THERE IS GRAVE concern in the Church in Mozambique, following the recent violent attacks perpetrated by members of a new jihadist group, which, since last October has killed dozens of people; the terrorists are attacking not only Christian churches but also mosques in the province of Cabo Delgado.
Bishop Luis Fernando Lisboa of Pemba has issued an appeal, calling for “calm and serenity” among the people of this region in the north of Mozambique, which also happens to be one of the poorest in the country.
Little is known about this terrorist group which bears the same name as the Somali terror group Al Shabab, although there are apparently no links between them. “This ‘enemy’ has no face and no official spokesman,” Bishop Lisboa told Aid to the Church in Need. “We don’t know our enemy; we don’t know who we are fighting against, we don’t even know the motive behind its attacks. People speak of religious radicalism, of a conflict over natural resources, of illegal arms trafficking, political disputes, ethnic rivalries.
“But the truth is that so far nobody can confirm with any certainty whom we are dealing with,” he continued, adding that “there were no common factors among the victims of the attacks, who were from different villages and of different religions. It doesn’t appear to be a persecution of Christians specifically.”
He described the situation of extreme violence as “absolutely new to us all.” It has taken the government, the ordinary people and the security forces by surprise. In the province of Cabo Delgado many people have been detained and interrogated. “Some of them have been released again, but many others have not.” With prisons and their staffs ill-prepared, “there has been a chain reaction of human rights violations,” lamented the bishop.
In order to prevent new attacks, the government, he said, has stationed armored vehicles in several districts, and there are many soldiers and armed police stopping and searching individuals and vehicles, especially throughout the northern region of the province”.
Aggravating factors are the country’s extreme poverty and the high level of youth unemployment in, which makes young people an easy prey for the terrorists. “It is said that the young people who agree to take part in this group are promised large sums of money,” Bishop Lisboa reported.
He said: “We can see that this terrorist group wants to express its fury or its discontent; it is its way of crying out and demanding attention. The young people involved in it are not strangers to us, not foreigners or ‘terrorists’ as we are accustomed to call them. They also include young people from our own families, our own villages, our own parties, our own religious faiths.”
Bishop Lisboa continued: “We are working to calm people’s spirits and ask them to remain tranquil. We have asked people not to transmit violent images and also not to spread any more rumors about what has happened, because this only creates more panic and only succeeds in fostering an atmosphere of insecurity.
“We are praying fervently and we ask for your prayers so that these attacks may stop and that the authorities may detain and convict those behind them. We must not allow ourselves to feel trapped or paralyzed, though at the same time we still have to exercise caution.”
The country is rich in natural resources, which hold a promise for economic growth benefitting all citizens. However, the bishop said, “in recent years, following the discovery of many of these natural resources, we have been the target of a veritable invasion of people from all sorts of different places, companies and projects. Our natural resources could create employment, stability and hope for our society if they are well managed, shared and supervised. But the inequalities that have always existed can only be overcome if there is a serious and responsible sharing out of the benefits.”
The Church must also cope with poverty, maternal and infant malnutrition, premature marriages, teenage pregnancies, lack of adequate healthcare among the people, and the lack of educational opportunities. Then there is the ‘hidden’ debt run up by the previous government, which has contributed to the increase in poverty, and the lack of national reconciliation after two civil wars.
Bishop Lisboa has encouraged all the people to intensify their prayers and “not allow ourselves to be blinded by religious, ethnic or political prejudices, but instead to form ourselves into a great movement of kind sentiments, good actions, good relations, good advice and good initiatives. So that peace, which is always the fruit of justice, may return and reign again among us.”
—Monica Zorita and Maria Lozano