Revelations of Apparent Military Abuses Could Inflame Mozambique’s Insurgency


Editor’s Note: Every Friday, Andrew Green curates the top news and analysis from and about the African continent.

Human rights groups are demanding an independent investigation into apparent military abuses in Mozambique, after videos circulated recently showing men in state military uniforms executing a civilian and torturing suspected members of an Islamist militia in the country’s restive province of Cabo Delgado. There are fears that the images could stoke local grievances and generate support for the militants. Officials from Mozambique’s government have accused the militia of shooting the footage to undermine the military in Cabo Delgado.

Fighting between the Islamist insurgents, known locally as al-Shabab, and the military began nearly three years ago and has killed more than 1,500 people, displacing hundreds of thousands more. It has also disrupted foreign-backed projects to tap natural gas deposits in an impoverished region whose residents largely lack access to health and education services. The insurgency appears to be an outgrowth of those socioeconomic grievances, as Hilary Matfess and Alexander Noyes explained in a June WPR briefing.

Fighting has accelerated since June 2019, when the militants pledged allegiance to the local faction of the Islamic State, as the government has reportedly called in foreign mercenaries from Russia and South Africa for support. The militants have still managed to regularly overrun towns and villages, including seizing areas of the key port city, Mocimboa da Praia, in March and again in August this year.

The videos that have emerged in recent weeks appear to show soldiers torturing suspected militants captured after the government reclaimed Mocimboa da Praia in March and dumping their bodies in a mass grave. In a newer video, apparently filmed earlier this month outside the town of Awasse, men in military uniforms beat a naked woman they accuse of belonging to al-Shabab, before shooting her 36 times. State security forces have previously been credibly accused of human rights abuses during their counterinsurgency operations, as Matfess and Noyes detailed. Analysts are warning the videos could deepen local mistrust of the military and further destabilize the region.

Amnesty International, which has verified the footage, is demanding an independent investigation and calling for any soldiers accused of committing human rights abuses to be put on trial. Defense Minister Jaime Neto has promised to investigate, but denied any military involvement, citing the insurgents’ practice of disguising themselves in military uniforms during attacks.

Keep up to date on Africa news with our daily curated Africa news wire.

Here’s a rundown of news from elsewhere on the continent:

West Africa

Mali: Former President Moussa Traore, who seized power in a 1968 military coup, died Tuesday at the age of 83. After overthrowing the country’s first post-independence president, Modibo Keita, Traore and other officers abolished the constitution and established a military council. A ruthless leader, he declared himself a civilian president in 1979 and ran as the sole candidate in 1985 elections. He was ousted in a coup six years later. He was sentenced to death after being convicted of overseeing the killings of more than 100 protesters participating in the demonstrations that precipitated his downfall, but received a pardon in 2002. He had settled into an elder statesman role and even consulted with members of the current ruling military junta that seized power in an August coup. “I tell them the mistakes made and what to avoid and I hope, I hope they understood,” he said in a recent interview.

Meanwhile, the junta and West African leaders are still grappling over the terms of a civilian transitional government. Both sides appear to agree on the junta’s proposed 18-month timeframe to organize elections, but disagree over who will run the country in the interim. WPR contributor Alex Thurston discussed the current outlook in Mali on this week’s Trend Lines podcast.

Mali’s coup leaders during a meeting with ECOWAS.
Mali’s coup leaders during a meeting with a high-level delegation from ECOWAS, in Bamako, Mali, Aug. 22, 2020 (AP photo).

Southern Africa

Mauritius: Outraged by the government’s response to an offshore oil spill in August, and suspicious of the effectiveness of ongoing clean-up efforts, tens of thousands of protesters gathered Saturday in Mahebourg, one of the most-affected port cities, demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Pravind Jugnauth’s government. They are also calling for an independent probe into why 1,000 tons of fuel oil were allowed to leak into the waters off Mauritius weeks after the Japanese ship veered off course and struck a coral reef in late July. The implications of the disaster are still emerging, with dozens of dead dolphins discovered in recent weeks near the spill site. We covered the immediate political fallout in August.

North Africa

Libya: Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, who heads the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli, known as the Government of National Accord, has announced plans to step down by the end of October. Appointed to the position in 2015, al-Sarraj is facing growing divisions within his government and mounting civilian protests over deteriorating living conditions. The GNA has taken the upper hand in the conflict with breakaway militia leader Khalifa Haftar. In his resignation announcement, al-Sarraj said U.N.-brokered talks have prepared the country for parliamentary and presidential elections, easing his transition from office. But what was already a complicated proxy war is at risk of expanding again as Egypt threatens to come to Haftar’s aid. That could result in direct clashes between Turkish soldiers backing the GNA and Egyptian troops. Libya’s conflict would be at risk of turning into “Africa’s first full-on intracontinental war in decades,” as Candace Rondeaux warned in a July column.

East Africa

Kenya: The U.S. military’s Africa Command is seeking permission to carry out armed drone strikes in eastern Kenya to target al-Shabab extremists. The al-Qaida-linked Islamist group is based in Somalia, but conducts occasional attacks in neighboring Kenya. U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper and President Donald Trump must approve the new authorities, which would allow for drone strikes in defense of American and partnered Kenyan forces or for offensive strikes to preempt an attack. The proposal comes eight months after al-Shabab overran the Manda Bay Airfield near Kenya’s border with Somalia, killing one U.S. soldier and two American contractors.

Ethiopia: The regional ruling party won a decisive victory in last week’s elections in the northern Tigray region, which officials held in defiance of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front took all 152 contested seats in the regional legislature, with 38 positions still to be allocated following negotiations between the region’s political parties. Ethiopia’s general elections were scheduled for August, but the government postponed the vote because of the coronavirus pandemic. Facing a direct challenge to his authority, Abiy has not yet indicated how he will respond to the vote, aside from ruling out military intervention. The outcome is still something of a victory for Abiy, though, as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front—which until last year was part of Ethiopia’s long-ruling coalition—defeated a party calling for Tigray to split from Ethiopia entirely.

Uganda and Tanzania: The leaders of the two countries signed a deal Sunday to construct East Africa’s first major oil pipeline. The 900-mile heated pipeline will connect Uganda’s western oilfields to Tanzania’s port of Tanga. Construction on the $3.5 billion project, which is being led by the French oil giant, Total, is expected to begin in 2021. Rights groups have warned that the planned construction could force more than 12,000 families from their land and do significant damage to several natural ecosystems it is designed to pass through.

Central Africa

Rwanda: Paul Rusesabagina, the former hotel manager credited with saving more than 1,200 lives during the country’s 1994 genocide, was charged with terrorism, complicity in murder and forming an armed rebel group by a Kigali court this week. His bail request was rejected and he will remain in detention for 30 days. He declined to respond to the charges, saying he had already denied the accusations. Rusesabagina, whose story was the basis for the film “Hotel Rwanda,” was extradited under mysterious circumstances from Dubai to Rwanda last month. Already viewed as an antagonist by the government for undermining an official narrative that casts President Paul Kagame as the sole hero of the genocide, Rusesabagina’s persistent criticisms of Kagame and apparent calls for violence have further enraged his administration, as Sophie Neiman explained in a WPR briefing this week.

Top Reads From Around the Web

How South African Activists Hope to Integrate Cities Built to Divide: When apartheid ended, South Africa’s new government sidestepped the challenge of integrating cities where living quarters had been strictly divided by race, with Black, Asian and mixed-race citizens forced to the periphery or crowded out entirely. The government has built new, affordable housing for low-income citizens, but it is often constructed on the edges of cities and towns, leaving residents without easy access to jobs and creating a new kind of segregation. That could be changing, as Ryan Lenora Brown reports for The Christian Science Monitor. A Cape Town court has sided with activists challenging the city’s plans to sell property near its central business district, ruling last month that the land must instead be used for subsidized housing.

Spread of City-Loving Malaria Mosquitoes Could Pose Grave Threat to Africa: If an Asian mosquito that has adapted to urban life continues its incursion into African cities, more than 100 million additional people on the continent could be at risk of regular bouts of malaria, Mohammed El-Said writes for Science. Where most mosquito species in Africa exist primarily in rural settings, Anopheles stephensi could introduce the threat of malaria to cities that have traditionally been free of the disease. The species has already been detected in Djibouti, Sudan and Egypt. Unless surveillance and prevention efforts accelerate, the scientists behind the new research are warning of “a very real possibility of mass outbreaks.”

Andrew Green is a freelance journalist based in Berlin. He writes regularly about health and human rights issues. You can view more of his work at



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