EU training mission in Mozambique begins – Finland to join the mission

The province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique has been under attack by Islamic insurgents for more than four years. Anna-Kaisa Heikkinen, Ambassador of Finland to Mozambique, explains what is happening in Cabo Delgado and why it is important for Finland to participate in the EU training mission.

Two soldiers in a training situation in Mozambique under an EU sign.
The aim of the EU training mission is to support the Mozambican armed forces so that they can restore peace and security to Cabo Delgado. Photo: EUTM

Since 2017, the conflict in Cabo Delgado has killed more than 5,000 people and forced nearly 750,000 to flee their homes. What is the current situation in the province? Have international armed forces been able to bring the situation under control?

The Rwandan and SADC troops that were deployed in Cabo Delgado a few months ago helped the Mozambican government troops gain control of the Islamist rebel bases quite quickly. However, as a result of these attacks, the militants fled to nearby forests and villages, and they have continued to carry out individual attacks in Cabo Delgado. Over the past few weeks, there have also been reports of individual attacks in Cabo Delgado’s neighbouring province, Niassa. Niassa is a sparsely populated forest region, which will make it more difficult to trace the militants.

Who are the militants? Have we been able to establish a dialogue with them?

They are called Islamic militants because their ideology is rooted in radical Islam, and they claim to cooperate with ISIS. The United States calls Cabo Delgado’s Islamist insurgents and a few of their leading figures ISIS-Mozambique, and has included it in its list of Designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations. Although their ideology is rooted in radical Islam, the majority of fighters are motivated by non-religious factors such as deep social inequality — poverty, unemployment and lack of prospects represent a major problem in Cabo Delgado. We also know that not all of the militants are Muslims; some of them are Christians. We believe the first ideological leaders came from other countries, including Tanzania, but the majority of fighters are local people. Most of them are young men. Estimates of their number vary between one and three thousand.    

The only channel they use for making public statements is social media, including some accounts with ISIS influence. Although we have not seen any “talking heads” in public so far, some militant leaders have been identified.

The EU Training Mission (EUTM) began in early November 2021. How would you describe the cooperation with Mozambique’s security forces?

The EU has been able to launch the training mission rapidly and is ready to carry it out as planned. The Mozambican government has welcomed the deployment of the EUTM and is willing to cooperate.

A maximum of five staff officers from Finland will participate in the mission in trainer and advisory roles. Why should Finland participate in the mission?

What is at stake here is the stability and future of Mozambique, Finland’s long-term partner country in development cooperation. Since we have made significant investments to promote development in Mozambique, it is only natural that we take action to ensure our investment is not wasted. The situation in Cabo Delgado also has a significant impact on regional stability in Southern Africa. The stability of the African continent, Europe’s neighbour and partner, is important to us.

Training support for Mozambique’s security forces is also being provided by the United States and the United Kingdom, and by Rwanda and the SADC countries, which have already deployed troops in Mozambique. In addition, the country has acquired capacity-building services from the South Africa-based Paramount Group. Is Mozambique able and equipped to run point on this operation?

With such a large number of players involved, coordination is a big challenge. Mozambique naturally needs to own and lead the operation, but all participants must commit to exchanging and sharing information and pulling together. Mozambique has shown a serious commitment to the task at hand and wants to work together with its partners to achieve results.

Nainen kantaa säkkiä päänsä päällä. Taustalla näkyy ihmisjoukko ja avustusjärjestön laatikoita.
The arrival of international troops has helped the delivery of humanitarian aid. Photo: WFP

Both the insurgents and Mozambican army troops have committed human rights violations. How has this been addressed in Mozambique?

Civil society organisations and research institutes in Mozambique have presented substantiated facts on human rights violations committed by both parties. While the insurgents have committed some exceptionally cruel human rights violations, including against the local population, there is also evidence of human rights violations by the security forces. This is a matter of ongoing public debate, and it is clear that human rights violations by security forces are a very sensitive issue for the Government of Mozambique. The human rights aspect is an important element in the security forces’ work, and it will play a prominent role in the EUTM training operation.

How would you describe the current humanitarian situation in the region? 

The deployment of international troops, particularly from Rwanda, has made it a little easier to deliver humanitarian assistance to the region. However, funding for humanitarian assistance is insufficient, which is why the WFP was forced to halve the food aid it provides to internally displaced persons. An enormous humanitarian response is called for, considering that there are 750,000 internally displaced persons, the majority of them within Cabo Delgado. The estimated number of people affected by the conflict in the four northern provinces (Cabo Delgado, Niassa, Nampula and Zambezia) amounts to 950,000.

Are there any plans to develop Cabo Delgado, which is currently one of the least developed regions in Mozambique?

Cabo Delgado’s problems are rooted in social inequality, which has deepened over the decades. This means that measures that address the basic structures of society are required to resolve the current conflict. I am delighted that the Mozambican government recognises this, and is now in the process of creating a multi-annual development plan for northern Mozambique (Cabo Delgado and its neighbouring provinces Niassa and Nampula) together with international partners. So, now that the preliminary work has been done, we need financing and, above all, effective implementation.  

Has the situation in Cabo Delgado stabilised enough for internally displaced people to return to their homes?

The Government of Mozambique has drawn up a reconstruction plan for Cabo Delgado, which is supported by the international community. Reconstruction of destroyed infrastructure has already begun, with priority given to electricity and telecommunications networks. Unfortunately, people will not be able to return to their homes until safety in the area can be guaranteed.