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Yaoundé, Cameroon – As Mozambique approaches its 50th anniversary of independence in 2025, the country’s Catholic bishops are warning that the national dream of “freedom and self-determination” is being shattered by terrorism, corruption and pervasive poverty.

In a recent pastoral letter, the bishops talk about the terrorist war that started five years ago and is still being waged in Cabo Delgado, the northernmost province of the former Portuguese colony.

They note that despite several warnings, the war “was not immediately and effectively countered, and continues to spread to wider areas, including the Niassa and Nampula provinces.”

The war continues to bring “destruction and violent deaths of children, innocent women and men and people of good will, such as Sister Maria de Coppi, murdered last September 6th, in the attack on the Catholic Mission of Chipene, Diocese of Nacala,” the bishops state.

At least 4,000 people have been killed and over a million others forced to flee from their homes since October 2017 when conflict broke out in Cabo Delgado, a resource–rich province blessed with such natural resources as gas, rubies, graphite, and gold.

Yet according to many observers, that wealth has turned into a curse.

Locals had long protested that they were excluded from the benefits of that wealth, accusing the ruling party, Frelimo, of drawing all the benefits while creating very few local jobs.

Tensions were worsened by fundamentalists in the historically Muslim coastal zone. Their preachers came up with an essentially socialist message, claiming that the imposition of the Sharia or Islamic Law would lead to the equitable sharing of the region’s wealth.

The trigger for war came in 2017 when young people in Mocimboa da Praia attacked a local police station and army post, capturing weapons.

While local researchers have insisted that the fundamental cause of the war is local frustration over inequitable distribution of wealth, the U.S. has labeled the insurgency as ISIS-related in what looks like an attempt to engage in a proxy war with the terrorist organization.

The bishops said the war was becoming more and more difficult to tame, especially with young people swelling “the ranks of those who sow terror.”

“It is the young people of Mozambique, the present and the future of the nation, who are succumbing to these incessant waves of violence,” the bishops wrote.

“As we have already had occasion to state, we recognize that one of the strongest reasons for our young people to allow themselves to be enticed and join the various forms of deviance is based on the experience of lack of hope in a favorable future,” they said.

“For most of them, there are no opportunities to build a dignified life. Without guaranteeing that young people can realize their dreams, the nation itself will see its dream of being the protagonist of its future compromised,” the bishops said.

Statistics lend credence to these fears. Mozambique’s population is roughly 32 million people, and from 2015 to 2019, the share of Mozambicans living in extreme poverty increased by 55 to 60 percent, between 16.7 to 18.2 million people.

The share of people living in poverty rose to 61 percent in 2021 and is expected to drop slightly to 60 percent in 2022.

This grim picture, according to the country’s bishops, has been worsened by the war in Ukraine and the restrictions imposed by COVID19 pandemic.

“Throughout this year, we have watched with great concern the unsustainable rise in the cost of living, which continues to drag men and women who have already suffered to extreme poverty and who face a real struggle to put bread on the table,” the bishops said.

While many wallow in poverty, the clerics note that there is a rising “rift” between the rich and the poor.

“In our country, despite being a single family, social and economic inequalities are creating a deep rift. On the one hand, a wealthy minority can afford all kinds of luxury, and on the other, an impoverished majority does not even have the basics to survive.”

The bishops also took issue with the “the great evil” of corruption in the country which frustrates “dream of being an independent, developed and prosperous nation for its citizens.”

“Despite the efforts and proclamations in the fight against this social plague, a culture of corruption has become established in the country, to the point of thinking that it is normal, that this is how things work, that this is how it can only be. The private use of the country’s resources and the public patrimony is shamelessly made, putting personal or group interests above the common good. “

“Corruption is at the origin of the squandering and destruction of wealth and the entire social fabric, but the most serious aspect is that it infiltrates institutions and the exercise of state power, and structurally compromises the project of a free, just and solid country,” the bishops said.

They blamed corrupt officials for granting foreign extractive industries free rein over the country’s natural resources “without the real and transparent involvement of the populations concerned.”

“Thousands of families continue to be uprooted from their fertile lands to make way for these investments, from which they hardly derive any benefit. Often, in their regions, these communities find no space to give their opinions, because they are prevented from speaking out through mechanisms of social control.”

They said such “imposed silence” limits the space for free democratic expression, further entrenching the suffering of the masses.

“The continuation of this human suffering is unacceptable and frustrates the dream of being a nation of peace, harmony and independence, justice and solidarity,” the bishops concluded.