ZIMBABWE and Sadc should treat with seriousness the situation unfolding in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province where Islamic State (ISIS) insurgents have unleashed untold suffering, killing locals and expatriates, amid fears that extremist violence could spread across southern Africa.
Regional leaders should find a lasting solution to the crisis and cannot afford to ignore the destabilisation of Mozambique.
While the United States government deployed its elite Green Berets troops to train the Mozambican military as part of efforts to counter the Ahle Sunna Wal Jammah (ASWJ) militants in March, the region’s stability is still precarious.
US interests in Mozambique include business, mainly in the gas industry where the country has poured in investment worth millions of dollars. Getting rid of the jihadists is both a business and foreign policy imperative for Washingyon DC.
The growing insurgency in Mozambique presents a new threat to the region, after similar groups wrecked havoc in East Africa, the Horn of Africa and Nigeria where Boko Haram has become one of the greatest threats to peace in West Africa.
For a long time, southern Africa remained the continent’s only region untouched by extreme Islamist militancy. That has changed. It would be folly for Mozambique’s neighbours, including Zimbabwe, to watch with indifference.
In a report, the International Crisis Group noted the neighbouring countries’ lack of urgency on Mozambican crisis. There is a mistaken belief that conflict is unlikely to affect their own territories.
However, a survey in the region shows growing fears that the region could face attacks similar to Al Shabaab’s assault on Kenya which has wrecked havoc in that country since 1999.
“Yes, although for the time being the DRC’s and Mozambique’s neighbours in the Great Lakes region and Southern Africa are less concerned about the groups’ possible territorial ambitions than the threat they might pose to public spaces in their capitals and other locations. Some worry that they will face the kind of attacks that Kenya has seen in recent years in Nairobi, or that Uganda saw in Kampala in 2010,” the Crisis Group said in a report.
“South Africa also shows signs of being worried about militant groups, including those from the Great Lakes region and Mozambique, using its territory as a base or safe haven, and about possible links between homegrown militants in South Africa and those in the DRC and Mozambique.”
Sadc cannot ignore the growing threat that insurgents in Cabo Delgado are posing on the region.
Although Sadc leaders have held several meetings, they have been inconclusive on the issue, as the heads of state choose instead to adopt a wait-and-see approach.
This week, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack on Mozambique’s northernmost town of Palma which claimed the life of a South African expatriate, forcing locals and foreign contractors to flee.
Diplomats and observers following the situation in Mozambique say insurgents remain in control of much of Palma, a key logistics hub for overseas companies to exploit vast natural gas reserves.
Analysts say the insurgents seem to planning conflict for the long haul, which poses a stern challenge for regional leaders to act decisively.
However, any miscalculated intervention could trigger ruthless retaliation from the ISIS offshoot, analysts have warned.
Countries like Zimbabwe are likely to lose trade routes to the Indian Ocean if the insurgency in Mozambique continues escalating.
Zimbabwe is also likely to lose the Beira-Msasa oil pipeline, which the country depends on for fuel supplies.
In January, The NewsHawks reported that President Emmerson Mnangagwa was under immense pressure to deploy the Zimbabwean army into conflict-wracked Coba Delgado. It is not an easy decision, of course, and the ramifications could be dire, either way.
Political analyst Stephen Chan said: “There are US military advisers in Mozambique at this moment, helping the Mozambican military response. They see this very much as an extension of Al Shabaab’s activity in Somalia, and do not read local factors and discontents into the equation at all. There is, in short, no battle for hearts and minds here,” Chan said.
“That kind of one-dimensional approach is the last thing that the Zimbabwean or any other Sadc force should buy into. The dangers of intervention, and the collateral damage that could be easily caused, could well incite — as it did in Nairobi — a terrorist attack on an unguarded civilian location in Harare, like a shopping mall.”
Chan said Zimbabwe can only deploy troops if its military is alive to Islamic principles.
“It would be prudent at this moment for Zimbabwe not to send military forces into this theatre unless the Zimbabwe military had an Islamic general able to devise a parallel hearts-and-minds approach and did not tailor his own military approach to the advice of the Americans. Encouragement to Frelimo to implement better governance in the province would also be most helpful,” Chan said.
The last time Harare deployed troops on foreign soil, to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998, Zimbabwe suffered its worst budgetary shock, leading to the spectacular crash of the Zimbabwean dollar.
Analysts say any intervention could cost the country millions of dollars in unbudgeted funds, further crippling a nation already teetering on the brink of chaos.
However, a security studies expert and lecturer at Bindura University, Ronald Chipaike, said Sadc lacks capacity to deal with the situation in Cabo Delgado.
“Sadc’s lethargic response on the issue is raising questions on the sub-region’s ability and political will to handle security situations of this nature. Its hands-off approach is only pushing Mozambique further into a security crisis since the country’s security services seem unable to comprehensively deal with the situation,” Chipaike said, adding that the region feared reprisal attacks from the jihadists.
“The other issue of concern is a possible reprisal attack from the jihadists on Zimbabwean territory. This is a real problem to consider if the intervention option is on the table.”
Chipaike said Sadc must employ counter terrorism strategies as the extremists may spread across the region, preying on like-minded groups.
“Another issue of concern is with regards to the influence the jihadists may have on like-minded groups in other countries like South Africa, for example. This only means one thing: Sadc has to come up with an effective counter-terrorism strategy urgently to deal with this threat,” Chipaike said.