The Platform

Cullen J. Tiernan

“If some of the realms are the cause or source of harm and pain, how can we not seek to find remedies within these spaces.” – Dr. Azza Karam, Secretary-General of Religions for Peace

Religion is a way of life for most people. People seek guidance and strength from it. But faith can also act as a destructive force. This combined with a lack of jobs and social mobility and you have a recipe for disaster. This potent cocktail has driven horrifying levels of violence in northern Mozambique. University graduates studying abroad returned home to northern Mozambique and found nothing in the way of jobs or social mobility. Their frustrations led to a separatist movement that demands jobs and more say over resource extraction.

A Maoist-inspired insurgency is underway as a consequence of domestic politics, disagreements over different visions of Islam, lack of employment, and international conglomerates squeezing the local population from their ancestral lands. In 2010, the discovery of natural gas in the north of Mozambique started to support significant investment in extraction and processing infrastructure. Since 2017, several attacks by insurgent groups have taken place, mainly in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. The number of internally displaced persons has grown to over 700,000 people. District government infrastructures and numerous churches and places of worship have been demolished. The insurgents are trying to win the local population’s support by freeing prisoners from jail and handing out money looted from banks. They are openly calling for people to join their cause. Since the violence is perpetrated by Muslim youth and the villages attacked have been Muslim settlements, one cannot downplay the Islamic element of the crisis.

Indeed, an extremist influence led to an insurgency group called Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo (ASWJ) in Mozambique. Its primary sponsor was Sheikh Aboud Rogo, a Kenyan Muslim cleric, who the United States and the United Nations sanctioned in 2012 for supporting al-Shabaab. Following Rogo’s death, several of his followers moved to northern Mozambique.

James Blake from the Council on Foreign Relations writes: “Northern Mozambique has long suffered from high levels of illiteracy, poverty, child malnutrition, and alleged government discrimination. The region is primarily Muslim and features multiple languages, while the rest of the country is predominantly Christian. Cabo Delgado province in particular has long practiced Sufism, a mystical form of Islam. In recent years, new forms of Islam have been introduced to the region. In 2008, heavily influenced ideologically by Islamists in East Africa, a sect called Ahlu Sunnah Wa-Jamo (ASWJ) (‘adherents of the prophetic tradition’) formed. Its primary sponsors were followers of Sheikh Rogo, who was sanctioned by the United States and UN in 2012 for providing support to al-Shabaab…following Rogo’s death, several of his followers moved to northern Mozambique.”

Aside from political dialogue, the solution will need religious leaders and institutions to advocate for changes on both sides. These sides include both the government and insurgents. The government can take guidance from researchers like Sayed Ali Abbas Razawi, a British scholar and religious leader. Razawi founded the first Shia-Sunni Alliance in Scotland to promote ecumenical dialogue and goodwill. In 2017, he took part in a historic meeting at the Vatican of four senior imams and Pope Francis to discuss interfaith pluralism, coexistence, and reconciliation.

Undoubtedly, religious leaders play an increasingly crucial role in many parts of the world. Their network of volunteers and fundraising capacities far outweigh those of many NGOs. Dialogue can contribute towards educating religious practitioners to be responsive to society’s challenges. As a result, the spiritual person becomes a source of social capital. This capital allows individuals to work towards achieving a common goal through trust and shared values. Collectiveness through shared values inspires voluntary outreach, caring, and social services, all of which can be mobilized for social capital interventions. This cooperation enables better functioning of the society.

Ultimately, economic growth without backing human development is impermanent. Mozambique is one of the most underdeveloped countries, ranking low in GDP per capita, human development, and inequality measures. More and more organizations worldwide are using data beyond GDP to look at more comprehensive social and environmental standards. Since the fury and violence in Mozambique is driven by Islam achieving genuine progress will involve looking at social-capital measures. However, inevitably a short-term focus will include a military approach, and with it, thousands more dead. Focusing on long-term resolutions and addressing grievances through spiritual guidance and inter-faith dialogue can help overcome historical conflicts.

Geetika Chandwani is a Master's student in the School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University. Geetika's specializations include International Security and Global Negotiations and Conflict Management.