The Mozambican parliament has passed the first reading of a government bill that will legalise the “local forces”, which are village militias in the northern province of Cabo Delgado, set up to fight against Islamist terrorists.
Terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado began in October 2017, and have been characterized by great brutality, including beheadings, mutilations and rapes. As from 2019, rather than rely exclusively on units of the defense and security forces, some villages began to set up their own self-defence units, initially drawn largely from veterans of Mozambique’s war for independence from Portuguese colonial rule.
The government bill makes it clear that the “local forces” are not independent, but fall under the control of the regular armed forces (FADM), which will provide them with logistical support. Introducing the bill, Defence Minister Cristovao Chume said the military chain of command covers the local forces, which are a temporary expedient arising from the crisis of jihadist terrorism.
Local forces began as an offshoot of the veterans of the independence war, the Defence Minister says in a statement. Today, they include many young people determined to defend their villages, and even some demobilized soldiers who had once been members of the main opposition party Renamo.
Both Renamo and the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), the second opposition party, denounced the bill, claiming that it legitimizes a “parallel” paramilitary force, serving the ruling Frelimo Party.
Renamo deputies repeatedly declared that the bill “legitimizes naparamas”. In fact, the bill does not mention the naparamas, which are an independent peasant militia, quite separate from the local forces.
The naparamas first appeared in the late 1980s, fighting alongside the Mozambican army against Renamo, and, for a few years, enjoying considerable successes in Nampula and Zambezia provinces. They reappeared a few months ago to fight against the jihadists in Cabo Delgado. It is not at all clear that the naparamas would disband, even if the government told them to.
Renamo and the MDM argue that the local forces are “unconstitutional”, because the Mozambican constitution states that defence matters are exclusively the domain of the armed forces and the police.
But the government’s bill deals with this problem by bringing the local forces explicitly under the control of the FADM. Indeed, if the bill is not passed, the situation of the local forces would clearly become unconstitutional.
Neither Renamo nor the MDM suggested disbanding the local forces. Instead, they argued that they could be replaced by reservists, or by recalling demobilized soldiers into the FADM.
In the vote, the 161 members of the ruling Frelimo Party present supported the bill, while all 56 Renamo and MDM deputies in the room voted against.
The bill now enters a committee stage, where amendments can be proposed, but it is unlikely to undergo any significant change. The second and final plenary reading of the bill will occur on Friday or Monday