When war and dogs meet, tragic results end up in Africa’s hospitals

Residents look on as a patrol of Rwandan soldiers drives by in Quitunda Camp in Afungi, Cabo Delgado, on September 22, 2021. The Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) declared few victories among which the liberation of Mocimboia Da Praia which was occupied by jihadist for almost a year.

Photo credit: AFP

AFUNGI, Cabo Delgado, Mozambique

The story of war often tends to be told in terms of who is winning and losing the shooting; the body count on the battlefield; the captures; the heroes who stood up; and the cowards who fled the fight.

Rarely is it about dogs. That is, until we got to the edge of TotalEnergies’ vast compound in Afungi, in Mozambique’s northern Capo Delgado province. Total set up shop here to extract gas a short distance off in the Indian Ocean.

Mozambique has about 2.8 trillion cubic metres of natural gas reserves or almost one per cent of the world’s total reserves. This is one of several campuses, including its own new airport and port, that Total has established in the area.

Built to accommodate 2,000 people, it was abandoned in March 2021 when the Shabaab rebels, also known as Islamic State (IS)-Mozambique, and Ahlu al-Sunnah wal-Jamaah (ASJ), and who had controlled large parts of the Cabo Delgado region for over four years, struck nearby.  

Mozambique security forces and a rump of Total workers withdrew inside the campus. In July 2021, with a long-drawn-out plan for the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to help still stuck in the tree branches, a deal between President Filipe Nyusi’s government in Maputo and the Rwanda government saw the latter send an intervention force to help fight the rebels.

In two months, the Rwandan military drove out the Shabaab (not linked to the Somalia-based militant group of the same name) from most of the areas in Capo Delgado that they controlled. Weeks after they jumped into the Mozambique fray, they were joined by SADC, which included Tanzania.

Around the grounds

Life is beginning to creep back into the camp, but hundreds of new vehicles, including high-end Toyota V8s – one of them armoured – stand all around the grounds, never having been driven.

The clinic is now a Rwanda Security Forces hospital, and also caters to Total staff, NGO workers and the local community. It’s the only high-level hospital between Afungi and the coastal city of Pemba, 570km away.

Rwandan soldiers patrol in Afungi near the Total complex, Cabo Delgado, on September 22, 2021. Since July 2021, a contingent of a thousand Rwandan soldiers and policemen is deployed to Mozambique to fight insurgents that were terrorising populations.

Photo credit: AFP

It is here that we encountered Dr JP Shumbusho, a specialist general surgeon. He also heads up the hospital. A petite and amiable man, he’s obviously been hardened by the job.

He decides to show, not tell, the things they confront. There is a horribly burnt child. He puts up a slide of another whose legs were blown up by a grenade that he had been playing around with as a football, and how they mended him. There is one of a man who wandered in the remote parts of Cabo Delgado with a hydrocele for years until he came in and was sorted out.

He has a case of a 14-year girl who was dropped somewhere outside the compound and was finally brought to the hospital in critical condition. She was labouring to deliver a three-kilogramme baby, and at her age she didn’t have the pelvis for it and she had to be put to the knife. It ended happily for both girl and child. She doesn’t know who the father is.

In poorer parts of Mozambique, it is a familiar depressing story. Girls as young as 12 are having children. And they don’t stop. A 25-year-old woman whose child was dying of pneumonia and was saved in the nick of time cuddles it in the ward. She has five children already at that age. And women nearing 60 years also come in to have children, at that age facing the same peril as the 14-year-olds.

Natural gas

Over 2,200km away from the capital, these are some of the areas Mozambique had forgotten, until the natural gas was found.

Exploiting the marginalisation, the Shabaab moved in. In these parts, they don’t do Portuguese. They speak Kiswahili. The mother with her recovering child might have been in a hospital in Nairobi or Dar es Salaam. She spoke of the progress of her child in fluent Kiswahili.

The boy who was burnt by fuel oil is also looking up. His grandmother – or possibly mother – sits by his side. She offers her outlook on his condition in Kiswahili too.

There is one child who isn’t around. He recovered not too long ago. He is shown smiling with his family and doctors on the day he was discharged.

There was no smile on his face when he came in. He had been mauled by a pack of dogs. Over the years of the Shabaab’s occupation of Cabo Delgado, people fled, leaving their dogs behind.

The deaths in war, and slaughter of infidels by the militants, left many bodies strewn around. The dogs that had been abandoned fed on the human bodies.

Dr Shumbusho explains that previously domesticated dogs feeding on human flesh in war is fairly common, and it happened in his own country too. The feral dogs also form packs of anything from 20 to 40. And when they corner, especially one or two humans walking along a lonely path, they attack and eat them alive.

The little boy had run into a pack of 20. They set upon him, and he was rescued by a crowd before they finished him. Many chunks of flesh had been torn off his body. It was not a pretty sight. After many agonising weeks in hospital, he pulled through.

Driven by a pack

The feral dogs continue to roam Cabo Delgado. Besides the war against the rebels, there is also a war against the dogs. They are dwindling, but not gone. We had driven by a pack of them in Mocímboa da Praia, which was the rebel headquarters until they were pushed out. I looked at them and felt moved. I shuddered when I realised later that I wouldn’t have got away with it if I had stepped out of the car and gone near them.

In Mocímboa da Praia, we were told of women who had been scarred by less visible but perhaps equally deep wounds as the boy who was mauled by dogs.

The Mozambique Shabaab rebels didn’t wait to receive their mythical 72 virgins once they got to heaven as martyrs. They collected them while on earth.

Senior leaders reportedly gained power, among other things, by selling women to junior members. And frequently they were not too happy with the many wives they collected for themselves. They on-sold the ones they were no longer pleased with into a secondary market at a discount.

There were several of these women who had been sold down from militant to militant living in a shelter nearby, I was told, and arrangements could be made for me to interview them and hear their story. I couldn’t handle it. I didn’t.

A lot of the wounds that we see in the aftermath of this Mozambique conflict, with all its horrors, are easier to deal with than the ones we don’t.

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