Mozambique: Without dialogue will SADC’s intervention be another Afghanistan?

By Sofia Mapuranga

Posted on Monday, 6 September 2021 19:54
People run after collecting food aid from a South African National Defence Force (SANDF) helicopter in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Nhamatanda village, near Beira, Mozambique, 26 March 2019. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko/

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Rwanda's military interventions are delivering quick wins on the ground, but will that be enough to turn the tide of the Islamist insurgency in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado Province? Analysts have some doubts.

On 9 August, the Mozambican government has regained control of a key port city, Mocímboa da Praia, which Islamist militants held for two years, spokesman for Mozambique’s ministry of defence, Omar Saranga, announced.

He revealed this during the unveiling of SADC’s ground and naval forces from Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, South Africa and  Tanzania.

Rwanda sent troops before the SADC troops arrived to a rousing welcome by the country’s citizens. Many said hope was high that they would bring the much-needed peace to Mozambique’s conflict-ridden Cabo Delgado Province.

The violence, perpetrated by insurgents near rich oil and gas deposit projects, killed more than 2,500 people and displaced an estimated 800 000 others.

Will troops be enough?

Analysts however warn that SADC’s military deployment without dialogue and negotiation with the aggrieved parties will only worsen the situation in the northern province.

Professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Stephen Chan argues that a holistic approach is needed.

Chan says: “I have long said that military deployment without sympathetic negotiating skills would only inflame the situation. There may be short-term victories, but the overall problem will return to haunt all contributing SADC states.”

SADC’s soldiers

Last month, SADC’s executive secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax presented instruments of authority for deployment of the SADC Standby Force to Mozambique.

The exact number of troops the group is sending to Mozambique has remained a secret, but experts from SADC, who were in Cabo Delgado, suggested that the mission should comprise around 3,000 troops.

  • South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has authorised the deployment of 1,495 troops to Mozambique in a move aimed at assisting its neighbour battle the jihadists in the gas-rich Cabo Delgado Province.
  • Botswana on the other hand also sent 296 soldiers.
  • The number of soldiers deployed by Tanzania has remained a secret.
  • Zimbabwe’s defence minister Oppah Muchinguri confirmed that government has approved the deployment of a training team of 303 instructors to train infantry battalions.

Chissano’s advice

Speaking to state-owned Radio Mozambique, Mozambique’s former president Joaquim Chissano urged President Filipe Nyusi  to consider dialogue with the armed groups operating in Cabo Delgado, arguing that there are “certain types of terrorism” that have ended through negotiations.

Professor Chan concurs with Chissano: “I think the former president is completely correct. A combination of grievance and religious animation can never be defeated on the battlefield alone. Engagement, dialogue and then negotiation are key. But the Frente de Libertação de Moçambique [the ruling party] needs to be able to promise better governance in Cabo Delgado – it’s been pretty dreadful, which is why people rebelled – and also have on the negotiating team people who are skilled in negotiations with Islamic fighters. They can’t be untrained negotiators.”

Constitutional law expert and University of Zimbabwe lecturer Lovemore Madhuku says dialogue is always the best way forward, adding that “there is immense scope for dialogue in Mozambique.”

He says: “History gives us one critical lesson: every group of persons with a capacity to sustain a military conflict equally has capacity to cease military confrontation through dialogue. Behind every military conflict is a group of thinkers: a strategy must be found to reach out to the thinkers who inspire and guide fighters.”

Another Afghanistan?

Adriano Nuvunga, executive director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD), a civil society organisation, argues that while SADC’s willingness to assist bring peace to Cabo Delgado is commendable, “there is no capacity”.

He says the SADC members states that in the past had strong armies are generally battling with corruption and a lack of training.

But Madhuku argues that the deployment of SADC troops was unavoidable as “peace in SADC is good for all the people in the region, making the military deployment very much worth it.

He continues: “You have to understand that there is a world of difference between Mozambique and Afghanistan. The problems in Afghanistan are largely a creation of the Western world that arbitrarily designated that country as a haven for ‘terrorists’. Afghanistan was complicated by the presence of huge numbers of Western soldiers pursuing Western interests. This is not the case in Mozambique.”

Chan adds that it is wrong to make a comparison between the insurgents in Mozambique and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Mozambican scenario is different from Afghanistan where there were centuries of militant Islamic nationalism. And the insurgents are nowhere near as powerful and as well organised as the Taliban. But the warning example is Kenya. Victory for SADC on the battlefield could mean carnage in the shopping malls of capital cities.”

Should not go it alone

The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says Mozambique has recourse to regional and continental support and should not have to deal with this grave security threat alone.

The organisation suggested other specific steps that SADC could take some of which include the development of a comprehensive operational strategy that allows for a range of military, economic, political and humanitarian measures.

The ISS says : “SADC can send a fact-finding mission to Cabo Delgado to determine the extent of the crisis and the humanitarian needs of the population. The organisation can also outline measures for the effective coordination of security, surveillance and control of borders by neighbouring countries.”

It continues: “The organisation must effectively and publicly communicate on the matter to reassure citizens of SADC’s commitment while at the same time assisting Mozambique to develop a long-term strategy to address the root causes of the violence, including the confiscation of land for mining, unemployment, high illiteracy, underdevelopment and a lack of basic services.”

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