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Dialogue as a conflict transformation tool in Cabo Delgado

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By Craig Moffat

In February 2022, the Peacemaking Advisory Group (PAG)1 undertook a mission to Mozambique to engage various state and non-state actors. The objective of the mission was to gauge the willingness for the commencement of a dialogue process as a conflict transformation tool to address the insecurity in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado.

The PAG seeks to create a safe and non-partisan platform for the promotion of dialogue and consultation between critical stakeholders while also pursuing measures to de-escalate intercommunal tensions and unlock the province’s development potential.

The PAG is a politically neutral regional initiative harnessing the experience and expertise of its members to support peace and development processes in the region.

Since October 2017, Cabo Delgado has seen sustained armed conflict, fought between an insurgent group known as Al-Shabaab and the government of Mozambique, with support from regional and international allies. The insurgent group is known by several names, including Ahlu Sunnah wal-Jamaah (ASWJ), Ansar al-Sunnah, ISIS – Mozambique and al- Shabaab (though it has no direct connection to al-Shabaab in East Africa) or more locally known as Machababos.

The conflict has led to an estimated 4,600 fatalities, with approximately 1,200,000 (1.2 million) civilians internally displaced, about half of whom are children.

The conflict has been characterised by gross human rights violations against civilians and has caused significant damage to infrastructure, disrupted critical service delivery, and negatively impacted economic activity.

Early responses to the conflict were exclusively military in nature, and these operations continue to be the dominant policy response by the government of Mozambique, with support from regional and international partners.

Initially, this included the deployment of the Mozambican Armed Forces (FADM), and the Mozambican Police Service’s Rapid Reaction Force (FIR), as well as the use of a series of private military companies. In early July 2021, a contingent of the Rwandan Defence Force (RDF) and Rwandan National Police (RNP) was deployed to the region.

On July 15, 2021, following approval by an Extraordinary Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit of Heads of State and Government, the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) was deployed to Cabo Delgado.

In addition, the European Union (EU) continues to provide training to Mozambican commandos and marines, under the European Union Training Mission (EUTM) while the United States (US) has increased the number of annual Joint Combined Exchange and Training (JCET) programmes between US Special Operations Forces and Mozambican Special Forces to a biannual basis since 2021.

Since 2020, there have been increased efforts to address the northern region’s developmental deficits, which are widely acknowledged as drivers of the conflict, as well as efforts to provide humanitarian and reconstruction support to the region.

In March 2020, the government of Mozambique established the Integrated Development Agency of the North (ADIN), mandated to work across departments to promote and coordinate the implementation of policies and programmes aimed at reducing poverty and promoting sustainable economic growth in the three northern provinces of Cabo Delgado, Niassa and Nampula.

In August 2021, at the request of its international co-operation partners, the government developed the Cabo Delgado Reconstruction Plan (PRCD), outlining plans for providing humanitarian assistance and promoting long-term economic recovery. The PRCD requires an estimated budget of US$300 million, of which so far US$100 million has been secured.

There are several local and international civil society organisations currently implementing programmes aimed to address recruitment and radicalisation into violent extremism in Cabo Delgado.

These programmes include educational and vocational training for vulnerable youth, platforms to promote inter-religious dialogue and social cohesion, as well as strategic communications initiatives to build trust between communities and local government.

Stakeholders from across government, the security sector, civil society, and the religious community all recognise that military interventions alone will not create sustainable peace in Cabo Delgado and dialogue to transform the conflict is urgently needed. However, to date, there has not been a dialogue process that seeks to bring together the government, insurgent groups, and other critical stakeholders.

The PAG’s most recent mission to Mozambique resulted in a series of stakeholder consultations in Maputo and Pemba. These stakeholder consultations allowed for a better understanding of the current state of the conflict, potential efforts to address the conflict and opportunities for dialogue as a conflict transformation tool in the Cabo Delgado context. The following are preliminary key findings from the mission.

The key findings are as follows:

  • A readiness for peace dialogue across all sectors of society, both state and non-state.
  • Several local community-led initiatives seek to address conflict and insecurity in Cabo Delgado. These have been primarily focused on reducing intercommunal tensions and strengthening social cohesion in specific regions of Cabo Delgado.
  • Currently, there is no initiative seeking to bring the government and the insurgent group into a facilitated dialogue process, or a coordinating platform able to perform multilevel engagement with all parties on a continued and non-partisan basis.
  • Stakeholders expressed a significant trust deficit as a barrier to dialogue and peace.
  • Stakeholders overwhelmingly expressed the value which a regionally anchored and non-aligned peace platform would provide to promoting peace at this moment in the conflict trajectory.
  • There was an openness from both the provincial government and SAMIM for the PAG to meaningfully contribute to the process of strengthening the response measures to the challenges facing Cabo Delgado.
  • Engagements with representatives from the international community saw the unique added value the PAG initiative could provide to both national and regional peace efforts.

Way forward

After five years of insecurity, there is a deep sense of conflict fatigue in Cabo Delgado. There is also a clear understanding among the stakeholders that military interventions in isolation will not end the conflict, will not bring sustainable peace, and will not unlock the province’s vast development potential. Examples from the continent demonstrate that violent extremism cannot be defeated by military interventions alone.

Based on the PAG’s multisector stakeholder consultations, work will continue towards establishing and operationalising a peace indaba to facilitate dialogue for conflict transformation in Cabo Delgado.

To this end, the next phase of the programme of activities of the PAG will include the following:

  • Engaging key stakeholders in the eastern and southern African region.
  • Engaging the Mozambican government at national, provincial, and local levels.
  • Engaging non-state stakeholders at national, provincial, and local levels.
  • Begin to address the trust deficit in Cabo Delgado through the creation of a safe and non-partisan platform for discussion and consultation between critical stakeholders.
  • Deepen research and understanding of conflict dynamics.
  • Develop a set of context-specific policy frameworks, on critical issues relating to the transformation of the conflict, such as amnesty, reintegration, reconciliation, and inclusive economic policy reform.

Dr Craig Moffat is a member of the Peacemaking Advisory Group Secretariat based at Good Governance Africa and a visiting senior research fellow at the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.