Cabo Delgado Conflict: Escalating tensions and COVID-19 threaten civilian population

Source: Wikimedia Commons, F Mira

Since 2017, the ongoing conflict in Mozambique’s northernmost province, Cabo Delgado, has cost the lives of more than 1000 people, displaced some 355,000 and left 712,000 needing humanitarian assistance. 2020 has seen the conflict become increasingly brutal and has shown Daesh affiliated extremists to be increasingly sophisticated, organised and well resourced.

Expansion of al-Shabaab

Cabo Delgado province borders Tanzania to the north and the Indian Ocean to the east. The province is the poorest in Mozambique, with high unemployment, low literacy rates and very limited infrastructure and services. These conditions have enabled the radicalisation of local youth by Islamist extremists. Known locally as al-Shabaab, but also commonly referred to as Ahlu al-Sunna and Swahili Sunna, the group is the Mozambique affiliate of Daesh and the main militant group responsible for the frequent attacks in Cabo Delgado.

Mozambique is a predominantly Christian nation; however, the Cabo Delgado region is predominantly Muslim. The expansion of al-Shabaab in the region shows the expansion of Daesh and its affiliates following territorial losses in Syria and Iraq. The extremist group has declared that its ultimate goal is to take control of Cabo Delgado as a caliphate regulated by Sharia law.


The capture of the Mocimboa da Praia port in northern Mozambique in August 2020 represented a significant escalation in tensions since the conflict began in 2017. During this attack, insurgents