Insurrection in Cabo Delgado

EU decides military training mission in Mozambique - without German participation. Berlin rejects supporting French interests.

BERLIN/MAPUTO/PARIS (Own report) - The EU is launching a military mission in Mozambique to train the country's armed forces. This move comes after nearly four years of insurrection in the northeastern Cabo Delgado province, which claimed around 3,000 lives, and displaced almost 800,000 people. The insurrection was basically provoked by social deprivation: Cabo Delgado, one of Mozambique's poorest regions, has been neglected by the government for many years. The population does not benefit from the current exploitation of the country's rich natural resources by multinational corporations. The battles are being led by the Ansar al-Sunna/ al-Shabab jihadi militia, at times supported by the Islamic State (IS). In late March, an Ansar al-Sunna attack on the coastal town of Palma and the subsequent massacres prompted France's Total corporation to halt all operations on a natural gas field in the vicinity. Soon thereafter, the EU decided on the new deployment. In line with its tradition, Berlin is not participating in missions that are in Paris' interest.

Poverty and Natural Resources

Cabo Delgado, Mozambique's ultimate northeastern province at the border with Tanzania, one of the country's poorest regions, has, for years, been significantly neglected by the Maputo government, located more than 2,000 km, away in the far south of the country, near the border with South Africa. In addition to general underdevelopment, during the last decade, natural resources were discovered in the province, which, however, hardly benefit the local population. Many hundreds of families have been relocated by force to facilitate the exploitation of large ruby deposits in the interior of the country and huge natural gas reserves in the coastal waters. They are, however, excluded from the profits provided by these resources. Whereas the British company Gemfields mines rubies near Montepuez, several energy corporations –Total (France), Eni (Italy), ExxonMobil (USA) und CNPC (China) - are involved in the extraction of gas. For years, the foreign corporations' plunder of the province's resources - in cooperation with sectors of Mozambique's elite - has been causing grievances among the impoverished population and is considered by observers to be a major cause of the Cabo Delgado insurrection.[1]

The Ansar Al-Sunna Jihadi Militia

Observers, such as the Mozambican historian Yussuf Adam, point out that the broader basis of the insurrection is not defined religiously, but rather socially and includes Catholic Christians, Protestant Pentecostals and Animists.[2] The central role, however, is played by a jihadi organization operating under name Ansar al-Sunna and at times also called al-Shabab, but it has nothing to do with the organization in Somalia, with the same name. With its attack on the port town of Mocímboa da Praia on October 5, 2017, Ansar al-Sunna launched the armed insurrection that has continued ever since. The insurrection has already claimed nearly 3,000 lives. Almost 800,000 people - nearly one third of the province's population of 2.4 million - have been displaced. Their situation is desperate. The most recent escalation occurred on March 24, 2021, when Ansar al-Sunna attacked the coastal town of Palma and massacred numerous inhabitants including - according to reports - also foreign workers.[3] Palma is not far from the large natural gas fields. On March 27, the French corporation Total announced it was halting operations.

Interests in Intervention

Since the Mozambican government's own troops are incapable of suppressing the insurgency, it must rely on foreign support. Offers to provide troops have been received from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), under South Africa's leadership, and from Rwanda. Rwanda has already begun deployments, while the SADC's support has been delayed - apparently due to the recent uprising in South Africa. Experts find it conceivable that the Rwandan contingent could be used to secure key liquefied natural gas (LNG) sites, to enable the resumption of production.[4] At the same time, however, several EU countries are also interested in establishing their own military presence in Cabo Delgado. They include the former colonial power, Portugal, which, following a ten-year colonial war with the Mozambican Liberation Movement gave way in 1975, and is now seeking new influence in the country. On the other hand, France, which is worried about its Total corporation's €17 billion off shore investment near Palma in one of Africa’s three largest LNG projects, is also interested.[5]

Counter-Terrorism Training

In April, Portugal deployed the first members of its special forces to Mozambique to train the local troops, and announced in May, the prospect of sending another deployment of soldiers - in total allegedly 80 Portuguese military personnel. In addition, on Monday of last week (July 12) the EU Foreign Ministers resolved to send an EU mission, also for the training of Mozambican units. In this case, the mission's objective is mainly to train "the units of the Mozambican armed forces that will be part of a future Quick Reaction Force," they announced.[6] In the program, there will be "specialized training on counter-terrorism," as well as "training on the protection of civilians and compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law." EUTM Mozambique is to be put under Portuguese command and be comprised of 200 - 300 soldiers. Currently, it is scheduled to be a two year mission. Along with Portugal, France and Italy currently plan to also send troops.

"When the French Say 'Africa'..."

Germany is not participating - remaining true to its decades old custom of not providing troops for military interventions that are primarily in France's interests, while on the contrary, demanding French support for interventions in the Federal Republic of Germany's interests. During the 1990s, for example, Bonn attached great importance to French troop participation in the operations leading to the break-up of Yugoslavia, while, conversely, refusing any support for French operations in the Françafrique. For example, in 1994, Germany's Minister of Defense at the time, Volker Rühe had been quoted saying "the Eurocorps is not an Africa Corps."[7] The EU's interventions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2003 and 2006, with Bundeswehr participation, were each limited to six months and terminated on time - highly unusual for German military missions. The longtime top German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger explained in early 2018, "When I was still in the foreign ministry, the warning was - watch out, when the French come saying 'Africa,' then that is only an attempt to drag us into a post-colonial dispute." "We'd better avoid it."[8] Mali is the only case, where Berlin has intervened together with Paris - to strengthen Germany's own influence.[9]

Nationally Partisan

At the moment, in keeping with the fact that Germany is not participating in the EUTM Mozambique, German media, that has loyally supported every Bundeswehr operation, have surprisingly permitted critical voices to be heard, denouncing the new EU mission - and for good reason. The daily "Die Welt" quoted, for example, Dagmar Pruin, President of the Protestant "Brot für die Welt" ("Bread for the World") relief organization with the observation: "Even a military training mission ... will not solve the problems." Moreover, the danger is "that the EU will be drawn into it and become one of the parties to the conflict."[10] Helle Døssing, head of the Africa section of "Brot für die Welt" was quoted in the TV news program "Tagesschau" with the warning: "an expansion of the conflict" will "further deteriorate the population's living conditions."[11] The fact that in these media outlets, these critical voices are being given a prominent position on the question of Mozambique - whereas, in cases such as the interventions in Afghanistan or Mali, they at best were left on the sidelines or not published at all - is further evidence of the national partisanship of the press and broadcasting in Germany.


[1] International Crisis Group: Stemming the Insurrection in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado. Africa Report No 303. 11 June 2021.

[2] Mariana Carneiro: Cabo Delgado: "É preciso parar a guerra". 28.05.2021.

[3] International Crisis Group: Stemming the Insurrection in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado. Africa Report No 303. 11 June 2021.

[4] Rwanda deploys 1,000 soldiers to Mozambique's Cabo Delgado. 10.07.2021.

[5] Theo Neethling: Offshore gas finds offered major promise for Mozambique: what went wrong. 30.03.2021.

[6] Mosambik: EU richtet militärische Ausbildungsmission zur Bewältigung der Krise in Cabo Delgado ein. 12.07.2021.

[7] Kein Triumphgeheul. Focus 29/1994.

[8] "Sie sehen nur die Spitze des Eisbergs". In: Internationale Politik Januar/Februar 2018. S. 12-19.

[9] See also Deutschland 001.

[10] Christoph B. Schiltz: "Militärische Ausbildungsmission wird die Konflikte nicht lösen". 13.07.2021.

[11] Richard Klug: Mit Soldaten gegen Desillusionierung? 12.07.2021.