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What natural gas has to do with Mozambique’s first Islamist attacks

In October 2017, Mozambique recorded its first Islamist terror attack. A group of about 30 individuals attacked three police stations in the small town of Mocímboa da Praia in the northern-most province of Cabo Delga. Since then, authorities have noted sporadic attacks and ambushes in other nearby communities.

Mozambique has been historically resilient to extremism, something which can be attributed to its violent past. The actions of both the Mozambique Liberation Front and the Mozambican National Resistance during the Mozambican civil war left many communities wary of rebel militias, creating a culture where local Mozambicans are quick to report suspicious behaviour in their villages. Analysts have also cited Frelimo’s forced mixed marriage policies – which were used in an attempt to create a strong national identity devoid of ethnic politics – as a contributing factor to terrorist organisations’ inability to recruit along ethnic lines.

Given that these prohibitive factors remain largely unchanged – why do the sporadic attacks persist? The answer may lie in Mozambique’s acceleration of oil and natural gas exploration.

Patterns of terrorist recruitment in Africa indicate that economic factors play a disproportionate role. It is no surprise that in the deteriorating economic climate in Mozambique – where political leaders fight over the spoils of the energy industry while ordinary Mozambicans see no material change – terror groups have found sympathisers.

The attacks took place in part of the country that serves as the main site for natural gas exploration. Just this week the Mozambican council approved a $20bn natural gas plan for US-based Andarko Petroleum Corp to continue its exploratory operations in the north. Andarko has swiftly sought to secure its presence through various sale and purchase agreements with the Mozambican government as well as other private foreign companies.

It is not difficult to see the potential parallels between this region and the Niger Delta in which the presence of foreign energy corporations and the exploitation of local populations led to the creation of the West Niger Delta Avengers who carried out a series of attacks against companies like Chevron and Shell.

If the Mozambican government does not carefully manage the integration of foreign business with local communities and ensure that the economic profits of these partnerships finally reach the people, the message of this seemingly disorganised terrorist group may soon find a deadly resonance.

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