Colleta Dewa and Leslie Chimbama
PRESSURE is mounting on Sadc to take decisive action on the insurgency in Mozambique, with calls growing for military deployment in the north of the country.
On March 24, the radical Islamist group calling itself Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama/Ansar al-Sunna (ASWJ) launched yet another attack on civilians and reportedly have seized control of Palma, a city of 75 000 people. Reports indicate the terrorists are increasingly targeting women and children; beheading people and desecrating corpses.
ASWJ — which in 2019 pledged allegiance to international terror group Islamic State — has also made forays into neighbouring Tanzania and have received the backing of a like-minded group operating in the DRC. ASWJ says it wants to establish a Caliphate of Central and Southern Africa.
ASWJ members are said to be avid followers of Sheikh Rogo, the Kenyan cleric allegedly at the centre of the 1998 bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Following his death in 2012, many of Sheikh Rogo’s followers reportedly moved to northern Mozambique where his extremist interpretation of Islam has found takers in Mocimboa da Praia, a district of Cabo Delgaldo Province.
According to military intelligence sources cited by AFP, the group has around 4 500, of which 2 000 are armed, and some of the fighters have been recruited from Somalia and Tanzania.
When designating ASWJ as a terrorist organisation in March, the United States named Abu Yasir Hassan — a Tanzanian — as the leader of the group.
Analysts say the transnational nature of the insurgency should have long prompted Mozambique and Sadc into action.
“The problems in Mozambique have the potential to destabilise the whole region and we cannot afford to let it be moved to the back burner or wait until Mozambique is torn apart before our neighbour extends a request for intervention from Sadc,” South African political analyst
Mr Zolani Moyo told The Southern Times last week.
Sadc Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Tax said the region was structuring a response to the terrorism.
Dr Tax said just because the bloc was tackling the matter away from the public eye, it did not mean it was not doing anything.
“Will just a statement from the Executive Secretary of Sadc change the situation? Be assured that Sadc member states are working with Mozambique a sovereign country on this complex matter,” Dr Tax said on a social media platform last week.
Mr Alex Vines, the head of the Africa programme at British think tank Chatham House, suggested to DW that military advisors could be embedded with Mozambican forces to assist in structuring responses to the terrorists.
“A full force would struggle. This is not the sort of conflict that Sadc has a lot of experience in confronting,” Mr Vines said.
A concern that has consistently arisen among observers is the intertwined one of Mozambique’s preparedness to deal with the crisis alone and its willingness to accept a deployment of foreign troops.
Prior indications have been that Mozambique is reluctant to allow boots on the ground in the form of regional deployment.
The Southern Times has previously reported that Maputo preferred a deployment by Zimbabwe, which successfully dispatched its military to help quell the Renamo-led civil war in the 1980s and early 1990s. However, Zimbabwe’s economic situation makes an individual deployment by Harare unlikely at present.
The Southern Africa director of Human Rights Watch, Mr Dewa Mavhinga, said Mozambique was under-prepared to repel the terrorists.
“Generally, there hasn’t been priority given to these attacks, and to the security situation in Cabo Delgado because this has been happening in different towns and, in fact, just before these attacks in Cabo there was a sense that Cabo was secure and safe and it seemed that this daring and audacious attack was a way of sending out a statement of the capacity of this group to disrupt and cause mass damage.
“The killings and the shootings recorded have been indiscriminate in a way and the unlawful targeting of civilians so it’s a clear sign that this is escalating, it’s not getting better. Perhaps Mozambican authorities have been under-prepared and given insufficient priority to this urgent crisis,” said Mavhinga.
Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi — who chairs the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation — on Wednesday flew to Zambia and Zimbabwe to, among other things, discuss the Mozambique crisis. Earlier, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa convened his military command to discuss Mozambique.
Mr George Charamba, President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, said his boss was in “weekly contact” with Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi, and “a face-to-face meeting is likely shortly”.
“Following the attack of Palma during which some South African citizens were killed, abducted or went missing, Presidents Mnangagwa, Cyril Ramaphosa and Nyusi conferred. Measures against the Islamist insurgents or terrorists will be taken sub-regionally,” Mr Charamba said.
Ms Liesl Louw-Vaudran, the Southern Africa project lead at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, last week said the African Union’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) should also get in on the act.
“Going forward, the situation must first be tabled for discussion at the PSC level . . . The fact that Mozambique is a council member might be an obstacle, but the issue should be put on the agenda by the rotating chair of the month, given its severity.
“The AU Chair (DRC) could also request such a tabling, supported by the new Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye. Such a PSC meeting should result in a strong statement commensurate with the gravity of the situation, with clarity on the steps to be taken by the AU Commission in managing it.
“Second, the PSC could conduct a fact-finding mission to Mozambique. This would highlight the issue and possibly prompt reaction from AU member states . . . Third, the AU could appoint a special envoy for Mozambique or mandate the AU special envoy on women, peace and security to investigate. The situation has had a disproportionate impact on women and vulnerable groups, and the envoy/s could use their good offices to mobilise an international response.”
She concluded: “Any AU action — even if such action demands no funding or organising, such as tabling the issue at the PSC for discussion — would send a signal to the people of Cabo Delgado that they have not been forgotten.”
Since the insurgency started in 2017, around 3 000 people have been killed, and the United Nations warns that as many as one million will have been displaced by mid-2021.