SADC military takes on Moza rebels
Thabiso Scotch Mufambi
Harare – It may have taken more than a year, but SADC Heads of State and Government have finally convinced Maputo to accept a regional military deployment to combat terrorism in northern Mozambique.
The decision was reached at an Extraordinary Summit in Maputo on Wednesday, where leaders also tackled other matters threatening regional peace and security, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.
Security analysts said this was a momentous first step for a region that has never before mobilised a counter-terrorism operation.
The resolution was agreed on as the European Union indicated it too was ready to assist militarily in the SADC member state.
A communiqué issued after the meeting on Wednesday was thin on details pertaining to the deployment of the SADC Standby Force, but earlier recommendations by a Technical Assessment Team dispatched by the bloc to Mozambique concluded a 3,000-strong force could make a difference.
“Summit endorsed the recommendations of the report of the Chairperson of the Organ on Politics Defence and Security Cooperation and approved the mandate for the SADC Standby Force mission to the Republic of Mozambique to be deployed in support of Mozambique to combat terrorism and acts of violent extremism in Cabo Delgado,” read part of the communiqué.
A May 2021 proposal by the technical team headed by Brigadier Michael Mukokomani of Botswana, in his capacity as Chief of Staff of the SADC Standby Force, said the mission should have 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.
Wednesday’s Summit did not specify when troops would be deployed and which countries would be involved, though it did highlight the need for continued humanitarian support for displaced people in Cabo Delgado Province.
“Summit urged the member states in collaboration with humanitarian agencies to continue providing humanitarian support to the population affected by the terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado including the internally displaced persons.”
Opening the summit, SADC Chairperson President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique said the bloc had a huge role to play in ending the conflict.
“We are certain that we will have SADC as an active and main player in this fight,” he said. “We will not rest until we find the final victory: which is peace and progress in every corner of our region.”
Commenting on the Summit outcome, Ms Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, told Reuters that, “This is just the first step to a wider solution. This is the first time that … the SADC Standby Force has mobilised in a counter-terrorism operation which is not peacekeeping. It’s a situation that’s very complex.”
She added that the causes of the conflict – which has undertones of resource control and Islamist fundamentalism – would still need to be tackled.
The drawn-out SADC decision came as the European Union announced it was close to agreeing to some form of military support for Mozambique.
Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told lawmakers at a Parliamentary committee in Lisbon on Wednesday this week that he hoped a mission to support and train Mozambican troops would be approved at the next meeting of EU foreign ministers set for July 12.
“We hope that…it will be formally approved so we can launch this European mission to support Mozambique in the fight against terrorism,” Santos Silva was quoted saying by Mozambican media.
Portugal holds the EU’s rotating presidency and has already deployed 60 soldiers to the Southern African country for training purposes. Mozambique is a former Portuguese colony.
The United States has also offered Mozambique military training assistance, while France has expressed readiness to step in as well. In Africa, Rwanda too has offered support.
The crisis in Mozambique – which festered from 2017 but grabbed international attention in 2020 as the world grappled with the COVID-19 pandemic – has resulted in the deaths of at least 2,800 people and the displacement of about 800, 000 others. The United Nations has estimated that more than 900,000 people are under severe food insecurity in Cabo Delgado, and also in urgent need of shelter, protection and other services.
The economic cost has also been great, as the violence by the Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaah (ASWJ) terrorists halted a US$20 billion liquefied natural gas development by French oil giant Total.
ASWJ has openly aligned itself with Islamic State, and – along with other rebels in fellow SADC member state the DRC – has declared its intention to establish a Caliphate of East and Southern Africa.
The rebels have sacked towns and assumed control of key locales and infrastructure in a campaign that has included beheading of civilians and capturing of sex slaves.
At their Extraordinary Summit, SADC leaders dwelt extensively on social and health issues, largely within the context of COVID-19.
Their communiqué read, “Summit urged SADC member states and the international community to support the proposal for a temporary waiver of certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) to allow more countries to produce COVID-19 vaccine, for more efficient response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Summit called upon the World Trade Organisation to finalise negotiations on the waiver of certain provisions of the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), and expedite its operationalisation.”
They slammed hoarding of COVID-19 inoculants by developed countries while developing countries struggle to access them, and commended South African President Cyril Ramaphosa for leading the lobby to suspend aspects of TRIPS.
“Summit called for the end of vaccine nationalism and for equal access to vaccine by all countries. Summit urged all SADC citizens to continue observing and adhering to COVID-19 preventive measures. Summit called upon countries that are limiting SADC residents to travel to their countries based on origin and type of vaccine they received to reconsider their positions.”
Countries were urged to strengthen and expand social protection and safety nets “to cater for increasing numbers of food insecure population, and to promote value addition through agro-processing”.
SADC Heads of State and Government hailed the contributions of Zambia’s Founding President, Dr Kenneth Kaunda, to Southern Africa’s emancipation, following the liberation hero’s death on June 17.
“Summit expressed deepest condolences to Former President Dr Kaunda’s family, His Excellency Dr President Edgar Chagwa Lungu, the government and the people of the Republic of Zambia following the passing on of HE Dr Kenneth David Buchizya Kaunda, first President of the Republic of Zambia and the last surviving founding father of SADC and the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the African Union (AU); and paid tribute to late former President Dr Kaunda for the pivotal role he played in the liberation struggle, and for laying a solid foundation for regional integration of Southern Africa.”
Condolences were also expressed in regards to the late President John Magufuli of Tanzania and the late Prime Minister Ambrose Dlamini of Eswatini.
SADC leaders stood in solidarity with the people and government of the DRC following the Nyiragongo volcanic eruption in Goma.
The communiqué also called for the unconditional end to Western sanctions on Zimbabwe, and to support Harare’s socio-economic efforts.
‘Regional terror threat is growing’
Gaborone – The SADC region faces an escalating terrorism threat, the bloc’s Director of Politics, Defence and Security Mr Jorge Cardoso has warned.
At the recent SADC Chiefs of Police Sub-Committee of the Inter-State Defence and Security meeting in Gaborone, Botswana, Mr Cardoso said the threats was driven by rebels in the DRC and Mozambique.
“We have seen it over the years in the eastern DRC and more recently in the Cabo Delgado Province in northern of Mozambique,” said Mr Cardoso, saying this called for collaborative efforts to combat terrorism.
“I’m pleased to highlight that the State Security Sub-Committee meeting of April 2021 recommended establishment of the SADC regional counter-terrorism centre,” he added.
Mr Cardoso also noted the need to enhance efforts to counter transitional organised crime, cybercrime and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
He said the COVID-19 pandemic had enabled transnational organised criminal syndicates to scale up their illicit operations in the SADC region.
Mr Cardoso highlighted that policing contributed towards SADC’s goal of fostering regional integration, development, peace, security and stability.
“Police chiefs’ contribution to the region’s integration and social cohesion is of paramount importance,” he said.
Botswana’s Defence, Justice and Security Minister Kagiso Mmusi told police chiefs at the meeting warned that failure to address issues relating to emerging high-tech crimes would result in huge economic losses region-wide.
Minister Mmusi called on the police to embrace information sharing and to enhance inter-agency operations, particularly as regards research, intelligence, crime mapping and analysis.
“I urge police chiefs to introspect on the challenges which seek to diminish the achievement and strides made in combatting regional crime and be fully conscious that that the policing landscape keeps on changing,” said Minister Mmusi.