Pretoria – The crisis in northern Mozambique is now an urgent and inescapable matter for the SADC region, given that the Islamic State (Isis) has issued a warning to South Africa not to get involved in the conflict. Isis threatened that if South Africa becomes involved, it would “open the fighting front within South Africa’s borders”.
Southern Africa has a lot to learn from West African nations on how to address a terrorist insurgency. If the Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique is to be defeated, we need to heed the lessons of how Boko Haram grew into such an ominous threat to the West African region.
Boko Haram started as a small, seemingly insignificant movement in Nigeria, but without a holistic counter-insurgency effort by the government, and a co-ordinated regional response, the group quickly emerged as a serious regional threat.
An Islamist insurgency also began in Mali in 2012, and quickly spread through the region. The West Africans developed a co-ordinated response to the threat. Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania established a co-ordinated force to fight terrorism.
In February, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi requested assistance from the SADC in dealing with the Islamist threat in the north of the country, but not much help was forthcoming.
When the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation met on May 19, no regional response to the situation in Mozambique was agreed on. Governments should have collectively taken measures to counter the threat, given that it has the potential to impact on regional stability.
So far, the Mozambican government has dealt with regional governments bilaterally rather than as a collective, and private security companies from South Africa and Russia have been involved in efforts to assist the government on the ground.
Zimbabwe also sent 30 elite troops to train Mozambique’s army. Instability in Mozambique is a threat to Zimbabwe’s interests, given its reliance on Mozambique for electricity and food.
Tanzania has sent troops to the border with Mozambique in an effort to more closely monitor cross-border trade and prevent illicit smuggling, which the insurgents have been benefiting from. South Africa has reportedly provided arms to Mozambique.
Of concern is the possibility that the Islamic State of Central African Province (ISCAP) – which took responsibility for a major attack on Mocimboa de Praia on June 27 – may start to regionalise their threat beyond northern Mozambique.
It has already said that Mozambican forces represent “a coalition of South Africa states”. If it perceives certain individual countries to be assisting the Mozambican security forces, it will make those countries a target in the future as their influence expands.
The insurgency, started in 2017, has already resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1300 people, and according to the UN has displaced over 210000.
Beyond humanitarian concerns is the economic future of Mozambique, which is slated to become the third largest producer of gas in the world. French oil giant Total has a $23 billion (R391.7bn) project in the north.
To date, gas operations have not been a target of the insurgency, but if that changed, it would threaten the economic future of the country.
It is in our national interest to ensure the insurgency is urgently neutralised in Mozambique and prevented from spreading regionally.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media’s foreign editor.