/ 7 July 2021

A number of countries are offering military support to Mozambique to quell violent extremism in Cabo Delgado

201020 Mozambique Afp 1440x960
A destroyed house is seen in the village of Aldeia da Paz in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. Organised attacks by insurgents are forcing residents to flee the strife-torn province. (Marco Longari/ AFP)

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) met virtually this week to examine threats to regional peace and security, with violence in northern Mozambique and the pro-democracy protests unfolding in eSwatini likely to be on the agenda.

The ministerial committee of the SADC organ on politics, defence and security cooperation (MCO) comprises the ministers of foreign affairs, defence, public security and state security. The MCO’s mandate is to “examine new and emerging security threats to regional peace and security; consider measures for the consolidation of democracy in the region; and review the overall political and security situation in the SADC region”.

The 12 August elections in Zambia also should be on the agenda. It is unclear whether the SADC Electoral Observation Mission (SEOM) will be sent to the country or observation will be virtual because of Covid-19, as was the case in recent elections in Malawi and Tanzania.

The most important of these agenda items pertains to the response to address the insecurity in northern Mozambique. It has been two weeks since the extraordinary summit of SADC heads of state and government on 23 June in Mozambique. From the communique, we learned that: “The summit … approved the mandate for the SADC Standby Force mission to the Republic of Mozambique, to be deployed in support of Mozambique to combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism in Cabo Delgado”.

On face value, it seems as if the SADC and Mozambique may finally have been on the same page regarding a collective regional effort to address the violence. But this optimism should be tempered, because recent utterances by President Filipe Nyusi suggest a different story. 

As is the SADC norm, information from a “closed-door” meeting is gleaned from its communique, which presents the audience with only a slight peek into the meeting room. As a result, we are no closer to confirming any facts about the date of the SADC deployment and the composition of the troops.

In a recent speech, shortly after the extraordinary summit, Nyusi, marking the country’s 46th independence anniversary, stated: “The valiant defence and security forces will intensify the operational actions to hunt these criminals, with the necessary support from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and other friendly and brotherly countries, but without compromising our sovereignty as a nation. We will do everything so that the coming days will be of despair and agony for terrorists operating in Mozambique.”

This raises questions. Who are these friendly countries and what role will they play in the response efforts? Will these efforts be in conjunction with the SADC deployment or through a bilateral engagement? 

Nyusi has shown a preference to engage bilaterally with partners of his choice rather than adopt a collective regional deployment approach. This has caused some tensions with other regional leaders who are in favour of a collective regional response. But this is the first time Nyusi has shown a willingness to have foreign boots on the ground to strengthen his response against the insurgents.

Friendly and brotherly countries

Some of Nyusi’s bilateral engagements are highlighted to provide a more holistic view of responses to the situation in Cabo Delgado.

Portugal has provided training for Mozambican troops. According to Portugal’s Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, he expects a European Union Training Mission (EUTM) for Mozambique to be approved on 12 July. It is expected that Portugal will be the main contributor to the EUTM in Mozambique. Nyusi has agreed the mission is expected to comprise about 60 military personnel who will train the Mozambican forces. The new EUTM is expected to be operational before the end of this year.

France initially hesitated about Portugal’s request for a dozen French troops to be included in the EUTM. But a compromise may be in the offing as Portugal may be keen to contribute troops to the French-led Takuba task force of European special forces deployed in Mali.

In a further display of friendly and brotherly relations, on 6 July Mozambique received 158 000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Of the doses, 50 000 were donated by Portugal and 108 000 by France.

On 30 June, European Union ambassadors approved the establishment of a military mission in Mozambique to help train its armed forces. Portugal will provide half of the instructors and the rest will come from France, Italy and Spain. The EU’s foreign ministers are due to sign off on the mission at a meeting on 12 July. More information is expected about the functions of the EU mission once it is formally signed off.

The United States has pledged its bilateral support to Mozambique.  US Africa Command Deputy Commander Lieutenant General Kirk Smith recently stated that US troops had completed a training exercise with the Mozambicans “to kind of get a sense of how we can potentially understand the situation better”. The insurgents in northern Mozambique have been designated as a foreign terror organisation by the US government, resulting in support to Mozambique to curb the insurgency threat. The nature of that support is still unclear.

In April, Nyusi flew to Rwanda to meet President Paul Kagame instead of attending a SADC meeting in Maputo. The SADC issued an eleventh-hour statement saying President Cyril Ramaphosa and Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi were unavailable to attend, even though their foreign ministers were in Maputo and could have deputised for them. This may have been a signal that Nyusi has other options — the friendly and brotherly countries — if the SADC pushed too hard in their demands. Rwanda has a history of dealing with threats posed by insurgents. More recently, Rwanda has been supporting the Central African Republic government on a bilateral basis against an insurgency threat.

There have been claims that Rwandan army officers have made several trips to Cabo Delgado. A delegation of 35 Rwandan officers reportedly arrived in Pemba on 23 June on a reconnaissance mission. This was the same day that the SADC leaders were meeting in Maputo. It is thought to be the second such mission by Rwandan military personnel, with the previous trip being from 7 to 9 May.

Of concern to the SADC leaders is a recent statement by the Rwanda Defence Force spokesperson, Ronald Rwivanga: “There are plans to deploy, but plans are not finalised yet.”

SADC developments

On 28 June, the SADC Council of Ministers approved a budget of $12-million for the SADC Standby Force. According to Angolan Foreign Minister Tete António, the funds will be drawn from a SADC contingency fund, plus an additional $7-million contribution from the member states. All the funding should be available by 9 July. 

He added that detailed plans for the SADC intervention will be drawn up by technical committees in the next few days.

In April, a leaked SADC technical mission document recommended the immediate dispatch of an intervention force of almost 3 000 troops to Cabo Delgado. The proposal was for three light infantry battalions of 630 troops each, two special forces squadrons of 70 troops each; two attack helicopters; two armed helicopters; two surface patrol ships; one submarine; one maritime surveillance aircraft as well as other logistical support. It is not known whether this recommendation was approved by the SADC leaders or if the leaked document was intended to hinder the plan. But the true composition, size and date of the expected deployment remains unknown. 

Rwanda’s alleged involvement remains a bone of contention among some member states. Some have speculated that Rwanda’s intervention is likely to be supported by Tanzania and France. Because of its geographic proximity, Tanzania is directly affected by the insecurity in Cabo Delgado, but it appears to have little appetite to intervene directly in the violence. This could be a result of several losses experienced as a contributing member to the United Nations Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In a recent interview the SADC executive secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, confirmed that Mozambique has not informed the SADC of any planned deployment from Rwanda. She implied it will happen soon, saying “as urgently as possible”, and would comprise soldiers from member states. She further stated: “We are deploying. We are going to war.”

Thus far, Foreign Minister Veronica Macamo and the defence ministry’s spokesperson, Omar Saranga, have refrained from commenting on the deployment of troops from a non-SADC country.

Whether the response effort adopted is bilateral or regional, the two approaches should not be played off against each other. Regarding the insecurity in Cabo Delgado, Nyusi would be wise to remember the Malagasy adage: “A boat does not know who the leader is. When it turns over, everyone gets wet.”