHCR spokesperson Boris Cheshirkov, speaking at a press briefing in Geneva on Tuesday, said at least 4000 Mozambicans have been denied refuge in Tanzania. This includes reports of over 1,500 returned from Tanzania this month alone. They flee from Palma and are taken in by Tanzania and simply taken inland away from the fighting, and then sent south back into Mozambique. (AIM 19 May)

Amnesty says “white contractors were prioritized for evacuation ahead of Black locals, in disturbing testimony that points to blatant racism.” After the 24 March attack on Palma, about 200 black Mozambicans and 20 white contractor staff took refuge in the Amarula Hotel. South African private military company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) rescued some from the hotel. White contractors were prioritized to be airlifted to safety, followed by “a few well-off Black nationals – among them the Administrator for Palma, said Amnesty on 13 May.” It is notable that the Amarula was only under siege by the insurgents because the administrator was there and he, not the foreigners, were their target.

Amnesty confirms security forces burned houses. “Exclusive satellite imagery obtained by Amnesty International from 1 April revealed the extent of damage caused by the attack on Palma, that lasted until 31 March. The assault concentrated on public infrastructure and government facilities, rather than homes. On 9 April, satellite imagery showed 33 more structures – likely homes – had been destroyed since 1 April when the Mozambique security forces had reportedly regained control of the region.” The photo on the website shows that the initial destruction was along the main road in town, but the 1-9 April burnings were in residential zones near the beach. “This aligns with previous Amnesty International research that indicated the Mozambique security forces have conducted reprisals against the civilian population once ‘Al-Shabaab’ have retreated.”

The US advised its citizens against traveling to Pemba in a travel advisory published 10 May.

Civil servants must return to Muidumbe, despite continued sporadic fighting, the district administrator, Saíde Aly Chabane, demanded on 14 May, when he met provincial health workers taking refuge in Pemba. He proposed moving the health workers to Mueda, closer to Muidumbe, and for them to go into the district for 30 days. But civil servants are afraid, because they are particular targets of insurgent attacks.

Industry has finally noticed the local content problem, which has been one area fuelling the insurgency. Local people and businesses accuse Anadarko and now Total of not promoting jobs for people near the gas, and “local content” is accused of going to Maputo and Frelimo-linked companies. The industry group African Energy Chamber issued a statement Tuesday (18 May) on the talks in Paris, which said: “To increase the effect in the Mozambican economy, the way we manage local content should also be addressed. We should consider results based local content programs and maybe have some set aside programs that are more inclusive of the population of Cabo Delgado. Such programs should include training and development and entrepreneurial drive to open doors of opportunity to everybody. We in the energy industry must seriously rethink the way these programs are being developed, as they could be an excellent solution for the security issues in Cabo Delgado. More qualified jobs mean fewer disqualified criminals. Mozambicans can no longer be the last hired and the first fired.”

Comment: I like the “maybe” in “maybe have some set aside programs that are more inclusive of the population of Cabo Delgado.” It is a decade late, and four years into the war. But it is useful that the industry has at least noticed that perhaps it should “seriously rethink” the idea of actually giving jobs and skills to local people. Maybe it is recognising that failure to do so is probably the biggest single factor behind the war. jh

Other news

The much delayed Frelimo Central Committee meeting will finally take place this weekend, 22-23 May. Commissions are already meeting. This meeting will begin preparations for the 12th Congress and the selection of a presidential candidate. There is a two-term limit and Nyusi cannot stand again.


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