Until recently, Mozambique did not have a reputation as a place where Christians face persecution.
But this year, for the first time, Mozambique was named to a list of the world’s top 50 places where persecution of Christians is the worst. Mozambique is No. 45 on the 2021 World Watch List compiled by Open Doors USA, an organization raising awareness of the plight of persecuted Christians.
As a whole, a majority of the Mozambique population is Christian. In a dossier about the southern African nation, Open Doors noted that 17.4 million (54%) of the country’s 32.3 million inhabitants profess to be Christian; 5.6 million (17.4%) are Muslim; and 9 million (28%) belong to ethnic religious groups.
‘Land of fear’
Yet the country’s northern region, Cabo Delgado Province, has become known as the “land of fear” because of brutal attacks by radical Islamists on Christians, said the Barnabas Fund, which supports oppressed and persecuted Christians.
Both Barnabas Fund and Open Doors note Muslims have a prominent presence in the region. Islamist insurgents have been attacking, kidnapping or killing Christians and damaging or destroying homes, churches, schools and businesses.
“The group’s hallmark is beheading and cutting their victims into pieces,” a Feb. 19 report from Barnabas Fund stated. “Their targets are Christians, moderate Muslims, the government and anyone else who rejects the jihadists’ ideology.”
According to the CIA World Factbook, insurgent attacks began in 2017. CIA statistics show that as of early 2021, fighting in Mozambique had left an estimated 2,500 dead and nearly 700,000 displaced.
A Barnabas Fund report added that violence reached a peak in the final months of 2020. Aid groups have documented numerous instances of violence against Christians in the northern sector, including:
- Two little boys and an adult hanged from a tree.
- Fifty-two people massacred after locals refused recruitment to a militant group.
- Women and girls kidnapped by truckloads.
Cabo Delgado Province saw 101 violent incidents that killed 285 people between Jan. 1 and April 25, 2020, Open Doors reported — a 300% increase from the same period in 2019.
The situation in Cabo Delgado prompted the U.S. Embassy in Mozambique to issue a travel warning.
Open Doors’ extensive dossier about Mozambique details what insurgents have done to the Christian community, including those trying to help.
Fear of violence has made it difficult to gather, either inside or outside of churches. Wearing a cross, celebrating a Christian wedding or holding a baptismal service are among actions that can prompt an attack.
Government response to the situation has allowed insurgency to spread, Open Doors reported.
“The country’s army withdrew from important strategic locations, so a persecution phenomenon that was limited to a smaller part of the country expanded in the last year.”
And government and security forces lack the ability to combat violence and insurgency effectively, according to the CIA.
A growing concern is that violence in Cabo Delgado may spread to other parts of Mozambique and beyond. In fact, Open Doors noted armed groups already have reportedly crossed Mozambique’s border into Tanzania and killed people there.