Paul Samasumo – Vatican City
According to Save the Children, mothers have told the Aid agency, children as young as 11 are being beheaded, by militants, in Mozambique’s troubled Cabo Delgado province. The conflict in the region has displaced thousands.
One mother spoke of her eldest child being beheaded near to where she was hiding with her other three children.
“That night, our village was attacked, and houses were burned. When it all started, I was at home with my four children. We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him. We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too,” the distraught mother told Save the Children. The boy was 12 years old.
Another mother spoke of how her fourth child, 11 years old, was murdered by militants. She fled without even the chance of giving her son a proper burial.
“After my 11-year-old son was killed, we understood that it was no longer safe to stay in my village. We fled to my father’s house in another village, but a few days later, the attacks started there too. Me, my father and the children spent five days eating green bananas and drinking banana tree water until we got transport that brought us here,” the mother said.
A Province reeling from climate shock
Nearly 670,000 people are now displaced inside Mozambique due to the Cabo Delgado’s conflict – almost seven times the number reported a year ago. At least 2 614 people have died in the conflict, including 1 312 civilians. The situation has seriously deteriorated over the past 12 months, with the escalation of attacks on villages, reports Save the Children.
Cabo Delgado is also reeling from consecutive climatic shocks, including 2019’s Cyclone Kenneth, the strongest cyclone to hit the northern part of Mozambique. In 2020, the region witnessed massive flooding that destroyed crops ans property.
Save the Children’s Country Director in Mozambique, Chance Briggs, spoke of the immense grief among his staff.
“Reports of attacks on children sicken us to our core. Our staff have been brought to tears when hearing the stories of suffering told by mothers in displacement camps. This violence has to stop, and displaced families need to be supported as they find their bearings and recover from the trauma.”
He added, “A major concern for us is that the needs of displaced children and their families in Cabo Delgado far outweigh the resources available to support them. Nearly a million people are facing severe hunger as a direct result of this conflict, including displaced people and host communities,” said Save the Children’s Country Director.
No quick fix
Dr Alex Vines, of Chatham House, in an analysis that first appeared in the Mail and Guardian, says that the attacks are a sign that the jihadist-linked insurgents are growing in confidence as they face demoralised Mozambican security forces who show little appetite for fighting.
Chatham’s conclusion is that there is no quick fix. However, the “Mozambican government could still contain and prevail if it seriously reforms its military, builds strong alliances with its regional neighbours (especially Tanzania), chooses its private security contractors and international partnerships wisely, and backs military efforts with better intelligence and developmental interventions that offer alternative pathways to potential recruits,” said Dr Vines.
Archbishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa
Pope Francis has constantly spoken about Cabo Delgado. He has assured the people of the province of his closeness and prayers.
On 11 February this year, the Pope transferred Brazilian-born Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa, who was Bishop of Pemba Diocese in Capo Delgado. The Bishop was transferred to the Diocese of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim in the Southeast Region of Brazil. Pope Francis also conferred on the 65-year-old Bishop the title of Archbishop.
While in Pemba, Archbishop Lisboa was an outspoken government critic and defender of the troubled region. He believed the government of Mozambique could do more to protect the people of Cabo Delgado.
Archbishop Lisboa has always attributed the conflict to the discovery of gas. Cabo Delgado is home to Africa’s largest liquid natural gas.