Mozambique’s mysterious conflict is intensifying

MICHAEL SMELLED trouble before he saw it. In January the 28-year-old from Bilibiza, in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, caught a whiff of smoke. A village had been torched nearby. Within hours houses and schools in Bilibiza were burning as 10,000 residents fled.

It was the second time in two years that Michael (not his real name) had run for his life. In 2018 his village was attacked. At least five people were killed. A friend was decapitated. Today Michael, his wife and three young children live in Pemba, the provincial capital. They sleep outside, chicks and pigeons pecking at their feet.

Violence has engulfed Cabo Delgado since 2017. On one side is a poorly understood Islamist insurgency. On the other are the government’s heavy-handed security forces. Aid agencies estimate that more than 1,000 people have died and at least 100,000 have had to leave their homes. On March 23rd the rebels made their boldest move yet, taking the town of Mocimboa da Praia, before retreating. Two days later they took Quissanga, 100km north of Pemba.

Until recently southern Africa had been relatively free from the jihadist attacks that have wrought havoc in the Horn of Africa, Nigeria and the Sahel. No longer. South Africa, in particular, is worried. The uprising also threatens what could be Africa’s largest-ever...

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