Evaluating Mozambique’s Security, Humanitarian, and Funding Landscape


The deployment of Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF) and the Southern African Development Community Mission to Mozambique (SAMIM) in July and August 2021 marked a turning point in the conflict in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado Province. Operations carried out by these forces, in conjunction with Mozambican Armed Forces (FADM), dislodged nonstate armed groups (NSAGs) from key port towns of Palma and Mocímboa da Praia, drove them out of long-term displacement sites, and reduced their operational tempo in northern Cabo Delgado. However, rather than diminishing insurgents’ will to fight, they split up into smaller, more mobile units and shifted operations into areas where foreign troop presence was less robust. Increased insecurity in previously stable areas, which had served to house displaced civilians from other parts of the province, combined with difficult living conditions in displacement sites and host communities, have pushed civilians to return to more secure areas despite continued instances of violence and weak state presence and service provision. 

Against this increasingly complex security picture, humanitarian and multilateral organizations operating in Mozambique are challenged by donor obligations and a lack of funding, resulting in a constrained response to the evolving crisis. Mozambique’s 2023 humanitarian response plan (HRP) requires $513 million to meet the needs of 1.6 million people, including 830,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), yet has raised $207 million as of August 8, 2023. Based on the 2019 HRP’s $400 million yield of the $620 million requirement to respond to 2.5 million civilians in need, including nearly 180,000 IDPs, Mozambique is not on track to reach its HRP goal and may be subject to a major funding gap in 2023. Without an urgent humanitarian campaign, hampered financing and traditional donor requirements will continue to stand in the way of an effective response and limit the ability of humanitarian organizations to scale up assistance for civil society’s multilayered needs.

Shifting Security Dynamics Altering Humanitarian Picture

The intervention of foreign forces in Cabo Delgado has helped diminish the frequency and intensity of insurgent activity in areas that previously served as insurgent strongholds, creating a relatively more stable, attractive environment for IDPs struggling in displacement sites and host communities. Indeed, the pace of attacks and rate of causalities have declined the past 12 months while the rate of returnees to the northern Cabo Delgado Province has steadily increased. While services are still largely lacking in these areas and insurgent activity persists, the relative stability has allowed for a limited resumption of commerce and an opportunity for self-sufficiency—an appealing development to civilians who have struggled to obtain adequate resources in displacement sites and host communities. Another factor calculated into IDPs decision to return is the perception of Rwandan forces being more reliable and respectful than Mozambican security forces in these relatively more stable areas. While human rights organizations continue to report incidents of Mozambican security services harassing civilians, including the displaced, Rwandan forces have emerged as a mediator in disputes between civilians and the FADM, suggesting a greater degree of public confidence in the RDF than their own forces.

As civilians return home, NSAGs have demonstrated a more balanced approach in their interactions with them in a likely attempt to secure resources and counter government narratives about a weakened insurgency in Cabo Delgado. The increasing presence of civilians brings the potential source of new recruits, supplies, and intelligence—a development that possibly influenced the insurgents’ engagement with civilians in recent months. Prior to 2022, the Ahlu Sunna Wa-Jamo (ASWJ) traditionally supplied itself with locally available resources, stealing weapons from the military and police and food from civilian populations. Their high rhythm of attacks­—at times accompanied by an NSAG warning civilians to flee villages ahead of strikes—reduced agricultural production, economic activity, and contributed to shortages within the ranks. However, since late 2022, NSAGs have attempted to balance their strategy with peaceful overtures to returnees, entering villages to purchase supplies and engage with civilians rather than simply looting areas across the province. According to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project’s data, the proportion of insurgent attacks targeting civilians during the first part of 2023 was roughly half that of the same period the previous year. Nonetheless, continued insurgent attacks against security services and civilians, including recent high-profile operations in areas of the province where foreign forces operate, are indicative of the group’s commitment to sustain their rebellion.

NSAG’s shifting tactics and geographical presence has increased uncertainty among the civilian population as they assess how to manage potential security risks, creating a more complex environment for governments and response agencies that balance the needs of returning populations with those of the displaced. While the rate of civilian displacement has declined compared to previous years, the lingering fear of insurgency colors public perceptions of security and heighten the risk of civilians—including returnees—of preemptively fleeing an area. Even those who would prefer to stay may find themselves forced to relocate in advance of government operations against NSAGs. These issues compounded with a decrease in funding are causing relevant sectors to turn toward more coherent responses to relieve IDPs and conflict-affected communities from crisis.

Understanding the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus

In 2016, the World Humanitarian Summit acknowledged that the aid paradigm is insufficient in resolving protracted crises and the UN Security Council and General Assembly called on “relevant political, security and developmental actors” to build a comprehensive response to alleviate conflict-affected countries. Amid stark reductions in aid and an increase in donor obligations, response agencies explored new modalities like the humanitarian-development-peace nexus (HDPN): a unified response model using pooled funding to synergize multisector goals and solve the root causes of conflict while aiming to be cost-efficient.

Crisis-affected countries need to demonstrate a high degree of political will, clear strategic frameworks, coordination mechanisms, and joint funding initiatives to allow for the HDPN’s comprehensive and effective response. Establishing forums between sectors, international and local actors, and donors is the necessary starting point to build trust and incentives to increase engagement; otherwise, lacking communication and enablers to collaborate could result in an unintentional and disaggregated response as seen in case studies in the Central Sahel and Nigeria. In 2019, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) acknowledged the sectoral gap and that the HDPN cannot be applied to all protracted crises—emphasizing “a need to distinguish between the different objectives, work streams, and tools that agencies have at their disposal . . . with due respect for the existing aid architecture, principles and laws [and a new way of working].” Although keen to bridge response gaps for short-term relief, long-term development, and conflict resolution strategies, funding and operationalizing the HDPN has not fully manifested in local contexts due to a lack of coordination and differences in sectoral goals.

Applying Lessons Learned from the Nexus to Mozambique

The IOM brings technical support to migration-related challenges in protracted crises and responds to unpredictable funding gaps by following the HDPN approach. The agency aggregated data illustrating barriers to and incentives for the HDPN in Nigeria and Colombia in 2019, which helps in evaluating opportunities and challenges for the nexus in Mozambique amid growing security concerns today.

In the case of Nigeria, Boko Haram and the military’s counterinsurgency displaced millions of people, triggered a famine, and obstructed access and aid in the northeast. The government of Nigeria’s response prohibited humanitarian organizations from holding constructive dialogue and negotiating access unless it was granted by the Nigerian military. These actions siloed the northeast by denying resources to civilians and refusing to create legal mechanisms to relieve the crisis, ultimately impeding multisectoral coordination and humanitarian organizations from reaching communities in need. Blocking coordination created more barriers than enablers for the HDPN to perform at any capacity—it was missing a foundation for success. Rather, Nigeria’s fragility showed the need for increased dialogue, international humanitarian packages, and policy partnerships for migrants.

As for Colombia, its security and humanitarian landscape was prepared for transparent multisectoral collaboration. The country created a bedrock for the HDPN through its historic peace agreement in 2016, development of legal and institutional mechanisms like Law 1448 in response to the crisis, and rebuilding of trust between all actors through interministerial and interagency coordination. These developments resulted in a comprehensive response and incentivized donors to provide direct and pooled funding for operations across the HDPN—giving organizations flexibility in their response. Although Colombia did not have a “fully-fledged HDPN strategy with collective outcomes,” it did demonstrate a path forward after decades of insurgency, political violence, and humanitarian crises.

From 2008 to 2022, the Mozambican government partnered with international organizations to build resilience mechanisms for IDPs and response agencies created direct funding streams for multisectoral operations. These developments—combined with the IOM and other agencies’ relationships with local and government actors, the Maputo Accord, the government of Mozambique’s five-year plan for 2020–2024, and an increased level of dialogue—opened a window of opportunity to operationalize the HDPN. There is a foundation to invest in Mozambique’s HDPN, especially considering the U.S. Global Fragility Act’s aim to build more local leadership, but the window is closing amid the devolving security landscape in 2023. NSAGs counternarrative to the government campaign about a weakened insurgency and their unpredictable engagement with new returnees are contributing to low levels of trust between actors. In addition to the likely political changes from local elections, tensions could possibly undercut Mozambique’s substantive developments in security and aid and result in an environment more resemblant of Nigeria than Colombia.

Funding Mozambique’s HDPN is critical in their upcoming political transition. Donors need to be shown incentives—namely the country’s growth in stability—and contribute to pooled funding for multisectoral coordination to curb the uptick in the north’s insecurity risks. Lending resources to funds like the United Nation’s Multi-Partner Trust Fund’s Mozambique One Fund could assist in this effort, despite its recently closed status. Otherwise, there will be a standing risk of potential barriers like an omission of inclusive dialogue, decrease in government response, and unpredictable insurgent behavior that could hamper Mozambique’s path for peace.


In partnership with international and local response organizations, the Mozambican government has made some progress in enhancing stability throughout the country. Yet donors and multisectoral stakeholders should continue to invest in responses amid the rise in political uncertainty, security concerns, and decrease in funding. Furthermore, programs in Cabo Delgado specifically will need to be designed to ensure inclusion of groups outside the Liberation Front of Mozambique orbit to avoid public perceptions of favoring the ruling party.

  1. Build and sustain dialogue between security actors. The field of security actors in Cabo Delgado has grown substantially in the past two years to include bilateral intervention by the Tanzanian security forces and the emergence of two civilian militia groups in addition to the RDF and SAMIM deployments. Coordination between these actors will be essential to maximizing the impact of counterinsurgency operations while enhancing protection to civilians. Progress in these areas, combined with greater efforts at human rights training and accountability for Mozambican security forces, would likely help improving trust between civilians and security actors.
  2. Leverage relationships Rwanda has with civilians. Rwandan military interventions abroad apply the concept of umuganda, or community work, in the areas where they are deployed to help build trust with local communities. For example, in Mozambique, the RDF has donated books to a school in Palma and built a fish market in Mocímboa da Praia. Greater military-to-military collaboration between the RDF and the FADM on developing similar practices and changing the culture of the military to better serve the people could potentially help enhance the relationship between civilians and the military, better preparing both parties for the RDF’s eventual departure.
  3. Invest in pooled funding. The government of Mozambique’s five-year plan, the Northern Mozambique Resilience and Integrated Development Program, and Reconstruction Plan for Cabo Delgado aim to improve livelihoods and require a multisectoral response. The response plans require nontraditional donors who are committed to funding an integrative approach with increased solutions-based outcomes as seen in Colombia. Donors should be incentivized by Mozambique’s increased security and invest in HDPN-like funding streams.
  4. Differentiate the HDPN from humanitarian assistance. The HDPN should not be considered a replacement or catch-all idea for humanitarian assistance or response, nor should it be considered as the standard response model in humanitarian crises. Humanitarian organizations’ goal remains to provide principled and independent assistance to communities in need.

Jude Larnerd is the transition manager for the Humanitarian Agenda at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Emilia Columbo is a senior associate (non-resident) with the CSIS Africa Program.