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War next door: Moza implosion rattles Sadc

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SOUTHERN African Development Community (Sadc) leaders are still anxiously hand-wringing and procrastinating on intervening in the volatile Mozambican conflict where Islamist militants are rampaging across the gas-rich Cabo Delgado region due to a cocktail of factors which have created disagreements and regional paralysis, amid a trail of death and destruction, The NewsHawks has established.

OWEN GAGARE
Diplomatic and security sources told The NewsHawks this week that Sadc leaders are paralysed by a complex cross-section of issues and clashes on how best to tackle the jihadist insurgency in Mozambique.

The sources said Sadc leaders have been immobilised by various issues on the table: lack of cooperation and consent from Maputo on a regional intervention, poor cohesion, resource scarcity, mutual geopolitical and geo-economic suspicions and attendant rivalries, big powers and international capital interests, and mortal fear of deadly Islamist terrorist networks and potential backlash on those who intervene. 

At the centre of the problem’s costly lethargy bordering on paralysis is ironically the leader who needs help the most – Sadc chairperson Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi. Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa on Wednesday met Sadc troika on politics, defence and security chair Mokgweetsi Masisi, the President of Botswana, at State House in Harare to further discuss the crisis. Mnangagwa is the outgoing troika chair. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is one of the troika members and incoming chair. 

Nyusi is the Sadc chair.

“During the meeting Masisi briefed Mnangagwa on the regional political and security situation, especially on Mozambique. They also spoke about bilateral issues, but Mozambique loomed large,” a security source said.

“One of the biggest issues that emerged in the meeting is Nyusi’s reluctance to cooperate with Sadc on regional intervention. Masisi told Mnangagwa that Ramaphosa said South Africa is ready to intervene as part of Sadc. South Africa yesterday sent troops to Mozambique on a rescue mission. Mnangagwa also wants Zimbabwe to intervene through Sadc. Botswana is also ready to contribute. But the troika leaders are frustrated with Nyusi as chairman; he doesn’t want to cooperate and allow swift Sadc intervention. He wants bilateral arrangements, but does not want some countries in the regional bloc to participate.”

Sadc leaders last met on 14 December 2020 in Maputo, Mozambique, after their 27 November 2020 meeting at the regional grouping’s headquarters – Gaborone, Botswana – to discuss the conflict.

They agreed in Maputo to meet again in January this year, but the meeting was postponed partly due to Covid-19 and protracted consultations.

The meeting was postponed to May or June. Since then, the war in northern Mozambique has intensified while the Islamist militants have gained ground. After Masisi and Mnangagwa’s meeting in Harare, Sadc issued a statement on Mozambique without a plan of action and timelines. 

Masisi’s statement expressed regret and outrage at what is happening in Mozambique, but ultimately boiled down to saying we “reaffirm our continued commitment to contribute towards the efforts to bring about lasting peace and security, as well as reconciliation and development in Mozambique”.

This has been happening since the troika met in Harare on 19 May 2020. Sadc leaders also held a virtual summit on 17 August 2020 before their November and December meetings. 

Sources said there are underlying problems on Sadc’s failure to act and mobilise international support to stem an insurgency which is increasingly becoming a regional security threat. Africa already has 12 other jihadist insurgencies which have made it a new front for extremist causes.

“This is a complex issue which has sovereignty, diplomatic, military, geopolitical and geo-economic, regional, international and self-interest dimensions. These issues and their interface make it very difficult for Sadc – which always wants to act as a collective – to have consensus and intervene,” a Zimbabwean security source said.

“Nyusi is considering everything from his power position, a Mozambican sovereignty and national interest perspective; he is looking at the matrix of his diplomatic relations in Sadc, which is the regional dimension. But there is also the international perspective, the issue of big powers, their capital, proxies and interests; and, of course, private security companies’ brazen profit motive, which interlinks with the bottom-line for international capital or multi-billion investors. 

“It’s not just a question of Sadc leaders waking up and saying let’s go in and fight the terrorists. There are all these complex issues at play. And the history, context and dynamics of conflict itself are critical. However, this doesn’t justify Sadc leaders’ failure to act beyond meetings, communiques and statements. Nyusi has always been reluctant to allow Sadc in and this is a major issue now. Sadc leaders are getting frustrated that he is not being helpful and doesn’t show urgency.”

Sources said Nyusi is inadvertently or by design proving to be a stumbling block to the Sadc intervention bid. The Mozambican leader wants bilateral arrangements with regional or international partners to deal with the crisis, not Sadc military action per se. 

Sources said Nyusi’s first choice was to have Zimbabwe in action in Mozambique. Harare has previously fought there during the Renamo rebel movement insurrection. 

And one of the commanders during that conflict – a proxy Cold War affair which started in Rhodesia as Salisbury’s attempt to destabilise Mozambique which was then hosting one of the Zimbabwean liberation movement’s key wings Zanu and Zanla – was retired colonel Lionel Dyck. 

Dyck was a controversial Rhodesian soldier who ironically after 1980 helped the late president Robert Mugabe to consolidate power after fighting on the opposite side and being rewarded with medals for that. Now Dyck is holding fort in Cabo Delgado through his private security company or mercenary outfit Dyck Advisory Group.

He is, however, frustrated as the Mozambican army is proving ineffective. Sadc is also not coming in to take over and escalate the fight. 

And, most troubling for him, his contract is expiring next week on Tuesday. After that, the terrorists are likely to march on. As Dyck said, the insurgents’ military campaign is like “a cancer” which will “insidiously” spread and eat further into Mozambican territory and possibly engulf the region.

But now Zimbabwe, battling a protracted political and economic crisis, wants to go in through Sadc. It is not supportive of the private security companies approach – although some leaders see an opportunity for self-enrichment – and indeed the bilateral strategy.

But Nyusi has also been liaising more with Zimbabwe, Tanzania, the United States and Europeans than with Sadc. He has been welcoming to the Americans and European Union more on how to combat the uprising. Sadc leaders feel that is unhelpful.

This has created growing misunderstandings, lack of cohesion and suspicions among the Sadc leaders which has left them caught up in weak diplomatic engagements and military inertia.

Since they started meetings on the Mozambican strife in Harare in May last year, Sadc leaders have not moved an inch toward the solution. They have been going round in circles, with Nyusi as a square peg in a round hole.

After a series of deadly attacks and bloodshed by the jihadists, Mnangagwa this week hosted Masisi, to discuss the political and security situation in Cabo Delgado province.

After Wednesday’s troika consultative meeting in Harare, Sadc issued yet another statement, but no action. 

The jihadist terrorists, ferociously attacking civilians indiscriminately, injuring, maiming, beheading and killing with reckless abandon, on 24 March swept across Palma taking the strategic town, according to various media reports, including CNN and BBC, as well as local and regional outlets.

According to Cabo Ligado Weekly, a Mozambique conflict observatory launched by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, Zitamar News, and Mediafax, insurgents also launched a simultaneous attack on coastal Macomia district on 24 March.

The attackers arrived by boat, moving along the coast and surprising fishermen working along the coasts of the Mucojo and Quiterajo administrative posts. 

Dyck says he fears for the worst. “At the moment there are no ships, but hardships,” Dyck told CNN.

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