The real reason for the postponement of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC’s) extraordinary troika of the organ on politics, defence and security cooperation summit – which was expected to have been held in Maputo, Mozambique, this week – is the fast deteriorating security situation in the country’s gas-rich northern coastal region, security sources have said.
This comes as evidence of President Filipe Nyusi’s growing resistance to SADC forces being deployed to fight the deadly insurgents is becoming increasingly clear.
Nyusi is said to be opposed to the deployment due to fear that a convergence of foreign forces in Mozambique might escalate the conflict into a regional war, invite foreign terrorists to descend on his country and expose his country’s poorly trained military. He also fears that it would allow his neighbours to see from inside that the insurgency largely has local roots, not foreign causes – as he is always keen to emphasise.
Security sources say these are the cumulative reasons why the summit was postponed.
The SADC claimed the summit meant to finalise military deployments to tackle insurgents was called off this week because the organ troika chair, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, is currently in Covid-19 quarantine, and his deputy, President Cyril Ramaphosa, has been appearing before the Zondo commission of inquiry into state capture.
Masisi’s press secretary Bathlalefi David Leagajang said the regional leaders agreed on a postponement as a result of the unavailability of the pair.
However, The NewsHawks established that the real reason the meeting was delayed was because of Maputo’s strong reluctance towards a multilateral approach on the conflict-stricken northern parts of that country due to complexities around the strife.
Masisi and Ramaphosa, together with Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, were expected to attend Thursday’s virtual meeting following the conclusion of a technical assessment report by the double troika plus Angola on the security situation in Cabo Delgado.
The SADC technical assessment team was deployed from April 15 to 21, comprising 37 personnel from Angola, Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, working alongside their counterparts from Mozambique and assisted by the regional body’s secretariat. But Mozambique was not in the technical team.
Informed sources, political analysts and security experts told The NewsHawks that the major reason Nyusi stalled the meeting was because he not keen on an SADC military intervention because it may lead to questions of sovereignty, the nature of the conflict, external influence and the financing of the operation.
The NewsHawks also established that ahead of Thursday’s meeting, Nyusi told a virtual forum of the Portuguese-speaking African countries that despite the violence in parts of the northern province of Cabo Delgado, Mozambique enjoys political stability and its institutions are functioning normally.
This meeting, according to sources, was attended by leaders from former Portuguese colonies such as Angola, Cape Verde and Equatorial Guinea. Sources said this signalled Maputo’s willingness to treat the conflict as an internal matter with limited support from the region and other bilateral partners.
Before the SADC ordered its technical team to assess the situation in Mozambique, Portugal had sent about 60 special forces to train the Mozambicans. The US is also providing technical support to Maputo. As reported by The NewsHawks, Zimbabwe also sent its special forces on a reconnaissance mission.
“Nyusi prefers bilateral support instead of a multilateral approach due to complexities around the geopolitics of this conflict. While the SADC wants to stamp its authority and show that it has teeth to bite, consensus remains a stumbling block. Some member states are concerned that once they take a multilateral approach, any future insurgency may be on their doorstep. That is a price many are not willing to pay,” a security source said.
On Wednesday, Lemogang Kwape, Botswana’s international affairs and cooperation minister and chairperson of the ministerial committee of the SADC organ on politics, said a multilateral approach was needed to solve the crisis.
“As we deliberate on the report and course of action, we should also take into consideration that our way forward, as the region, should be guided by the SADC Mutual Defence Pact. As we are aware, the pact provides for collective self-defence and collective action. In particular, article 6 of the pact states that ‘an armed attack against a state party shall be considered a threat to regional peace and security and such an attack shall be met with immediate action’,” Kwape said in his remarks at the opening of the extraordinary ministerial meeting of the SADC organ on politics, defence and security cooperation in Maputo on Wednesday.
History shows that the only places where SADC has sent troops were in Lesotho on two occasions and to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a senior consultant at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, said while countries like Zimbabwe and South Africa were willing to deploy boots on the ground, funding such an operation was the elephant in the room.
“Many countries are willing to support Mozambique almost in kind with equipment and so on. What we hear here is that there is a willingness by South Africa and Zimbabwe as well to send troops, to get involved militarily. The stakes are very high – South African investment in that area is substantial in terms of financing this liquid natural gas. Of course, for Zimbabwe also, for other reasons.
The country that is at most risk in the SADC is Tanzania. Tanzania is an important player in all of this because it has largely managed to fight terrorism quite successfully,” Louw-Vaudran said.
“So if there is an announcement today to say we are going to deploy as the SADC Standby Force to contain this insurgency in Cabo Delgado, that will take a long time – a couple months. It would need coordination between the two contributing countries. It would need financing because none of our countries can actually afford such a military operation. It is extremely expensive so we have to get the African Union, the UN and others to foot the bill. It seems as though there is some kind of willingness because a lot of money is at stake and lives of people are also at stake.”
Adriano Nuvunga, director of Mozambican civil society organisation the Centre for Democracy and Development, said Nyusi’s reluctance to invite the SADC’s support for a conflict that first broke out nearly a decade ago is quite telling.
“President Nyusi has been reluctant to have the SADC and that has been frustrating not only for the people of the region. We would have wanted to see the SADC moving robustly in terms of solidarity, but that depends on the extent to which Maputo is willing to invite the SADC,” Nuvunga said.
“But we think that the reluctance might be speaking to a number of factors, including the political economy of the conflict in northern Cabo Delgado. Although it is framed as international terrorism, the
reality is that this conflict was driven, initiated and it might have been captured or intersected with international dynamics.
“But the enablers and the factors that have ignited it happen speak to local dynamics. Some of the political economy aspects of the conflict point out to the failure of governance, failure of democracy, particularly on how political elites have been benefiting from this extractivism without local development. I think that this is the situation that Mozambique would not want to be properly exposed in the region. Also, there are issues on who is going to pay for the SADC’s involvement in Mozambique.”
Sources said Nyusi also feared that the deployment of the SADC Standby Force, as recommended by the regional bloc’s technical team, would also expose the internal dynamics of his military establishment.
Piers Pigou, a southern Africa consultant at the International Crisis Group, said Nyusi’s remarks at the meeting stretched the notion of political stability.
“This posture reflects the disconnect between the Mozambique state and the affected communities of Cabo Delgado. On face value, it is an extraordinary statement, but it exposes the illicit economy at play that is tied to this conflict. That will have political ramifications and the question is: Is Nyusi his own man?”