In recent years the insurgency in Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado has largely gone under the radar. Even in 2019, two years since the violence began experts from the Centre for Strategic and International Studies were struggling with details as simple as the name of the insurgent group, now most commonly referred to as Al-Shabaab (no relation to the Somali group) or Ansar Al-Sunnah (1). Recently more attention has been brought to the group as it has increased in size and scope, successfully capturing district capitals, having caused well over three thousand fatalities (2), and displacing upwards of 800,000 people in the country (3).
While the group is not associated with piracy, Al-Shabaab has been active at sea, seizing islands off Mozambique’s coast and using maritime tactical support during attacks on the mainland. There have long been links between insurgency and piracy, both through those not directly involved turning to criminal activities to survive, and insurgents themselves adopting piracy as a tool in their conflict.
In Somalia, piracy was linked with the collapse of the state and subsequent inability to protect against illegal fishing leading to the livelihoods of Somali fishermen being ruined. This in turn led many to resort to piracy to take retribution against the illegal trawlers and provide the funds needed to survive (4). In Nigeria, Niger Delta militants used piracy as a tool to secure funds and attack multinational companies they blamed for the underdevelopment and environmental destruction of their homes (5). The conflict in Mozambique has been ramping up as government forces and foreign assistance have consistently underestimated the scale of the threat, leading to responses that are too little, too late. The chaos of the insurgency combined with the underdevelopment of Cabo Delgado and the increasing insecurity of the population cannot be ignored when looking at the maritime security of the Mozambique Channel.