The coordinator of Helpo in Mozambique told Lusa that the situation in the north of the country is “out of control,” despite the government’s efforts to restore calm and the concern of regional partners.
“This situation began on October 5, 2017, with the attack on Moçímboa da Praia, but since the end of the first half of last year, the number of displaced people began to increase exponentially,” said Carlos Almeida.
The head of the NGO was speaking at the end of the presentation of an exhibition of photographs taken by him in Cabo Delgado, presented in Lisbon on Monday.
“The issue of young people taken out of the country is proven. They then returned from abroad with foreigners and started to create sects and create a problem that is now out of control,” said Carlos Almeida.
The head of Helpo explained that before the initial attacks “there was already information that there were young people being recruited to Saudi Arabia for scholarships, but when they came back they had studied nothing were radicalised by reading the Koran”.
The NGO coordinator said that “these sects have very little to do with religion, because a large part of the people suffering are Muslim, it is pure banditry in a so-called Muslim ideology, there is nothing religious about it,” pointing out that “there were already small signs prior to 2017 that something was not right.”
Asked whether he considers that the radicalisation of these young people was due to a lack of investment in Cabo Delgado province, Carlos Almeida preferred not to make political comments, but said that “there are very few secondary schools”.
“When in 2019 cyclone Kenneth entered Cabo Delgado, people were already in great difficulties and children were finding it difficult to continue their studies, hence Helpo has scholarships that guarantee a year of studies for only 40 euros,” he recalled.
In this northern province of Mozambique, where there are major natural gas exploration projects that could exponentially develop the country’s economy, “30% of the people are living outside their villages, from where they fled because they feared for their lives,” he stressed.
In relation to the commitment of the authorities on the ground to guarantee the safety of the population, Almeida replied: “The government is committed, the defence and security forces are working hard to control the areas outside their control, a firm response was given in Palma, a few days later the authorities were controlling the town”.
“The Southern African Development Community [SADC] is concerned, South Africa and Tanzania are very concerned, and Portugal has played a fundamental role together with the European Union, because this is not a problem of Mozambique, it is regional and global, if the movement takes roots it may bring other more serious problems”, he concluded.
The exhibition “The beginning, the middle and the rest – Eyes on the eyes with the displaced of Cabo Delgado” is on show at the headquarters of the Portuguese Medical Association in Lisbon.
Helpo is an organisation created in 2008, which has the support of Portugal’s Camões cooperation institute. In 2019, because of the crisis resulting from the passage of cyclones Idai and Kenneth, Helpo’s intervention in Mozambique intensified in the districts of Pemba, Ancuabe, Mecufi, Metuge, Montepuez and Mocímboa da Praia, all in Cabo Delgado.
Armed groups have terrorised Cabo Delgado since 2017, with some attacks claimed by the ‘jihadist’ group Islamic State, in a wave of violence that has led to more than 2,500 deaths, according to the ACLED conflict registration project, and 714,000 displaced people, according to the Mozambican government.
The most recent attack occurred on March 24 against the town of Palma, causing dozens of deaths and injuries, in a still ongoing assessment.
The Mozambican authorities regained control of the town, but the attack led oil company Total to abandon indefinitely the site of the gas project scheduled to start production in 2024 and on which many of Mozambique’s economic growth expectations for the next decade are anchored.