This from WSWS today. Just a minor chapter in the ongoing story of imperialism in the twenty-first century. Iraq, Libya, Syria? Nothing to do with oil! Smearing a left-leaning Evo Morales as a ‘statutory rapist’? Nothing to do with Bolivia holding the planet’s second largest lithium deposits! Provocations in the Russophile east of Ukraine? Nothing to do with encircling Russia!
Defending a corrupt Mozambique government from ‘Islamist’ rebels? Nothing to do with the country holding vast reserves of liquified natural gas in its northern, predominantly Muslim region, nor with the African arm of China’s One Belt One Road!
Amid escalating armed conflict in Mozambique the Pentagon has sent US Special Ops troops in. Their deployment, described as “trainers” and “advisers,” and justified in the name of the endless “war on terrorism,” provides fresh confirmation of the Biden administration’s global escalation of US militarism, including on the continent of Africa.
Announced in the middle of last month, the US deployment comes amid sharp escalation in the civil war in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado, where the government is confronting an insurgency among that region’s predominantly Muslim population.
The latest fighting centers on the town of Palma, a hub for the exploitation of natural gas fields seized by the rebels at the end of last month, sending 11,000 people fleeing to the port city of Pemba on the Indian Ocean. The UN says some 670,000 have been displaced since fighting began in the region in 2017.
Commander Chongo Vidigal, chief of government forces sent to retake Palma told the media on Sunday the area was now “safe” but an earlier attempt to bring reporters to the scene was aborted after the helicopter flying them to the town came under fire.
The main objective of the military operation was to secure the site of a $60 billion natural gas project initiated by the French energy giant Total, which has demanded a 15-mile secure perimeter as a condition for its continued presence. Having resumed operations only on March 24 after shutting down its facilities following an earlier rebel offensive at the beginning of the year, Total has shut down again, pulling all employees out of the region. In addition to the French-based energy transnational, Italy’s ENI and US-based ExxonMobil also have interests in Mozambique’s natural gas reserves, believed to be among the largest on the planet.
Days before dispatch of the special forces troops, on March 11, Washington designated “ISIS-Mozambique” a “Foreign Terrorist Organization,” paving the way for US military intervention. The US Embassy in Maputo said Washington “is committed to supporting Mozambique with a multifaceted and holistic approach to counter and prevent the spread of terrorism and violent extremism.”
The “ISIS-Mozambique” label is an invention of the US State Department. Locally, the insurgents are known as al-Shabab, Arabic for “the youth,” and have no connection to the Islamist insurgent group based in Somalia that goes by the same name. While Islamic State has issued videos falsely claiming responsibility for the Mozambican insurgency’s attacks, there is no evidence of operational links between ISIS and the rebellion in northern Mozambique, much less of it posing any threat of international terrorism.
The government of President Filipe Nyusi in Maputo, Mozambique’s southern capital, has pushed the “terrorist” label, and Washington has eagerly embraced it. The aim is to cover up the complex political and social roots of the conflict and to justify a counterinsurgency campaign aimed at defending the interests of a ruling national oligarchy, transnational energy corporations and global finance capital.
The roots of the insurgency lie in the stark inequality of Mozambique, where, according to figures released before the COVID-19 pandemic, more than half of the population live in absolute poverty. Wealth is monopolized by an elite dominated by the ruling FRELIMO (Front for the Liberation of Mozambique) party and its cohorts, concentrated in Maputo.
Cabo Delgado, one of the country’s least developed areas, has seen wealth extracted through natural gas projects as well as ruby mining. Virtually none of it has benefited the impoverished masses. Muslims, a minority in Mozambique, constitute more than half of the province’s population. Political domination of the province, however, has been monopolized by the predominantly Catholic Makonde ethnic group, of which President Nyusi is a member.
The immediate spark for the armed conflict came in 2017, after the government sought to suppress a layer of Muslim youth, some of them educated in Saudi Arabia, who had sought to introduce a stricter form of Islam and challenged older Muslim clerics with ties to the FRELIMO regime.
FRELIMO, once one of the most radical African nationalist movements, came to power in 1975 after a 10-year armed struggle against Portuguese colonialism. Independence came after the overthrow of Portugal’s Salazar dictatorship in 1974, but was followed by 15 years of bloody civil war in which apartheid South Africa, the white minority regime in Rhodesia and the CIA backed a counterrevolutionary movement known as RENAMO (Mozambique National Resistance) in a bloody conflict that would claim a million lives.
That today’s FRELIMO regime of President Nyusi is calling on the very forces it fought against in the independence struggle to assist it in suppressing an insurgency speaks volumes on the incapacity of bourgeois nationalist movements to realize the aspirations of the African masses for freedom and social justice. As in South Africa, Zimbabwe and elsewhere on the African continent, Mozambique’s former “freedom fighters” and self-styled Marxists have turned into a gang of corrupt millionaire politicians and comprador capitalists.
In addition to the US Special forces deployed in Mozambique, Portugal, the old colonial master, has announced that it is sending at least 60 special forces “trainers.”
The Mozambican security forces also rely heavily on a South Africa-based mercenaries, the Dyck Advisory Group (or DAG), commanded by Lionel Dyck, former colonel in the Rhodesian army. The DAG has been charged by Amnesty International with crimes against humanity, including dropping so-called barrel bombs on population centers, firing machine guns from helicopters into crowds and attacking schools and hospitals.
While US troops are in Mozambique on the pretext of fighting “terrorism,” the Pentagon is acting underguidelines set by the National Security Strategy initiated by Trump at start of 2018, which stressed that “Great power competition—not terrorism—is now the primary focus of US national security.”
Africa is a key battleground in the “great power competition” between the US and China, now escalating under the Biden administration. China has surpassed the US as the continent’s top trading partner and lender, while engaging in widespread infrastructure projects under its “Belt and Road” initiative. Washington fears being locked out of a strategically important market and source of raw materials and seeks to compensate, as elsewhere, with military intervention, with the peoples of Africa suffering the consequences.