Mozambique puts ‘Africanisation’ of terrorism on UN agenda  

By Julian Pecquet

Posted on Monday, 20 February 2023 10:58
Mozambique's President Filipe Nyusi on 17 February 2023 (photo: @clubOmozambique)

Mozambique takes over the rotating month-long presidency of the UN Security Council for the first time on 1 March, determined to raise the alarm bell over the rising threat that terrorism poses to the entire continent.

The southeast African nation has first-hand experience with an Islamist insurgency that has been raging since 2017 in its northern province of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique’s poorest. The violence is spurred by outside forces who arm and finance terrorists, says ambassador to the UN, Pedro Afonso Comissário, and compels the world body to act.

“Terrorism at this stage is a clear and present danger that dangles as a sword over Africa,” Comissário told The Africa Report in an interview at his office near UN headquarters in New York earlier this month.

‘Taking root’

“From north to south, from east to west, we are living under the threat,” he says, “That’s why we in Mozambique have been speaking about the Africanisation of terrorism. It is Africanisation because it is becoming an evil that is not just spreading all over Africa, but it is also taking root.”

As such, he says, both the Security Council and the General Assembly “need to give it a high priority.”

President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi is expected to make that pitch on 28 March when he is scheduled to chair a high-level debate on how the UN and regional organisations can strengthen their cooperation to counter terrorism and violent extremism.

“This approach is anchored in the vast experience of African countries in conflict resolution and the lessons learned from the various models of regional partnerships,” states a concept note for the debate shared with The Africa Report.

Other priorities for Mozambique’s first-ever two-year on the Security Council include climate change and the need to reaffirm the importance of multilateralism in a world body that many African nations see as dominated by the clash between the United States and Russia over the war in Ukraine. Unlike Africa’s two Security Council presidents in 2022, Gabon and Ghana, Mozambique abstained from denouncing Russia’s invasion last year.

“Whenever there is conflict, big powers want to always [say] ‘you are with me, or you are against me’. But we reject that,” Comissário says. “We are sovereign, we are independent.”

(See our previous interviews with Ghana’s UN envoy Harold Agyeman here, with Gabon’s Michel Biang here and with Kenya’s Martin Kimani here).

Blame game

By putting terrorism on the agenda, Mozambique knows it risks drawing attention to poor governance and other domestic grievances that some experts blame for the violence in Cabo Delgado.

Comissário says the country welcomes the scrutiny.

“We listen. Even to nonsense,” he said with a dismissive chuckle.

“This effort of linking terrorism to development is nonsense in all its aspects. The root cause of terrorism in Africa is made by those who have money and who give money to these radical movements.”

He pointed to the chaos in Libya since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the rise of Boko Haram, and the years-long disfunction in Somalia as evidence of an “invisible hand” at work to undermine African nations by providing insurgents with money and weapons.

“There is a project outside Mozambique to interfere in our process of development,” he says.

“There is no basis for radicalism, extremism and terrorism in Mozambique,” Comissário says. “Because at the time when this started, we were busy with the consolidation of our democracy and our development projects, including the (natural) gas in Cabo Delgado. We were busy integrating ourselves into the regional economy and the peace architecture of the SADC (Southern African Development Community) region.”

Expanding their reach

He acknowledges, however, that Islamists have been preying on poverty and other local conditions to expand their reach.

“Don’t confuse cause and effect. It is a big mistake.”

Mozambique has welcomed international cooperation, with troops from Rwanda and SADC helping combat the insurgency. Comissário does not see the role of a UN peacekeeping mission, however.

“In order for a peacekeeping operation to be successful, you need a very clear political objective,” he says. “But now if you apply this logic to a situation of insurgency, of terrorism, it does not work. You need to assist the government in place to defeat these irregular, non-state actors.”

Likewise, Comissário questions western criticism of the Russian Wagner Group’s assistance to African countries that request it. The Kremlin-linked mercenary group briefly helped Mozambique fight the insurgency in Cabo Delgado but left in 2020 after suffering battlefield defeats.

If African countries feel compelled to hire mercenaries, he says, that points to a deficit in collective security that needs to be addressed.

Western politicians, he says, are wrong when they accuse African leaders of using mercenaries “to perpetuate themselves in power.”

“That is not the reason. The reason is that Islamist terrorists are an existing threat to the state – not to the government, but to the state. So states that are not powerful will resort to every means possible to counter the threat.”

With the long history of western powers using mercenaries for their own ends on the continent, he adds, “we have no lesson to take from anybody”.


Likewise, Mozambique has no interest in seeing the Security Council transformed into a forum against Russia.

“They are not giving priority to dialogue, to negotiation, to multilateralism, to the respect of agreements … and they sometimes do not respect the [UN] charter itself,” Comissário says. “What happened in Libya? What happened in Iraq?”

Mozambique has deep ties to Russia dating back to Soviet times when Moscow supported the left-wing Liberation Front of Mozambique (FRELIMO) in its fight against colonial power Portugal. The FRELIMO has ruled the country since its independence in 1975.

Comissário brings his own history to the issue, having served a previous stint as ambassador to the UN from 1989 to 1996. He was most recently Mozambique’s deputy minister for Foreign Affairs and Cooperation until being appointed to a second stint at the UN in 2020.

The Mozambican envoy recalls the promises made after the Cold War that NATO would not expand eastward. And he says it is “not clear” to Maputo why the Minsk agreements failed to bring an end to conflict in the Donbas.

“We cannot avoid conflict. We cannot avoid wars,” he says. “But once they explode, they break out, we need to resort to negotiations.”

Mozambique was on the agenda of US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield’s recent trip to current and former members of the Security Council, which also included stops in Kenya and Ghana. Pressed on Maputo’s ties to Russia, the US envoy told reporters in Maputo that while “Mozambique’s positions are Mozambique’s positions … you cannot be neutral when there is a country that is attacking another country.”

Comissário says that’s not his country’s position.

“We don’t use that word, neutrality. We say that Mozambique, under the (national) constitution and under the (UN) charter has proclaimed that we profess the primacy of peace.”

The priority, he says, must be to end the war.

“This is what we are saying to Ukraine and Russia: You are both our friends. You supported us in our liberation struggle. But we defend the [UN] charter. And this war is a senseless war.”

Focus on climate

The country has tentatively scheduled several signature events during its presidency.

To mark 22.5 years since Resolution 1325 acknowledging the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the council will host an open debate on 7 March. Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Verónica Macamo is expected to chair.

On 16 March, Mozambique will host a thematic debate on security sector reform. The debate will discuss the main elements of last year’s report by Secretary-General António Guterres, which advocated for addressing security sector challenges as part of the broader focus on governance in conflict areas.

Finally, on 30 March, Ambassador Comissário is set to chair an open debate on the impact of development policies on peace and security.

Another key priority is climate change.

Mozambique supports the 2021 resolution brought by Niger and Ireland – and vetoed by Russia – that would have linked climate change to security issues on the council. But Comissário says the country doesn’t want to force the issue on skeptical countries such as Russia, China, Brazil and India.

“I understand that their argument is that there are already other institutions dealing with the issue of climate change,” says Comissário, whose own home in the port city of Beira was flooded by Cyclone Idai in 2019. “Our argument is that yes, there are other institutions, but we have to attach great attention to the consequences, the links that might exist between climate change and the security issue.”

As for energy independence, Comissário says Mozambique sees no contradiction in exploiting its natural gas resources.

“Climate change does not mean that we have to die in poverty while we have the resources there,” he says.

“We are going to use our natural resources, like everybody,” he says. “Even while bearing in mind that we need to find the most appropriate solutions to counter climate change.”

UN reform

Mozambique is also keen to work with the other two current African members of the Security Council, Gabon and Ghana, to press for reforms of the United Nations – especially after Guterres called for the African Union to be given a permanent seat at the AU summit in Addis Ababa.

Comissário however says he’s deeply skeptical after hearing the same refrain for more African representation since his first stint at the UN. If anything, he says, there’s less cause for optimism today because the “favourable winds” from the end of the Cold War have long blown over.

“These issues, they do not depend on us,” he notes, much like changing quotas at the IMF and World Bank.

“I’m not very optimistic,” Comissário says. “But I stand to be corrected.”

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