… SADC troops troop into Cabo Delgado
Windhoek – It has taken more than a year for Mozambique to agree with fellow SADC members on deployment of a military mission to combat terrorists in its restive northern region, but it’s a case of better late than never, says an international relations expert.
The bloc’s Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Tax, presented instruments of authority for deployment of the SADC Standby Force to Mozambique on July 16.
This follows a series of back-and-forth meetings involving Mozambique and its SADC peers dating to 2020 to try and find a way of ending the Islamist-linked insurgency in Cabo Delgado. The uprising started in 2017 with rebels saying they want to establish a Caliphate of Central and Southern Africa.
On June 23, 2021, an Extraordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government finally announced consensus on deployment of an intervention mission, and expectations are that boots will be on the ground any time from now.
In the meantime, Rwanda has already deployed a mission of 1,000 soldiers and police officers; and the European Union and United States have separately approved training missions in support of the government in Maputo.
As of July 21, soldiers who are part of the SADC contingent had begun arriving in Mozambique.
University of Namibia-based international relations expert Dr Ndumba Kamwanyah told The Southern Times this week that while SADC’s deployment was coming after the deaths of more than 2,500 people and displacement of an estimated 800,000 others, it was good that it was finally happening.
He said the situation in Mozambique could destabilise the entire region.
“It is imperative that in future SADC be decisive on such issues as they involve the lives of innocent people. The region is always supposed to be the first to react in such situations, not to be the last to move in a potentially dangerous situation with the ability to affect peace and stability,” he said.
At a ceremony where she presented the instruments of authority, Dr Tax said the SADC Standby Force would work closely with the Special Representative of the Chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation.
“SADC has high confidence in the capabilities and abilities of the leaders who have been appointed to lead the SADC Mission to lead men and women in uniform to achieve the desired objectives of attaining peace and security in Cabo Delgado, and creating a conducive peaceful environment for the people of Mozambique, and of the region at large,” Dr Tax said.
Boots on the Ground
The troop deployment had begun by the time of writing, with reports indicating that the leading elements of the SADC Standby Force – including its South African commander – were already in Mozambique.
Small units of special forces were reportedly flown into Pemba, the provincial capital of Cabo Delgado on July 19.
South African Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told Parliament’s Defence Portfolio Committee at the weekend that an advance party of the Standby Force would determine if the full proposed force was indeed needed.
SADC is yet to make public how big the full force earmarked for deployment in Mozambique is, though a US$12 million budget has been drawn up for the mission.
However, a May 2021 proposal by a SADC technical team headed by Brigadier Michael Mukokomani of Botswana, in his capacity as the Chief of Staff of the SADC Standby Force, recommended the deployment of a light infantry brigade of three battalions of 620 soldiers each and a staff of 90 for the brigade headquarters.
The recommendation also included the deployment of two special forces squadrons of 70 each, an engineer’s squadron of 100, and a signals squadron of 120. This was in addition to a logistics company of 100 and four intelligence operatives; two patrol ships with a crew of 180 each, and two submarines with a crew of 45.
For air support, the SADC technical committee recommended the deployment of six helicopters, four transport aircraft, two maritime surveillance aircraft and two unmanned aerial drones.
Meanwhile, the Rwandan troops have already been blooded in Mozambique, where on July 20 they reportedly killed about 30 rebels during a contact near the border with Tanzania.