“The response to jihadists cannot be solely military but it is necessary to give hope to young people who would otherwise be tempted to recruit into jihadist ranks”, said Mons. Juliasse Ferreira Sandramo, Bishop of Pemba, a diocese located in Cabo Delgado, the northern province of Mozambique destabilized for several years by rebels who have joined the Islamic State.
Mons. Sandram, 54, was appointed by Pope Francis last March. The Diocese of Pemba was vacant following the transfer of Bishop Luiz Fernando Lisboa to the Brazilian Diocese of Cachoeiro de Itapemirim in February 2021.
Prior to his Episcopal Ordination as Auxiliary Bishop of Maputo Archdiocese, he studied Dogmatic Theology at the Catholic University of Portugal, Anthropology at the New University of Lisbon, and African Studies at the University Institute of Lisbon, which he completed in 2009.
Conflict erupted in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province just a few years after some of Africa’s biggest gas reserves were discovered in the Rovuma Basin off the coast. Over 4 000 people have been killed and 800 000 displaced due to the insurgency that broke out at the end of 2017.
The jihadist insurgency has recently spread to the neighbouring province of Nampula, where during the assault on the Chipene mission on the evening of September 6, a Comboni sister Maria De Coppi, among others, was killed.
Mons. Sandramo, explained that since the start of the war in Ukraine, the lack of support from the World Food Program (WFP) is felt in Cabo Delgado. The end of aid puts more than 850,000 displaced people at risk, says the Bishop of Pemba, pointing out that 8,000 new displaced people have been added following the latest attacks. “Without the help of the international community, nothing can be done”, says Msgr. Sandramo, who stresses that Mozambique must remain a global priority. “There can be no first and second-class victims.”
As for the resolution of the conflict, the Bishop of Pemba considers that the strategy followed until now, which consists in approaching it only from a military point of view, is wrong. It is important to ‘offer horizons’ to young people, potential recruitment targets for jihadists. “It is essential to create jobs, to eliminate poverty, to provide opportunities”, says Msgr. Sandramo because “we must prevent people from getting lost, creating hope”. “An exclusively military response may eliminate two, three or four jihadists, but it will not prevent new recruitments.”
For the bishop of Pemba, rapid changes are needed in the way violence is dealt with. Extensive prevention work is needed, integrating all, including religious leaders and local leaders. The Government should take a more far-sighted approach and talk to Muslim and Catholic leaders. Mons. Juliasse presents his own example: “I was never called to a meeting” for reflection.
The problems with food are obviously not the only ones. The list includes difficulties with rehousing and psychological problems. Violence has also forced many schools and health centres to be closed. In displaced persons reception sites, schools prepared to receive 1,000 children now have to receive 3,000, the bishop notes. And a lot of kids don’t even have the motivation to go to school. The younger ones find themselves deprived of a future.