In Mozambique, fear of new terrorist attacks causes ‘total panic’

“THERE IS A GENERALIZED PANIC” AMONG THE POPULATION, and fear of new attacks by terrorist groups, even in Pemba, the capital city of the province of Cabo Delgado. That is the assessment of Father Kwiriwi Fonseca, a member of the communications team for the Diocese of Pemba. He spoke with Aid to the Church in Need (ACN). Father Fonseca said: “Whenever they hear the sound of a gunshot or shooting of any kind in the army training camps, people immediately start to panic and come running out of their homes. The government, the NGOs and the Church are going to have to start talking intensively and constantly about peace and security, because there really is a great deal of fear.”

This is the reality, even in the streets of Pemba, the main bastion of the government security forces in the entire region. The fear that Father Fonseca is talking about is fed by rumors: “People have to learn that in a situation of war such as we are facing, they have to avoid passing on news if they are not absolutely sure about it. They must stop spreading false news and avoid falling victim to rumors.”

But the worst thing is when the news of attacks is true, as was the case April 22. Nearly a month after the attack on Palma, further north, the town at the center of the megaproject for the exploitation of offshore natural gas, was once again the scene of serious incidents. Said Father Kwiriw: “Ever since the first attack—the most violent one March 24—news has been arriving in fragmentary fashion, but April 22 four people were murdered, and others were abducted. The government still hasn’t shown its face, even though several people have confirmed that, yes, there have indeed been attacks.”

Displaced people in Caob Delgado, Mozambique (Johan Viljoen)

Life has changed in this northern region of Mozambique due to this undeclared war by armed groups claiming to belong to ISIS. It is a war which, since October 2017, has claimed more 2,500 lives and displaced more than 750,000 people. The Church is doing its best to support the people who have been forced to flee and who are now totally dependent on outside support and solidarity. “We have to adapt to this new reality,” the priest said. “Our life has changed. [Being a priest] is a like being one of the emergency services. It’s a matter of being on call 24 hours a day. We are putting our hearts and souls into this struggle, because at the end of the day we can at least say that we are still alive.”

“On a daily basis, we strive not only to be priests, but also activists, psychologists, spiritual directors, first aiders, suppliers and distributors of foodstuffs, Caritas volunteers and diocesan volunteers.”

The Mozambican priest continued: “No one was ready for this; it’s a situation that caught us completely unprepared, a situation that has left us deeply moved, because nobody is ever prepared for war, or for COVID-19, or for this terrible misfortune. We are still in a state of shock”.

Father Kwiriwi Fonseca is just one of the many faces of the Church in Cabo Delgado, one of the many trying to care for the wounded, help the desperate population, search for the missing and reunite families. When he is asked what the most important needs are, he responds, “here, we lack everything; but above all, pray for us!”.

Right from the start of the crisis, Father Kwiriwi has been working together with ACN in its efforts to help the Diocese of Pemba and the entire Church in Mozambique. “We want to thank ACN for its support and accompaniment in our lives ever since the first moments of the crisis. We are deeply grateful to the charity for its efforts to always be close to us. Today we know just how much you love us and care for our people. May God bless you, and your mission!”

—Paulo Aido