MOZAMBIQUE: ‘We need to reach out to communities to get them involved in the fight for peace’


CIVICUS speaks with Simão Tila, executive director of the League of NGOs in Mozambique (JOINT), about the increase in violence in northern Mozambique, its causes and civil society’s efforts to help resolve the situation.

Founded in 2007, JOINT is a civil society organisation (CSO) that works to strengthen the role of Mozambican civil society and its participation in the country’s socio-economic development.

What are the causes of the conflict in northern Mozambique?

It’s a complicated question. However, many see the war in Cabo Delgado as stemming from accumulated resentment, people’s frustration at seeing natural wealth and land being exploited without – as yet – obvious benefits, lack of job opportunities for young people entering the labour market and popular revolt against the authorities’ excesses. These realities have been documented with some frequency and credibility, and it is no coincidence that, until recently, the presence of journalists in the province was frowned upon by the authorities.

However, these factors are hardly sufficient to explain the war, since in several other parts of the country similar conflicts happen, sometimes involving violent actions, caused by abuses of power, land occupation and forced displacement, among others. It is important not to confuse conflicts, even violent ones, with war, which would imply treating the government and terrorists in the same way.

A lot of research is underway, but there is still not much evidence of who is behind the attacks. What we do know is that it is a group with Islamic religious affiliations. It calls itself Al-Shabab and, in the attacks it carries out, it always displays writings related to Islam. So far, we don’t have precise information to talk about the nature of the attacks, who is responsible and who is behind them. But the truth is that the problem of terrorism in northern Mozambique began with the discovery of natural resources such as gas and precious stones, particularly rubies, among other minerals.

To some extent, this form of terrorism has ideological and civilisational characteristics, because the terrorist methods and the motivations of its protagonists are based on sectarian religious convictions inspired by groups in the Sahel. This means that, in the event of peace, other religious faiths are allowed – as long as they subordinate themselves, pay a fee and their followers don’t behave in public in a way considered un-Islamic. However, in the event of war, it is permitted to kill captives by beheading or otherwise, enslave them and use women for sexual purposes, among other practices.

The war is taking place in an environment where there is resentment at the predatory actions of businesspeople and members of the government. It has evolved from one-off conflicts since 2007 to violent actions since 2017 and, since late 2019, to an apparent war against the state and the population characterised by killings by beheading of civilians and soldiers and the destruction of state infrastructure.

How are people being affected and what assistance do they need?

The people most affected are those who live in neighbourhoods and districts that are attacked and are displaced, forced to move from one place to another. They lose their belongings and their homes, as most of them are burnt down. They flee in a hurry and are unable to recover anything. As well as losing family members, they are sometimes captured by terrorists and brutally murdered. Those who survive end up in reception centres and are then resettled in safe but deplorable conditions.

These families experience various needs, the most obvious being food and a safe place where they can rebuild their homes and restart their lives. And this is always difficult, because before being attacked and abandoning their homes, many of these displaced and resettled families lived mainly from agriculture. And in the places where they are being resettled the conditions are not always adequate for them to continue farming. It is therefore necessary to invest in other activities to allow them to continue their lives and generate income. This can include starting a business, setting up savings clubs, accessing short vocational courses and providing tools, seeds and materials for agricultural activities.

How is civil society working to respond to this situation?

Civil society has allied itself with the group that is part of the Humanitarian Country Team and has developed range of activities to support displaced people. In recent times, the concept and approach of ‘localisation’ has emerged, which involves developing and strengthening national organisations with tools and capacities so they can lead processes in emergencies and humanitarian crises. This is something that deserves praise, particularly for the United Nations agencies and other partners who are leading this localisation process to empower local organisations and provide them with the necessary tools so they can themselves intervene. We are living in a context of reduced funding, which makes it even more crucial for local organisations to take the lead.

In addition, Mozambican authorities receive international support to help victims, as well as for the efforts of the Disaster Management Institute, and to deal with the problems of communities arising from terrorism in the north. It is also important to highlight the positive role of international organisations, which provide a significant contribution to improving livelihoods and developing other capacities to enable communities to continue their lives as normal.

What are the biggest obstacles to peace in the region?

We have faced access problems due to the lack of ease of movement. Whenever we try to access these sites, we must consider security issues. Although we have teams dedicated to security, it’s not always safe to work there, as attacks can occur at any time. In addition, the number of displaced people increases with each attack, resulting in a growing need for support. However, we often don’t have the necessary resources to deal with the situation.

In addition, Mozambique is facing climatic events that are affecting various regions. This results in a dispersion of resources, with the need to cater both for those affected by natural disasters and those who are fleeing the war and seeking refuge.

There are cyclones accompanied by rain that end up resulting in flooding in some regions, particularly in low-lying areas with high groundwater levels, causing the destruction of crops and creating pockets of hunger in various parts of the country. These situations require support to deal with the destruction of homes, the evacuation of people from flooded areas and the subsequent provision of temporary shelter. Generally, accommodation centres for these people are set up in schools, which also means the school term must be interrupted because people are now living in these facilities. These climatic events also cause soil erosion problems.

I would therefore like to call on the international community, particularly cooperation partners, to invest significantly in localisation efforts. This means strengthening institutions and CSOs in Mozambique to provide them with the necessary resources and tools. It is crucial for these CSOs to work closely with international emergency and humanitarian aid agencies to share knowledge and experience on the ground.

What space does Mozambican civil society have, what constraints does it face and what international support does it need?

Mozambican civil society plays crucial roles. Even in the face of war, it has dedicated itself to promoting peace and to efforts aimed at reconciliation and making a significant contribution to ending the conflict. However, to continue this work it needs more support and spaces for intervention, as well as the opening up of the state and recognition of the role civil society plays. Civil society needs to be recognised so it doesn’t remain passive in its relations with the authorities. It needs to reach out to communities, raise awareness and bring about a change in mentality so they too become involved in the fight for peace, particularly in the areas affected by conflict. This requires resources and recognition. In addition, it is essential to provide the necessary means for civil society to carry out its work effectively.

Further, it is important to establish processes to exchange experiences with civil society in other countries facing similar challenges so we can better learn from the experiences of others and find more effective solutions adapted to our reality and context.

Civic space in Mozambique is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Get in touch with JOINT through its website.



25  Owl Street, 6th Floor
South Africa,
Tel: +27 (0)11 833 5959
Fax: +27 (0)11 833 7997

CIVICUS, c/o We Work
450 Lexington Ave
New York
NY 10017
United States

11 Avenue de la Paix
Tel: +41.79.910.34.28