Mozambique humanitarian crisis reaches new heights as government looks to foreign assistance

Mozambique faces a monumental humanitarian and security crisis that has forced the government to accept international assistance, including from the United States.

Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado region has faced security threats since 2017, though recently “ISIS-affiliated terrorists” have increased attacks on civilians and destroyed infrastructure and fighting between extremists and the government has intensified.

According to the United States State Department, 700,000 people are displaced; 28,000 people are  newly displaced following terrorist attacks in Palma, a town in the region.

This has led to a food crisis: nearly 1 million people in northern Mozambique face ‘severe hunger,’ according to a World Food Program (WFP) estimate cited in a UN article.

The U.S. on Thursday announced it would provide $700,000 to support the work of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Mozambique in addition to the $82 million in total humanitarian assistance provided to the country in FY2020.

The State Department in a statement added that the U.S. was working with the Mozambican government, international and civil society organizations, and the private sector to increase humanitarian assistance.

But prior to the U.S. announcement, policy experts had pointed out the Mozambican government’s reluctance to accept foreign assistance and had argued that its response to the “ISIS-linked insurgency” and resulting food crisis had “expos[ed] the profound weakness of the state.”

“The Maputo government has, for much of the insurgency, routinely declined international help,” John Campbell, Ralph Bunche Senior Fellow for Africa Policy Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a CFR blog post in April, citing an article in the Irish Times. “But with the jihadi group Ansar al Sunna (ASWJ) increasing in strength, international assistance is now being accepted with greater regularity.”

Michelle Gavin, Senior Fellow for African Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, in a different CFR blog post in September argued that the Mozambican government’s failures to address international criminal activity and state corruption, and the “grotesque abuses” committed by members of the Mozambican security forces had further inhibited its ability to respond to the growing insurgency.

She noted that the government had increasingly turned to “foreign mercenaries” for security assistance. “The state simply doesn’t have the capacity to provide basic security within its borders.”

The Biden administration had earlier sent special forces to Mozambique to support counterinsurgency training, which according to a State Department statement, is part of a broader approach to countering terrorism and violent extremism in the country. In addition to security assistance, the U.S. strategy includes socio-economic development and community resilience programs.

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