Mozambique to join UN Security Council amid Russian overtures

By Julian Pecquet

Posted on Friday, 10 June 2022 15:19, updated on Monday, 13 June 2022 16:31
UN General Assembly Mozambique
Filipe Nyusi, President of Mozambique, addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, at the United Nations headquarters. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Mozambique is joining the United Nations Security Council for the first time, bringing renewed attention to terrorism and climate change while adding a potential Russian ally to the divided world body.

All 192 UN member states present for the 9 June session voted to admit Mozambique for the 2023-2024 term after the African Union selected the Southern African nation to replace Kenya at the end of the year. Also joining the council on 1 January are Ecuador, Japan, Malta and Switzerland.

Maputo is expected to make terrorism a key focus of its two-year term, having battled an Islamist insurgency in its far northern province of Cabo Delgado since 2017. Mozambique is also one of the African countries most exposed to the risks of climate change and regular floods, drought and tropical storms.

According to the Security Council Report, a specialised publication covering the UN, its other thematic priorities include “small arms and light weapons; women, peace and security; children and armed conflict; human rights; and humanitarian action. It is also interested in exploring the links among culture, tourism, sports, and peace and security in advancing sustainable development”.

UN watchers will also be closely monitoring how the country positions itself regarding the war in Ukraine as western powers look to expand the agency’s response to the conflict beyond its political and humanitarian dimensions into the realm of accountability for Russia’s invasion. The three current African members of the council – Kenya, Ghana and Gabon – all voted in favour of the 2 March resolution denouncing the invasion, but Mozambique was one of 17 African countries that abstained.

“Mozambique, much to the US’s chagrin, has been staying fairly neutral, or at least trying to,” says Emilia Columbo, a senior associate with the Africa Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). “There’s certainly a historical relationship there that will likely come into play. It’s a balancing act, because at the same time … you have the US who is supporting, through training programs, their efforts in Cabo Delgado, who is the primary donor to Mozambique and has been for years.”

The Russia connection

The US is the country’s principal bilateral donor, with the State Department requesting more than $558m in its FY2023 budget request – the vast majority ($498m) for health programs. Since last year, the US has also dispatched special forces soldiers to help train their Mozambican counterparts in combating the insurgents of ISIS-Mozambique, which the US government designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organisation in March 2021 .

However, ties with Russia run deep.

During Soviet times, Moscow supported the left-wing Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) in its fight against colonial power Portugal (FRELIMO has ruled the country since independence in 1975). Since then, Russia security assistance has continued apace, with Moscow reportedly maintaining a military presence in Cabo Delgado despite the official departure of Wagner Group mercenaries in 2020.

Days before this week’s Security Council vote, the speaker of Russia’s upper house of parliament, Valentina Matviyenko, led a delegation of Russian lawmakers to Maputo to discuss deepening bilateral ties with President Filipe Nyusi and other officials. Matviyenko is one of several top Russian officials, along with President Vladimir Putin and the Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who were sanctioned by the US Treasury Department in late February in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Mozambique now has the responsibility to set a good example and ensure that human rights abusers across the country are brought to justice

A bilateral summit has been scheduled in Moscow next month and during her visit, Matviyenko announced that Moscow is preparing a second Russia-Africa summit following the first one in Sochi in October 2019.

“Russia is always with Mozambique, and Mozambique is always with Russia,” Mozambique Assembly Speaker Esperanca Bias said alongside her Russian counterpart, Russia’s TASS news agency said. “Our relationship dates back to the period when Mozambique was fighting for independence. Even after we gained independence, Russia has always been by our side.”

Mozambique’s embassy in Washington and its mission to the UN did not respond to requests for comment.

Despite their good relationship, the two countries may not see eye to eye on climate change. Although African countries banded together last year to advance a resolution linking climate change with terrorism and other security challenges, Russia vetoed the measure.

“Mozambique also supports efforts to have the Security Council address non-traditional threats to peace and security, such as pandemics and climate change,” says the Security Council report. “The country has been increasingly vulnerable to climate-related risks, including droughts, floods and cyclones.”

Eye on terrorism

UN efforts to combat terrorism may also prove tricky.

Even though Mozambique welcomes international cooperation – troops from Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community are helping combat the insurgency – Nyusi’s government has preferred to blame an amorphous foreign conspiracy for the violence rather than examine domestic factors, experts say.

“I do see a lot of talk of them really elevating terrorism and counterterrorism on the Security Council, but at the same time, I think there’s a little bit of a risk,” Columbo says. “I wonder to what extent, if they raise this, do they get a little bit more pressure to address some of these grievances, to defend their narrative that this isn’t really a domestic issue, that this is something that came from the outside?”

“Maybe you get more attention, more funding, more support for whatever’s going on,” she says. “But I think it comes with a little bit of a risk in terms of the narrative that they’ve been promoting.”

Whatever tack Mozambique ends up taking on the council, it can expect increased scrutiny to go along with its bigger platform.

“As a new non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, Mozambique now has the responsibility to set a good example and ensure that human rights abusers across the country, including members of the security forces, are brought to justice,” Zenaida Machado, senior researcher for Angola and Mozambique at Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.

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