When Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi last month visited some of the areas in the gas-rich northern province of Cabo Delgado that have been hit by an escalating conflict, he was accosted by a man who had an urgent demand.
“We’re not asking for support,” the man said, after Nyusi pointed to humanitarian assistance being provided to the hundreds of thousands of people forced to leave their homes due to the deadly fighting between an armed group linked to ISIL (ISIS) and government forces.
“We want the war to stop.”
The war, however, has not stopped. Instead, it seems to be entering a particularly gruesome new phase, if reports of dozens of recent beheadings in Cabo Delgado’s Muidumbe district turn out to be true.
Less than two weeks ago, just as Muidumbe was getting back on its feet after its main villages were overrun in April, ISIL-linked fighters launched another assault on the district.
The attackers reportedly faced stiff resistance in some quarters from a local militia led by veterans of Mozambique’s war of independence in the 1960s-70s – but have taken revenge by conducting mass beheadings in a football stadium in Muatide village, according to Pinnacle News, an outlet based in northern Mozambique with a network of correspondents across Cabo Delgado.
Muidumbe is further inland than the locations that have mostly been affected by the surging violence, which began in October 2017 when members of a shadowy armed group, which later pledged allegiance to ISIL, attacked police stations in the key port town of Mocimboa da Praia.
It is also uncomfortably close to the town of Mueda, home to the Mozambican military’s most important base in Cabo Delgado.
Mueda itself has yet to come under attack, but nor has the military stationed there managed to retake Mocimboa da Praia, which remains out of the government’s control four months after it was seized by the fighters following fierce battles with Mozambican marines aided by South African mercenaries.
Mocimboa da Praia’s port is strategically important for liquefied natural gas projects led by Total and ExxonMobil that are being developed on a fortified peninsula a short way up the coast, close to the town of Palma.
Those gas projects should transform Mozambique’s economy and help bring Cabo Delgado – a province where development, and poverty reduction, has fallen dramatically short of that seen in the south of the country – out of poverty.