Muaziza Nfalume was heavily pregnant when she clambered aboard the wooden boat carrying more than a dozen people from her village, Pangane, in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, which has been hit by devastating violence that appears to be growing in intensity.
Like the others from her village, and like thousands more from Macomia district, Nfalume was hoping to find safety — and make a new life for herself and her infant — in Pemba, the provincial capital.
That new life started a little earlier than expected. Baby Awa was delivered on the boat before it reached Pemba. On arrival, mother and baby were transferred to the hospital, and they are in good health.
The news of Baby Awa’s birth was greeted with joy across the country, which has grown weary of the bad news coming from the north. Mozambique has a habit of finding pockets of joy in the midst of crises. In the 2000 floods, Baby Rosita was born on the highest branches of a tree, and had to be rescued by a helicopter crew. In 2019, Baby Sara was born in a mango tree during the ravages of Cyclone Idai. Both became powerful symbols of hope amid despair.
Those who made it to Pemba received assistance from humanitarian organisations. “Our brothers and sisters who arrive by boat in Paquitequete [a neighbourhood in Pemba) need, before anything else, human warmth. After that, water, tea, soup, bread, blankets, bed sheets and mosquito nets,” said Dino Foi, a representative of the Tzu Chi Foundation, an international humanitarian organisation.
Some 35 boats carrying more than 2 000 people have arrived in Pemba in recent days, after fighting between militants, whose identity and motives are murky, and government forces intensified. Most of the refugees are from Macomia district, and have left everything behind.
But not everyone has fled. After surrounding villages were burnt down, many people moved into Macomia village, where they are staying with family or at the primary school in nearby Nanga. Others are hiding in coastal mangrove forests and on islets along the coast. Remane Aboobacar, a Macomia resident speaking from Pemba, said they “need everything”.
Displaced people who reached Pemba said militants roam freely around the district, in vehicles and on motorcycles. Their modus operandi is to ransack and burn villages in search of food, which they take away to their base, the exact location of which is unknown.
The violence has already forced more than 300 000 people in Cabo Delgado to flee their homes, and the future looks bleak. But Baby Awa is a reminder that maybe it does not always have to be.