Carnage in Cabo Delgado makes an AU standby force more urgent

Islamic fight insurgents in Mozambique

Cabo Delgado, Mozambique – Dismembered, beheaded and massacred men, women and children litter the villages and towns of Northern Mozambique, their bodies often left decomposing where they lie.

The attacks of the Islamist insurgents have been savage, bloody, and brutal, and in the six months since the last meeting of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, the situation only seems to have gotten worse.

The number of civilians killed has now reached over 2000, the number of displaced 430 000, and the Mozambique government has lost control of three coastal districts.

Such gross violations of human rights are precisely what the purpose of an AU standby force was supposed to address. The urgency of an AU standby force has been talked about for 20 years or more, the rationale being to have a highly trained African rapid reaction force that could immediately intervene with military force to stem gross abuses of human rights on the continent. Had an AU Standby Force existed, it could have intervened in Cabo Delgado long ago to neutralise the insurgency.

The SADC Extraordinary Troika Summit held on Friday discussed the terrorist threat in Cabo Delgado and directed the finalisation of a comprehensive regional response and accepted the proposal by the UN to realign the current Force Integration Brigade troops strength to create headroom for Quick Reaction Forces (QRF’s), and generate two QRF’s from the SADC troop contributing countries.

To date, mercenaries from Russia and South Africa have been brought in by the government of Mozambique to do the work that an AU standby force should have done, and former apartheid military officers are being touted as mercenary leaders to address the carnage in Northern Mozambique. Former Rhodesian “dogs of war” have also re-emerged claiming to be ready and willing to take on the insurgents in Northern Mozambique, in addition to members of the former 32 Battalion. These dynamics make it all the more essential that SADC QRF’s swiftly and effectively intervene in Cabo Delgado to ensure African solutions to African

The raging heroin trade on the Northern coast of Mozambique is likely filling the coffers of the insurgents, along with the proceeds of rubies, ivory, timber and other resources. Mozambican Defence Personnel have also long been involved in the criminal syndicates moving drugs, ivory and precious stones. For the third time since June Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi has pointed to unnamed security elements who he has accused of benefiting from the insurgency, or “being in the service of evil doers.” The involvement of elements of the security forces working with the insurgents is complicating what is already an intractable conflict.

The recent drama of a number of Iranians being caught for allegedly smuggling 1.5 tonnes of heroin off the coast of Mozambique suggests that the illicit trade underway is lucrative and likely fuelling the conflict, ensuring financial flows to the insurgents who then purchase sophisticated weaponry. The lack of coordination between the security forces and intelligence agencies of Mozambique and Tanzania has been baffling given the escalation of the conflict this year. It was only a week ago that an MOU was signed between the two countries to share information and reinforce patrols to stop the insurgents.

A total of 516 suspected terrorists or collaborators with the insurgents who have been held in prisons in Tanzania are now to be extradited to Mozambique. The shocking reality is that these insurgents are not only home grown from Tanzania and Mozambique, but come from a plethora of other African countries such as Somalia, the DRC, Uganda, Burundi and even Rwanda. Few would have thought that Rwanda also had Islamic State followers, but just last year Rwandan authorities sentenced 13 people to jail after convicting them of belonging to extremist groups such as Islamic State and al Shabaab, and providing them support. The tentacles of the Islamic State Central Africa Province have been rapidly expanding on the African continent. IS recently claimed credit for killing DRC soldiers in the village of Kokola in Kivu province.

With the Americans paying close attention to developments in Mozambique, the last thing Africa needs is for the American military to involve themselves in curbing the spread of IS in Eastern and Central Africa. In August the Commander of US Special Operations Command Africa, Major General Dagvin Anderson, told journalists that the US would intervene in Mozambique militarily “as a last resort” if the situation continues to deteriorate. Any form of US military intervention in Cabo Delgado would set a dangerous precedent of American military action in the Southern African region, further cementing their military footprint on the continent.

The SADC Troika Summit which directed the finalisation of a regional response on Friday may be long overdue, but it pushes back against any plans from outside powers to intervene militarily in the Southern African region.