Southern Africa must show the world that it can resolve what is an African problem in Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique, and the SADC must take the lead. The SADC is ready and willing to act by deploying the SADC standby force, but it just needs to be invited to do so by the government of Mozambique.
As South Africa’s Minister for International Relations and Co-operation Naledi Pandor has said, the SADC must lead the process and determine the nature and conditions of support from external sources such as the EU or Portugal. Pandor has internalised the advice of colleagues in Nigeria who have said “don’t allow this to get out of hand because once it does it is uncontrollable and very difficult to reverse”. This is why Pandor believes it is necessary to take urgent action.
South Africa’s Minister of State Security Ayanda Dlodlo has said that Mozambique’s reticence to enlist the help of its neighbours to quash the insurgency in Cabo Delgado ran counter to SADC’s regional assessment of how best to speedily halt the violence. “Mozambique is engaging a number of countries outside the SADC to seek assistance in quelling the insurgency in Mozambique so that it does not spread to the rest of the region. SADC does, however, have the political and military will to intervene once invited,” Dlodlo has said.
What has caused some unease in the region has been the overtures made to the EU, and former colonial powers Portugal and France in terms of security co-operation in addressing the threat in Cabo Delgado. While assistance from developed nations is welcome, it should be under the auspices of an SADC-led military and political strategy which ensures that Africans take charge of dealing with the crisis on their own terms in collaboration with the government of Mozambique.
Part of the challenge, however, is the fact that Mozambique has been vacillating on what support it will accept from the region. Two weeks ago Mozambique’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Veronica Macamo said the country was still to decide on the type of external support against terrorism it was going to accept given the recommendation by the SADC of the deployment of military personnel from the region. “We said we were expecting support; we did not say what type of support,” she said.
It is believed that negotiations are ongoing between Mozambique and other SADC countries on the nature of the deployment of a regional force, but Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi allegedly wants SADC troops to be restricted to securing the perimeter around the gas infrastructure on the Afungi peninsula. The alleged preference of the government of Mozambique is that its army should lead offensive operations against the insurgents beyond that perimeter and it will rely on assistance from military training companies.
South Africa would like to see a number of SADC countries contributing troops to the SADC standby force to be deployed in Mozambique, unlike when the SADC deployed in the DRC to counter the M23 rebels some years ago, and only a few countries sent soldiers.
Portugal, the former colonial power, already has a military training force on the ground in Mozambique and has articulated its willingness to integrate other forces and support that may be required. There has also been talk of a possible French military ground intervention, and the EU has been generating forces for a technical and training team in Mozambique. It is critical that these efforts do not compete with the mooted SADC military deployment, and that SADC forces oversee a holistic strategy in dealing with the insurgency. Having foreign forces on the ground parallel to the SADC deployment could complicate matters, and there is the wider regional concern that foreign troops may overstay their welcome.
The exact details of the proposed French security support in Cabo Delgado is unclear, but what has been widely noted is that the French oil and gas giant Total has appointed a man with war experience to head its operations in northern Mozambique. Martin Deffontaines is Total’s new man in Mozambique, and he formerly headed Total’s operations in the DRC, and before that in Yemen. The regional concern is that French troops may be allowed to deploy in the vicinity of Total’s gas operations on the Afungi peninsula, as well as in the offshore waters, which would be perceived by many in Southern Africa as overreach by a former colonial power on Southern African soil.
The SADC is all too aware that foreign military interventions did not assist other African countries to quash jihadist insurgencies, as their strategies were largely flawed, failed to address the root causes of the insurgency, and relied on solely military approaches at the expense of political ones. Mozambique and the SADC cannot afford to ignore these lessons at this critical juncture.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media’s Group Foreign Editor.