Power tools buzz at the beachfront Amarula Hotel in Palma, as workers finish clearing up and repairing the damage from one of Mozambique’s bloodiest jihadists assaults nearly a year ago.
In March 2021, around 200 people — mostly civil servants and foreigners working on nearly gas projects — hid in the hotel as Islamic State-linked insurgents overran the coastal town, murdering dozens during days of fighting.
Some of the guests tried to escape to the beach. Twelve decapitated bodies were later found in front of the building.
Now, signs of the horror have largely been washed away — with neatly manicured tropical lawns, a sparkling blue pool, and freshly renovated rooms, the hotel’s management is hoping to woo back visitors.
Manager Timothy Christian Robbins said he has been on site since November to decide whether the facility can re-open.
He said a relaunch would be seen as a vote of confidence, a signal that “the government and the forces here are giving people the protection and the safety assurance that they can come back and re-establish themselves.”
With the help of 1,000 Rwandan troops deployed in July, the Mozambican government was able to reclaim Palma.
Rwandan soldiers, armed with rocket-propelled grenades, still patrol the once-deserted streets.
“People are going back to work, reopening their businesses. Markets and local transport are running. The local economy is picking up,” said senior police superintendent Justin Rukara, who leads the Rwandan forces in Palma.
Some basic goods are available once more — fresh produce, dried fish, and toiletries are neatly arrayed under makeshift shelters on the sandy roads.
“The security situation is much better now. Thank God! After the arrival of the Rwandans, things got much better,” said Rachid Adreman, one of the market traders.
“Business has picked up again. But the problem is that money is not circulating. The banks are still closed and people do not have access to their accounts. It takes a long time to sell our goods.”
Torched buildings, car wrecks
The road to the beach is still dotted with the wreckage of vehicles that were unable to escape the onslaught last year.
People who fled their homes are living on the ocean front in shelters built from palm fronds, plastic tarpaulin or sheet metal they managed to salvage.
The settlement has started to feel more permanent.
A small market has emerged, where vendors decant jugs of cooking oil into repurposed Fanta bottles in quantities small enough for the desperately poor to afford.
Fishermen tend to their nets while their catch dries in the sun. Children splash in the waters of the low tide, while small radios play music.
About 80 kilometers (50 miles) south, Mocimboa da Praia, the town where the jihadist group first launched its attacks in October 2017 and was retaken by the Rwanda and Mozambican troops in August, is still a ghost town.
A church lies in ruin. The maternity clinic is abandoned, strewn with debris inside.
Almost every building was torched, some beyond recognition. Bicycles, buses and even armored vehicles sit rusting.
The 16-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) also sent troops in August to support Mozambique. American and European military trainers are also there.
With all of this international support, Mozambique claims to have retaken Mocimboa da Praia, which the insurgents once used as a base.
But few are brave enough to return here, or to take their chances on the largely unpatrolled roads across Mozambique’s vast, impoverished north.
Violence is nothing new to the region. A rebellion raged for 16 years, and a 1992 peace deal failed to bring a full peace — much less prosperity.