Gas drugs and dogs of war
The latest massacre took place two days ago. Emerging silently from the forest, the attackers stormed the village of Chicuaia Velha killing 12 people, women and children included, and burned 40 houses. The men used machetes and knives on their victims. Then they disappeared, long before the security forces arrived. Over the past twelve months hundreds lost their lives and thousands are now displaced in Cabo Delgado, the remote northern province of Mozambique, where a shadowy islamist insurgency has unleashed a spate of ruthless assaults and beheadings.
Cabo Delgado is not an ordinary place. It holds the world’s biggest ruby and pink sapphire deposits. And its huge offshore natural gas fields are just beginning to be exploited by a consortium of foreign companies. Security is a priority in the region. And when money and security are at stake, “Echo Papa” is always around.
Erik Prince, founder of the notorious Blackwater security company best known for the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad, where his mercenaries gunned down 17 unarmed civilians, has offered to help the Mozambique government through his Frontier Services Group (Blackwater was sold in 2010). At a price: a large cut of the taxes levied on the oil, gas, and gem mines in the area. Prince, the brother of Donald Trump’s secretary of Education, Betsy de Vos, has pledged to crush the insurgency in 90 days. It won’t be so easy.
The appearence of the al-Sunnah wa Jama’ah group is rooted in the anger and frustration of the local people. Cabo Delgado is one of the poorest regions in the country, long marginalised both politically and economically. Jobs are scarce, most of the population is illiterate and dissatisfaction with the government in Maputo runs deep.
Helicopters fly overhead as I travel around on bumpy dirt roads, crossing villages of shaky huts where peasants survive burning trees into charcoal which sells for few meticais. As I stop I am surrounded by malnourished children begging for money or food.
This is a lawless, harsh no man’s land. A faraway place ruled by smugglers, mafia rings and drug barons connected with high ranking politicians, generals and corrupted officials. A porous border region that has become a key heroin trading hub: the second largest narcotics transit point in Africa after Guinea-Bissau. Cracking this toxic network and restore peace and security will need much more than Echo Papa’s bunch of dogs of war.