… but uncertainty over SADC Standby Force
Thabiso Scotch Mufambi
Harare – Maputo was this week due to give the greenlight for the SADC Standby Force to deploy in Mozambique, at a time Rwanda has already put boots on the ground and the European Union has confirmed training mission and the United States has pledged its support.
At the time of writing, uncertainty surrounded the deployment of the Standby Force.
Mozambique was supposed to sign a Status Forces Agreement by July 15 to pave way for the deployment, but as of July 14 had not done so; despite the SADC Secretariat already having written to the United Nations to inform the Security Council of the deployment.
In the meantime, Rwanda deployed a contingent of 1,000 troops to help Mozambique quell the Islamist-linked uprising in Cabo Delgado Province.
The SADC region has taken more than a year of frustrating back-and-forth talks, amidst reports that Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi was ambivalent towards a regional deployment and prefers individual members of the bloc to put boots on his territory.
And SADC members are not happy with how Mozambique has quickly agreed to interventions by forces from outside the region, though the Rwanda government has been at pains to emphasise that it will co-operate with the bloc’s operations – when the Standby Force is finally deployed.
“The joint force will work closely with the Mozambique Armed Forces and forces from SADC in designated sectors of responsibility,” Kigali said.
But South African Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the media that, “The issue of Rwanda deploying, that is a bilateral matter between Rwanda and Mozambique, but of course it is unfortunate that the deployment happened before SADC had deployed because whatever bilateral agreement there is between Mozambique and Rwanda you would have expected that Rwanda would be going in, in support of Mozambique in the context of a mandate which has been given by the Heads of State of SADC.
“It is unfortunate, it is a situation that we have no control over, but it means that Mozambique has agreed with the Rwandese that the armed forces of Rwanda should go in, but it is not as though our Heads of State had not taken a decision (to deploy forces).”
Adding to the uncertainty is that there has been no word on how the different forces will work together.
This week, President Nyusi said, “They are going to work with us, but they do not give the orders. They are going to organise themselves and work with our commanders. The fight against rebel groups will be organized by Mozambican commanders. The defence of the country depends on us.”
Muddying the waters could also be South Africa’s alleged dispatching of a team of intelligence operatives to Mozambique without Maputo’s knowledge, only for the spooks to be outed and deported.
This may have motivated a change to a previously agreed command structure for the SADC deployment, something that is also stalling progress.
“At a military experts meeting held in Botswana before the (June SADC Extraordinary) Summit, it was agreed that South Africa would be the commander (at major-general level) and that Botswana would be the deputy (at colonel level) and that the chief-of-staff would be South Africa (at colonel level). (On July 9) I was informed that the operational decisions which were taken by the military experts had been changed. Those are some of the things which I believe are currently being resolved,” Minister Mapisa-Nqakula said, without specifying why the changes were being made.
Indications are that Mozambique does not want a South African commander for the force, which has a US$12 million budget.
Minister Mapisa-Nqakula continued: “The first group that will go in will be the Rapid Deployment Force which will consist of several member states within the region which will then determine the deployment by the SADC standby brigade.”
A May 2021 proposal by a technical team headed by Brigadier Michael Mukokomani of Botswana, in his capacity as 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 includes deployment of two special forces squadrons of 70 each, an engineer’s squadron of 100, and a signals squadron of 120; 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 recommendation is six helicopters, four transport aircraft, two maritime surveillance aircraft and two unmanned aerial drones.
Meanwhile, the Council of the EU adopted a decision to set up a military training mission in Mozambique (EUTM Mozambique) following a request for support from President Nyusi.
“The mandate of the mission will initially last two years. During this period, its strategic objective will be to support the capacity building of the units of the Mozambican armed forces that will be part of a future Quick Reaction Force.
“In particular, the mission will provide military training including operational preparation, specialised training on counter-terrorism, and training and education on the protection of civilians and compliance with international humanitarian law and human rights law.
“The EUTM Mozambique mission commander will be the Director of the Military Planning and Conduct Capability, Vice-Admiral Hervé Bléjean. Brigadier-General Nuno Lemos Pires, a Portuguese national with over 38 years’ experience in command positions including many in international missions, will lead the mission on the ground as force commander,” the EU said in a statement.
And on July 14, US State Department spokesperson Mr Ned Price said: “Secretary of State Antony J Blinken spoke today with Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi. The Secretary and President reaffirmed the strength and importance of US-Mozambique relations and our joint commitment to countering ISIS. The Secretary underscored U.S. support for Mozambique’s efforts against COVID-19, building on our long-standing investments in the country’s health sector. The Secretary expressed a desire for further collaboration on economic development and governance.”