Hesitancy to resume HE activities in terror-affected areas

Higher education institutions harmed by a five-year-long Islamist insurgency in Mozambique’s northern Muslim-majority Cabo Delgado province are reluctant to restart operations, despite security guarantees from the Mozambican military and their allied forces from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, or ACLED, has said that the rebellion caused more than 4,500 deaths up to October 2022. While Cabo Delgado’s security conditions have improved over the past two years with defence forces destroying and occupying bases of ISIS-Mozambique (Ansar al-Sunna) and related groups, students and lecturers remain reluctant to return.

The Lúrio University, Rovuma University (UniRovuma), Eduardo Mondlane University (UEM), Catholic University of Mozambique (UCM) and the Higher Institute of Science and Technology of Mozambique all have facilities in Pemba, the capital of the province. Operations were restricted in 2020, ending research and field studies in regions of the province affected by insecurity.

Marcelino Caravela, former director of the faculty of natural sciences at Lúrio University, said that researchers look forward to a promising future. However, he said: “It is true; we have not yet resumed fieldwork in the affected areas. The proof of this is that I am doing my PhD and was supposed to collect data in the Taratibu region [in Cabo Delgado province] and I had to change the area of study and restrict the sampling more between Mecufi, Pemba and Metuge, places where there are no problems.”

HE activities jeopardised

Caravela said that, while there have never been any attacks in the provincial capital, the insurgency jeopardised activities at the institution. “The university has not suffered physical damage due to the insurgency, very much because we are in the city of Pemba, and we have never had terrorist attacks in the city. That leaves us very calm. However, fieldwork was affected.”

While classroom teaching has continued, research and fieldwork have been paralysed, panic and fear reign, and delays occur in learning and completing courses, he said.

Meanwhile, the insurgence has given new intensity to environmental and agricultural research undertaken at the university. “We are open and eager to see free and safe areas. We want to understand the environmental dynamics in these places after the insurgency and generate new knowledge,” Caravela said.

The situation at UEM, which also has a Pemba campus, is similar. Dean Manuel Guilherme said: “The university has not abandoned Cabo Delgado.”

Researchers to continue projects

Research into agricultural production, soils, climate and pest control, all of which have been suspended for more than three years, has yet to resume, according to UEM’s pedagogical director Professor Elias Manjate, a sanitation, water resources and environmental specialist.

However, Guilherme told University World News during an annual meeting between Mozambique’s academic community and cooperation partners in June 2023 in the capital Maputo that some Cabo Delgado field research has resumed.

“We, as a university, have looked very carefully at the situation [and] have seen that the improvement in security allows our researchers to continue projects that we have been developing in the province, many designed by researchers in competitive study fields.” He shared data indicating that university research projects are increasing in number – 547 in 2022, up from 427 in 2021.

Other academics are more cautious. A source at the UCM, who requested anonymity, said it was risky to resume fieldwork in areas affected by the insurgency, even if normal life appears to be returning to local towns and villages. “We believe it is premature to go to these areas; it is different for local communities that return. There is security for them, but ... academia and research groups ... need greater security logistics,” he said.

The problem, he said, is that villagers and security services might think the researchers are Islamists: “If we go into the field alone, we are still afraid of being confused [with insurgents], because we will, of course, be strangers.”

Solidarity with students remains high

There have been some positive consequences of the insurgency. The UCM, understanding the hardship caused to Cabo Delgado students, has reduced tuition fees by 10% at its faculty of tourism management and informatics in Pemba for any students affected by insurgent attacks, Vatican News reported.

Rector Filipe Sungo said the decision showed how his institution had been closely monitoring the insurgency and its impact on the academic community and their families.

Meanwhile, UniRovuma has awarded scholarships to more than 100 students at its Pemba location. Rector Mário Jorge Brito dos Santos made the announcement in November 2022 at a meeting with Cabo Delgado governor Valige Tauabo.

Brito dos Santos said the move signalled solidarity with victims of the insurgency, such as school pupils denied the opportunity to take entrance exams because of the attacks.

“These scholarships cover enrolment and tuition fees for students facing hardship through the insurgency,” Brito dos Santos said in May 2021 when the decision to award scholarships was approved.

Communities, students welcome return to normality

“This will not last forever,” a PhD student based in Pemba said. More than 1,500 state officials and agents have already returned to the Cabo Delgado zones disrupted by terror to restore public services, sent by the government of Prime Minister Adriano Maleiane. Should these efforts hold, this could underpin a return of field research, possibly within a few months, the student said.

“We believe that the efforts undertaken by the government will definitely allow us to return to the countryside with the greatest possible certainty and safety,” he said. The government maintains that all the permanent insurgent bases have been eliminated, O País reported on 14 November 2022.

The situation has remained calm since – with government forces in control and insurgents splitting into small groups and avoiding violence, RTP News reported on 14 July 2023.

“To complement and consolidate the progress made by the Mozambique Defence Armed Forces, the government is, within the scope of the Cabo Delgado Province National Reconstruction Plan, implementing actions of humanitarian assistance, restoration of basic services, resumption of economic activity and reconstruction of destroyed infrastructures,” Maleiane said in parliament in December 2022.

For the time being, traffic on some roads in the region is escorted by armed forces, restricting potential researcher access.

Looking ahead, the government and international development partners launched the first phase of the project for reconstructing and rehabilitating adult education centres, secondary and primary schools destroyed by the insurgents in April 2023, Diário Económico reported on 11 April, 2023.

Facilities to be rebuilt

This project is funded by the World Bank and Mozambique’s Ministry of Economy and Finance and should restart the flow of qualified applicants to local universities, helping thousands of Cabo Delgado children, young people and adults who have been studying outdoors because facilities were destroyed, compromising teaching and learning.

The works are being carried out by the United Nations Office for Project Services, or UNOPS, in the districts of Ancuabe, Balama, Chiúre, Metuge, Mecúfi, Meluco, Montepuez, and Namuno, rebuilding and rehabilitating 163 classrooms, 16 administrative blocks, 86 residences for teachers, toilets, libraries, computer rooms and spaces for literacy and adult education.

Tauabo told the local press during the project launch: “In their incursions, the terrorists destroyed 98 schools, 319 classrooms, 53 administrative blocks, 23 teachers’ residences and five district services buildings of education, youth and technology.” Universities escaped such severe damage to facilities.