Devastated: A woman and her children stand in a burned-out area after their village, Aldeia da Paz, was attacked. Military interventions in Cabo Delgado have had limited success, but have not secured more permanent peace. Photo: Marco Longari/Getty Images
Over the past year, violence and armed conflict caused about 55 000 fatalities on the African continent, an increase of almost 10% since 2021. Across countries in the Sahel and Somalia, fatalities increased by 70%, marking a clear escalation of violence. In the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, armed violence perpetrated by the non-state armed group, Ansar al-Sunna, peaked in 2022.
Since October 2017, the conflict has caused about 5 000 fatalities and displaced more than a million civilians.
The Mozambican government and its regional partners have a difficult task ahead to broker peace in Cabo Delgado, but recent fieldwork by the Peacemaking Advisory Group (PAG) suggests there is a readiness for dialogue.
Mozambique has experience brokering peace post-civil war and, more recently, with the Maputo Accord. New studies indicate the negotiation and implementation of these agreements remain limited in their ability to secure durable peace. This article examines the potential efficacy of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes, which are one way to ensure former combatants are reintegrated into society post-conflict to avoid conflict recurrence.
Military intervention has been the dominant approach to dealing with the conflict in Cabo Delgado. Initially, the Mozambican government deployed its own military force alongside private military companies in response to the conflict but the effect was limited. Since 2021, deployments by the Rwandan Defence Force and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have jointly deployed about 4 500 military personnel in Cabo Delgado.
These interventions have made some strides in regaining territory and making it more difficult for Ansar al-Sunna to coordinate larger attacks. There is yet to be an initiative to start discussions between the Mozambique government and Ansar al-Sunna. The PAG report suggests there is a trust deficit but “a regionally anchored and non-aligned peace platform” would assist in bringing the parties towards a peace process.
Building trust between conflict parties is a crucial element in the process of peacebuilding. The United Nations and the African Union have used various strategies to build trust between conflict parties in their mediation efforts. Establishing trust is a delicate task and takes time and patience.
The peace dialogues that took place in Mozambique before the General Peace Agreement (GPA) in 1992 were critical in ending the conflict and laying the foundation for a democratic transition in Mozambique.
The GPA agreement focused on the establishment of a multi-party democracy with mention of the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of combatants, in the hope that it would ensure peace could be sustained. But the disarmament aspect driven by the UN’s peacebuilding mission in Mozambique was not fully implemented or prioritised because of its weak mandate, trust issues between parties and inadequate financial resources. Post-UN disarmament had greater success, such as Operation Rachel and Arms to Ploughshares, but a significant number of arms caches remain.
The inclusion of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration in peace agreements stems from the understanding that it contributes to sustainable peace by creating a post-conflict environment where there is a reduction in the availability of weapons and combatants are formally discharged and given support to transition into civilian life.
Although disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration is often included in comprehensive peace agreements, its negotiation, implementation and terminology can differ depending on the context. The process is administratively challenging and there are often bureaucratic hurdles that prevent adequate implementation. Disarmament in particular requires a great deal of trust between parties because it requires an obvious reduction in military capabilities.
Recent research by the Peace Research Institute of Oslo suggests that negotiating disarmament can be an important trust building exercise between conflict parties but requires a complete understanding of the process. Peacebuilders should avoid making disarmament a precondition for peace, but rather an outcome of the peace negotiation itself.
Finally, research shows that inclusivity remains critically neglected in many peace agreement and disarmament processes. Involving a network of women, youth and civil society, instead of only those in possession of weapons, can help create a more sustainable and long-lasting peacebuilding project.
Disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration has been criticised because of its limited theoretical underpinnings, but consensus over its importance for peacebuilding persists. Defining the success or failure of these programmes has been challenged given the disproportionate focus on the short-term activities such as weapons collection and demobilisation, with less focus on long-term activities like reintegration.
The objectives of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration are often not adequately ascribed and have either overly ambitious timelines or targets without sufficient financial or administration resources. Recent analysis of the mandate in Ethiopia raised concerns about the exclusion of women and children from the Pretoria deal and its unrealistic timeline for disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
Finally, disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programmes are unlikely to resolve the underlying causes of conflicts, which are often socioeconomic and political in nature. For instance, although Mozambique has successfully implemented these programmes in the past, as seen in the accompanying table, the five-year conflict in the resource-rich Cabo Delgado persists because of deeply ingrained socioeconomic and political drivers.
The Mozambican government has neglected the province by failing to provide basic governance and public goods. Subsequently high levels of poverty, inequality and unemployment have generated grievances which may find expression in clandestine activities.
In response to the difficulty of the traditional implementation of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration, scholars and practitioners have proposed a shift toward a second-generation disarmament approach, which adopts more of a “human security” focus and the programmes include larger groups of people affected by the violence.
The approach also recognises the need for transitional justice mechanisms to address human rights violations committed during the conflict. Last, it hopes to create a more evidence-based approach through regular evaluations of activities so that adaptation can happen where necessary.
In the context of Cabo Delgado, second-generation disarmament could be more successful because it considers the complex socioeconomic and political factors that have contributed to the conflict. The involvement of local people in the negotiation and implementation of disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration could also help to build trust between former combatants and the people they are to reintegrate into.
Moreover, transitional justice mechanisms could address the grievances of victims and hold perpetrators accountable, which could help to promote reconciliation and long-term peace in the region.
The process should aim to address the root causes of the conflict and promote reconciliation and inclusivity to ensure long-term stability. Ansar al-Sunna continues to pose a threat by breaking up into smaller cells to carry out attacks on villages and security posts not previously attacked in the more southern parts of Cabo Delgado. Although international deployments have made significant progress in securing critical parts of Cabo Delgado, the conflict persists and risks spreading to new areas.