Tens of thousands of Mozambicans are fleeing their homes in Cabo Delgado province amid a surge in deadly insurgent attacks since January.

Despite a massive security clampdown, the attacks are continuing just as French oil company TotalEnergies aims to restart a $20 billion liquefied natural gas terminal in Cabo Delgado in the coming months. 

The project was halted in 2021 after a deadly Islamic State-linked attack in a town nearby.

TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne has said the company was monitoring the situation to make sure it was safe before committing to restart operations.

‘What I want to avoid is making the decision to bring people back and then being forced to evacuate them again.’

A skirmish on 9 February 2024 killed 25 Mozambique Defence Armed Force soldiers, according to local media reports.

On Tuesday a senior government official said just over 67,000 people had fled attacks in recent weeks, many displaced to the neighbouring province of Nampula and safer parts of Cabo Delgado.

More than two-thirds of displaced people are women and children, according to Guy Taylor, UNICEF’s Mozambique spokesperson.

‘So far this year, 56 incidents of insurgent-led aggression have been recorded’, said Tertius Jacobs, head analyst for Mozambique at risk management firm Focus Group.

In the first two months of 2024 there have been more than half of the number of attacks that occurred for the whole of 2023. Insurgents are attacking churches, homes, and are posing a ‘significant risk’ to the EN1 route, which moves key commodities to Nacala port.

Jasmine Opperman, an extremism expert focused on southern Africa, says that the insurgency isn’t ending and that the normalisation narrative is driven by economic interests, not by realities.

‘This is about organised chaos to create fear, to recruit and spread an Islamic extremism narrative.’

[Image: Screenshot from a 2019 propaganda video by ISIS showcasing in Mozambique pledging allegiance to former caliphAbu Bakar al-Baghdadi from The George Washington University “Program on Extermism”.