"While international headlines have focused of late on links between Cabo Delgado’s militants and ISIS, the real drivers of conflict have more to do with local grievances and the state’s inability to manage a snowballing security threat. Eager to help, Mozambique’s external partners need to exercise caution or they risk making things worse. Foreign-backed counter-terrorism operations without a plan to address local tensions at their source could simply exacerbate human suffering, poverty and the resentment of the state that many locals feel. A wiser approach for Mozambique and its partners would combine military operations with efforts to address the conflict’s local roots, building up the country’s capacity to handle its own security problems, doing more to win over communities in which Mozambican militants originate and stepping up policing efforts against transnational jihadists and criminals who may try to exploit the crisis," concluded the International Crisis Group (ICG) in its 11 June report "Stemming the Insurrection in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado". http://bit.ly/ICG-CDg
ICG is the most important and respected independent research body on wars and conflicts. This report gives a detailed history of the roots of the war and grievances going back to the 1990s. ICG is careful not to offend governments, but it makes its position clear on US claims that the insurgency is Islamic State and on Mozambique corruption.
The US State Department has named the insurgents “ISIS-Mozambique” and designated them as a "foreign terrorist organisation". But ICG says "If there is a relationship between ISIS and [Cabo Delgado insurgents] al-Shabab, it appears to be more tenuous than official accounts suggest."
"Cabo Delgado is a province that has long been ripe for conflict", the report notes. "Since the 1990s, the province’s economy has only become further characterised by forms of monopoly and illicit activity, much of which ties back to senior Frelimo figures and their business allies. … Senior Makonde continued to dominate Cabo Delgado’s politics and economy. … After the  elections, Makonde business elites began to show greater bullishness in acquiring economic power in Cabo Delgado. They spread their money around among district Makonde party stalwarts and local chiefs, entrenching the community’s power base down to the grassroots. … Frustration among Mwani youth reignited, particularly as they were also enduring extortion by local officials interfering with their small businesses and fishing operations."
On foreign military intervention, the ICG says "The president [Filipe Nyusi] is now increasingly looking to Mozambique’s military to do the job. This institution is in a state of disrepair, however, and requires a serious upgrade that will take time. … Mozambique’s national military, Forças Armadas de Defensa de Moçambique (FADM), is in a parlous state after decades of under-investment following the 1992 peace accords that ended the country’s civil war. Much of the FADM’s Soviet-era stock is in disrepair."
Finally, ICG warns: "SADC’s intervention in the DRC already serves as a cautionary tale. Member state forces deployed as an intervention brigade under UN blue helmets in the DRC have for years struggled to finish off the ADF there, with their operations often compromised by poor cooperation with the DRC military authorities. In the meantime, the ADF continues its brutal attacks against civilians. Security and Mozambican government sources fear that foreign troops with limited understanding of the local environment would similarly struggle against al-Shabab. If they got bogged down in a long conflict, they could attract more foreign fighters eager to take on international forces and turn the province into a battlefield pitting Western-backed forces against transnational jihadists seeking to open a new frontier."