Mozambique’s Rapale camp: A transit to nowhere

Fatima Cruz somehow managed to reach the camp in Rapale, in Mozambique’s province of Nampula, walking 300km with her blind husband from Mueda in Cabo Delgado. “We are ignored human beings who have suffered every day, for years; poverty, oblivion and violence in Cabo Delgado,” she, speaking in Emakhuwa, the main language in northern Mozambique.

The Cabo Delgado conflict, which escalated three years ago, has displaced more than 800 000 people and killed at least 3 000. It started as an insurrection by Mozambican militants aggrieved that the state was doing too little to develop the northern region, despite extracting minerals and natural gas from it. They have since been joined by other fighters, who claim affiliation with the global Islamic State or al-Shabab terror groups.

Soldiers from the Mozambican army, the Southern African Development Community and Rwanda, are fighting the militants. Rwanda’s contingent of 1 000 soldiers is the biggest foreign force fighting the war.

Cruz and her husband are at what the government calls a transit centre. It is at full capacity with 6 000 residents. The more established camp for internally displaced people is 60km further south at Corane. Not being an “official camp”, the centre where Cruz finds herself gets little in the way of resources.

“No NGO works there. Only the Catholic Church. People have nothing. No food. No pots. Nothing to sleep on,” says Joaquim Hernan, the head of the Catholic Church in Rapale.

There is no electricity at the camp, and people are sleeping on the ground. The state’s own National Institute of Disaster Management had yet to arrive in Rapale.

With her husband, sister and children, Cruz left her home after the latest massacres in Muidumbe, near her home. “Only God knows how we walked and arrived safely.”

Her neighbour, Anastacia Godinho, arrived a few days ago from another refugee camp further north. She shares her hut with her sister and six other relatives. After arriving, they didn’t eat for two days.

Godinho is from the village of Xitaxi, where in April 2020 militants called the local men to a meeting and massacred them. The rest of the terrified villagers fled, and the village is now deserted. “The bodies of our relatives were abandoned and some were eaten by dogs.” Now she has to restart “with nothing. We left everything behind.”

People ‘can’t complain’

Rapale is located in Nampula province, which is governed by Mety Gondola, a government-appointee. He said the provincial government is “concerned” about the situation and has instructed the local leaders to give all displaced people parcels of land.

But, the larger government appears weary of helping. Speaking about similar destitution in the main camp at Corane, Armindo Ngunga, the head of the Northern Integrated Development Agency, a government body set up last year to accelerate development in Mozambique’s northern provinces, said a week ago, “People cannot spend the rest of their lives receiving food support and complaining that it is insufficient.”

Yet, without meaningful action from his agency and others in government, there can be little optimism among those living at the “transit camp”, which threatens to remain their home for months if not years to come.  

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.

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