Women religious fear jihadists will take control of province in Mozambique
THE WEEKEND of June 27 & 28, 2020, heavily armed insurgents thought to belong to the Islamist Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah group (ASWJ), once again attacked the port town of Mocímboa da Praia, in the far north of Mozambique. The assault caused widespread panic, forcing many people to flee the town.
Sister Graça António Guitate, (Sister Grace) of the Congregation of the Daughters of the Immaculate heart of Mary, based further south in the provincial capital of Pemba, reported to Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that “the attack began on Saturday around 5AM” and that the battle between the terrorists, claiming to be affiliated to ISIS, and Mozambican military lasted “until midday,” claiming many casualties. “We have not heard reports of much damage to the infrastructure, but we hear that many Mozambican soldiers were killed,” she said.
Mocímboa da Praia is about 60 miles south of Afungi, where installations are being built to process Mozambique’s enormous offshore gas reserves. According to the South African online news site the Daily Maverick, the latest attack was the fourth such attack on the town and will undoubtedly further unnerve the foreign energy companies developing the gas fields.
In her messages to ACN, Sister Grace described an “atmosphere of humanitarian chaos” in the Pemba region, where thousands of people had already fled as a result on jihadist attacks some weeks ago. “There are many people fleeing. At the moment we don’t know how many altogether, but there are children, women and men, many people. The government is also helping and we, too, as a diocese are helping these people. Two weeks ago our bishop, Bishop Luiz Lisboa, was in Metuge and delivered some facemasks. The diocese is helping, via Caritas, to provide food, and we are looking to see if we can also provide some moral support, since these are people who not only need to eat; they also have to have some spiritual accompaniment. Some of them have seen their parents, their brothers beheaded,” said Sister Grace.
Another member of her congregation, Sister Joaquina Tarse, also sent a message to ACN, underlining the “alarming situation” in the north of Mozambique and expressing her fear that these armed groups might succeed in taking control of the entire province of Cabo Delgado. “At first,” she told ACN, speaking of the earliest attacks, “it seemed that they were only interested in the northern part of the province, but today it is clear that they want to seize control of the entire province, because they are already extending their activities to the south of Cabo Delgado.” Sister Joaquina reported that “when the jihadists come across ordinary people, they tell them, ‘if you want to escape, run as far as you can, to the province of Nampula or another province.’ So they are planning to conquer the whole of Cabo Delgado.”
ACN, responding to the appeal for help from Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa of Pemba, will provide basic support to sustain the life and ministry of four congregations of women religious, as well as aid in the form of Mass stipends for the priests of the Diocese of Pemba. Bishop Lisboa estimates that “more than 1,100 people have been brutally murdered, hundreds have disappeared and more than 200,000 people have been forced to abandon their homes and seek refuge in other parts of the province or, ultimately, in neighboring provinces. Dozens of small towns and villages are now completely abandoned.” In his appeal for aid he said that “the people are no longer cultivating their fields, and this has resulted in a great deal of hunger.”
The violence in Cabo Delgado was also one of the main topics of discussion at the meeting of the Mozambique bishops’ conference, held June 9-13 this year. In a letter addressed to the people of the province, the bishops denounced “the atrocities being committed in the province” and expressed their sadness at the sight of people “walking long distances seeking refuge, without food, without any means of subsistence, with just the clothes on their back and their hearts full of bitterness.”
At the same time, the bishops gave thanks for the spirit of solidarity of those who have welcomed the refugees, because there are “families who have welcomed up to 20 or 30 individuals, sharing with them the little food they have in reserve, in a clear demonstration of the greatness of heart of the people.”
—Maria Lozano & Paula Aido