Sometimes I wonder if I’m not too young to be homesick. Perhaps nostalgia awakens when you remember the good old days. It may be more acute when noting that, that superior past, passed in front of you without the awareness of the approaching storm.
He had lived through post-wars, some more mature than others. That of El Salvador and Angola, with a little more than five years old. That of Bosnia and Herzegovina, with just two years old. The one from Kosovo when he was just a few days old. Despite the difference in age and the different latitudes, in the postwar period I always felt that a mixture of sadness and euphoria coexisted. Despite the difference in age and the different latitudes, in the postwar period I always felt that a mixture of sadness and euphoria coexisted.Little by little, society is waking up from the pathological period in which it has lived. A certain social order begins to rule again: some rules, some codes, …Everything that was built for centuries and that stops savagery. Moreover, as a rule, the first years in post-war countries, street violence, vandalism and pillage decrease. Perhaps people are fed up with fighting, or perhaps the great amount of weapons still hiding in homes makes those willing to rob and steal think a little more.
I had never experienced a pre-war. Now that I am writing this sentence, I am aware of the stupidity that it contains, since we are all constantly living in the pre-war. I think what he meant is: in my years of existence, I had never talked about a place where I worked and lived for many years from the memory of past peaceful times, and being aware that will not return for a long time.
Centre de salut a Nicuita
Village in Cabo Delgado
I first set foot in Cabo Delgado in 2008. The arrival in Pemba, its capital, and the subsequent knowledge of the districts fascinated me. The Indian African Ocean was at its best in that region. A small city of reference in the third largest bay in the world, turquoise blue waters, infinite savannah, communities in which the way of life still looks very much like the one that developed millenary cultures, mix of ethnicities, several languages, mix of religions and a lot, a lot of economic poverty. Its remoteness from the capital made Cabo Delgado an uninteresting region for business development and foreign investment. Just a few cotton processors and some paradise islands which, in the national tourism plans, were dedicated to minority and elite tourism (several European royal families enjoyed stays in the dream archipelagos floating off the mainland).
Centre de salut a Nicuita
Cabo Delgado and action districts
The memory I have now of that time is of a forgotten region, infinite natural beauty and absolute peace and quiet. Some nights, in inland districts, some of them without electricity, we would go out to find a hut to eat and walk through decrepit semi-paved streets or reddish sand. Our presence went practically unnoticed. During the day, we toured the province from health center to health center, working hand in hand with its professionals, training them, designing new buildings, conducting training in the communities to prevent contagious diseases … This is how we have worked for more than twenty years. This was our commitment, together with the local authorities, to build a health system within the reach of the population. A dream, an utopia. It was not a simple challenge: an extension greater than that of many European countries, a dispersed and sometimes nomadic rural population, a colonial period that, among other mistreatments, ignored rural areas, and a war of independence and a civil war that ended in 1992. Great professionals gave everything, Mozambicans and foreigners. Once, when I lived in Maputo, I took stock of everything we had built up in those twenty years: more than fifty percent of the health network in the central and southern region of the province had been set up thanks to our commitment and a million-dollar investment that cost sweat and tears to achieve.
Centre de salut a Nicuita
Health center in Nicuita, Cabo Delgado
Now, I turn to a passage by Gombrich from his fantastic book “The History of Art” to try to understand what we were missing. Gombrich relates and brings us closer to the transformation that had to take place in the spectator in order to understand one of the most fascinating styles that artistic creation has given us:
“It took some time for the audience to learn to see an impressionistic painting by backing up a few meters and enjoying the miracle of seeing those muddled stains suddenly come to life before our eyes. To achieve this miracle and transfer the painter’s true visual experience to the viewer was the true purpose of the Impressionists”.
Thus, the people who were fortunate enough to visit the first impressionist exhibition, still linked with previous styles, sank their noses into the canvases, being able to observe an endless number of fortuitous brushstrokes, and labelling their creators as crazy. They couldn’t see beyond their noses. Distance was the secret.
If, as Tennesse Williams says, “Time is the longest distance between two places” and, therefore, time is distance now, in the year 2020, with the perspective of decades, I see the dramatic picture that Cabo Delgado Province has become. All those muddled spots that I have come across over the course of more than 14 years working in the northern region of Mozambique have merged into a macabre and dantesque composition.
According to local and international media reports, on November 1 in Muidumbe, more than 50 people were beheaded in a public execution carried out on the district football field. An insurgent group is advancing inexorably from north to south of the province, from east to west, leaving behind devastated villages. It is believed that there have been more than 2.000 deaths and more than 430.000 refugees.
Mehmedtalks to me sitting on a red plastic chair, in a “quintal” where more than 40 people live. It is in Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado. He arrived on foot from Mocímboa da Praia. It took him a week to arrive. Without food, he was with seven members of his family and spent the nights outdoors. The insurgents reached their town on August 25. They burned their houses. Their clothes and tools were also burned. They burned everything. They were young, many from their town. He tells me that he did not see any foreigners. Terror is born from within. A brother of his joined the group. “Gostou deles” says to me when I ask him if he knows the reason. In the group there is food, power and the feeling of belonging to something. Outside the group there is hunger, submission and a centuries-old abandonment, more evident than ever in the last decades in which the state and powerful leaders take control of the natural resources of the region “a cara de perro“.
 Fake name
João Feijó explains to me that the Mozambican government has been determined, since the attacks began there at the end of 2017, to talk about external forces aimed at destabilizing the region. Undoubtedly, it is uncomfortable to recognize that unrest is caused by the people. It was not until a few months ago that he began to let it be known that, perhaps, the unequal conditions in Cabo Delgado are one of the basic ingredients of this war, perhaps the most important one. With the largest gas reserve in all of Africa, woods, precious stones, potential oil to be exploited, Cabo Delgado is one of the richest regions in resources in all of Africa. Its people, among the poorest people in the world. They used to live in isolation, now they see hundreds of lorries of the latest generation loaded with the riches that belonged to their ancestors parading along the sand tracks. Rage grows
 Coordinator of the Rural Environment Observatory – Maputo – Mozambique
In the last decade, the forgotten region became the centre of interest for many international companies which, in order to operate in the region, had to form alliances with local companies, all of them, as is public, belonging to the country’s political and military elite. No effort has been spared to drive thousands of people off their land in order to exploit timber, precious minerals, gas and other resources. No effort has been spared in forcibly repressing thousands of artisanal miners, mostly young people with no future, who found in this mining practice the only way to survive. Mozambican companies such as Montepuez Ruby Mining, with 75% UK investment, have been singled out as being among the most aggressive towards the local population. They even agreed to pay millions of dollars in compensation to local communities to prevent a court case in London from moving forward, accusing them of actions that violated the human rights of local people. Rage continues to grow.
Looking for gold. Cabo Delgado
We live in a globalised world, for better or for worse. For war, the globalized world is the best scenario. The discontent of local communities for living in an eternal pit of poverty and exclusion has been channelled among the youngest in an increasingly radical expression of their religious way of seeing the world. Connections have not taken long. Local reports put on the table Saudi scholarship programmes to train young people from the region in Arabia. When they return, distanced from the traditionally peaceful way of understanding Islam in local communities, these young people create their own mosques and madrassas. Wahhabism, a vision of Islam that has sometimes been associated with conservatism and extremism, to date a minority in Cabo Delgado, is gaining adherents.
Three years ago, discontent with the first insurgent uprising in the coastal district of Mocímboa da Praia materialised. This fact was never given the importance that it had. Throughout this three-year period the insurgent forces have been gaining support and have declared themselves to be a group called Al-Shabab, which has no apparent connection with the same group that operates in the Horn of Africa region, but there are reports linking its growing military capacity to Isis and Al-Qaeda. Joao Feijó confirmed me that in the last few months some local informants have been talking about long-bearded white men between their ranks. Their methods of attack have become increasingly savage: beheadings, razed villages, and scorched earth policy.
I get images and reports from health centres where we worked that are now destroyed. Villas where we had lived for years, like Macomia, now appear deserted, taken over by the insurgents and razed to the ground. I think about how difficult it is to build and how easy it is to destroy.I think that the most feared of plagues, war, has arrived, and now there is no turning back.
The Mozambican government has shown itself incapable of militarily stopping the insurgents, who, among other advantages, know the territory like no one else. Poorly paid, poorly equipped troops, forgotten by a military elite living in the capital, almost 3,000 km to the north. Local reports report mass escapes of military personnel. The policy of fear developed by insurgents is relentless. Decapitations have aroused latent fears in recent decades.
War calls war. The power of war is magnetic, as it is based on the power of money, and once it is discovered that it is a business, there is no one to stop it. The Government of Mozambique does not have an easy time getting its troops mobilized, nor does it seem easy that it could reach international agreements to promote a supportive foreign intervention. Sending troops from any country must go through parliament, and today, not many governments are willing to send their young people to fight in a forgotten region that is so likely to die. The solution, in the world we live in, is offered by the market: mercenaries.
First, the Mozambican government succeeded in hiring a feared group of Russian mercenaries, the Wagner group, famous for its effectiveness in combat in Ukraine, Syria, Libya and other latitudes. According to the media, after several months they retreated due to ignorance of the terrain, difficulties in collaboration with the local army and lack of resources. Far from assessing whether mercenaries could be the best option to stop the insurgency phenomenon, a new public tender was opened to hire another company. Local researchers highlight the commissions potentially involved in this type of contract. Either way, one day the former enemy of the current ruling party in Mozambique takes over services to fight the insurgency: the South African company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) led by Lional Dyck, a former military leader during the apartheid. Money does not understand sides, without ideology, only capital determines which side you are on.
All this was happening while we were running around the province chasing a dream, and believing in our hearts that the times of war in that region were already part of history books. But no, like the thick brushstrokes observed up close, we did not see the painting. Here were all the strokes for a business, many of them local strokes, and as many external strokes attracted by a business called war. After all, war is like a reptile that hides itself in the human soul, and that when it sees light, it never returns to darkness until it devours everything.
Now everyone says they know this was bound to happen. International organizations, cooperation agencies, once glories of the region. But the truth is that, before 2017, only some local voices warned of what could occur, and they were totally ignored by local and international elites.
Now there is also the rush to respond to the situation. Sentences such as “if you have been in the province for more than twenty years, how can you do nothing? The times when NGOs were superman seem to be back. The truth is that the war makes everyone be silent. In these months, the frustration and the disquiet are eternal in me. A human life should be too short to have to look back longingly on times of peace. War stories should, at most, be the narrative of previous generations.
In this notebook the word war appears eleven times. I never thought I would have to use it when writing about Mozambique. Now I only have the strength of these lines. With them, I ask that this atrocity to be stopped.
International relations coordinator
*Translated from Spanish into English by Susanna Pujol Clivillé