Mozambique defence minister thanks SAMIM for Cabo Delgado contribution

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The end of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) has been officially noted by that country’s defence minister.

The regional bloc mission started operations in the east African country’s Cabo Delgado province in 2021 with an end date of July 2024. Troop contributing countries were Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia. At some stage a Namibian detachment joined the mission with no official mention of it by the regional bloc.

Botswana was the first to exit in May followed by Lesotho and South Africa, with President Cyril Ramaphosa extending the SANDF deployment to Mozambique to year-end on the day it was set to end.

Cristovao Chume, Mozambique Minister of National Defence, and SAMIM Head of Mission Mpho Molomo, led a closing ceremony on 4 July in Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province.

Chume is quoted on a SAMIM social media site as saying the multi-national regional bloc force was part of “significant progress” made in destroying terrorist bases and reducing the number of terrorist attacks. SAMIM also assisted in returning “normal functioning” to public and private institutions, the resumption of economic activities and free movement of people and goods in areas where ASWJ (Ansar al-Sunna Wa Jamma) was active.

The SADC commitment was also evident, according to Chume, in “a significant improvement to the security situation in general”.

“Progress in the fight against terrorism is a victory for all SADC countries. The SAMIM mission has played a major role in addressing the threat posed by terrorism in the region,” said Chume, describing the mission as an example of regional solidarity for the African continent, and a strategy for solving African problems.

Chuma noted that despite the destruction of the terrorist bases and a resumption of economic activity, some terrorists are still roaming parts of Cabo Delgado, wreaking havoc among the population.

With SAMIM officially no longer part of efforts to contain terror activities, this will become a FADM (Forcas Armadas de Defese de Mocambique) responsibility with support from a Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) contingent

The last South African unit on active service in Mozambique was Makhanda-based 6 SA Infantry (SAI) Battalion. It arrived in the east African country last November and its 1 500 personnel returned to South Africa last month (June). At the time of publication there was no information available on what SA National Defence Force (SANDF) elements remained in Mozambique and what taskings are assigned them. Similarly, the SADC has not made any information known about the SAMIM stand-down or how long it will take.

SAMIM was set up operationally in mid-2021 as a regional bloc peace initiative to rid Cabo Delgado of ASWJ/Islamic State insurgents, active since 2017. Fourteen months after activation as a full military force it transitioned to a multi-dimensional mission undertaking combined operations with police, correctional services and civilian input and participation.

Chikondi Chidzanja, a doctoral researcher at Stellenbosch University’s Conflict, Peacebuilding & Risk Unit (CPRU), wrote that SAMIM’s withdrawal has been criticised for being premature while others have questioned the SADC’s competence while accusing it of turning away from a terrorist threat on its doorstep.

“Mozambique took a long time to admit to the presence of an insurgency and to label it as such in meetings with the SADC. When it first sought outside help, it turned to private military companies (PMCs) such as the Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) and Russia’s Wagner Group in late 2019. Both of these companies proved unable to contain the insurgency and took heavy casualties. When Mozambique looked for international support, it prioritized a bilateral engagement with Rwanda, which sent troops in 2021, earlier than the SADC. Even when SAMIM finally was formed, its troops were relegated to peripheral areas away from strategic locations in Cabo Delgado. Rwanda was assigned to the primary strategic areas for its operations. The optics did not favour SAMIM,” Chidzanja noted.

Instead of Mozambique assuming greater responsibility and ownership as SAMIM withdraws, it has allowed Rwanda to deploy an additional 2 000 troops. Initially, in 2021, Rwanda had sent a 1 000-person contingent of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) and the Rwanda National Police (RNP). That force has grown to approximately 4 500.

During its time, SAMIM marked some important achievements, including liberating villages from the grip of terrorism, dismantling terror bases and securing roads for the free movement of humanitarian aid, according to Chidzanja.

“Could SAMIM have been better?” he asked. “In hindsight, yes, it could have been more proactive in its engagement with stakeholders. Critics have correctly pointed out that much of the SAMIM mission was shrouded in secrecy with little information made available to the public. However, given the circumstances, resources and the ad hoc nature of SAMIM, this was perhaps the best they could have done.

“SAMIM operated in a hostile environment in which the host country had different priorities from that of a regional force. The environment itself is crowded with other players that were accorded primary tasks in strategic areas while the regional force was on the periphery. In such an environment there is little a regional standby force can achieve in the long term. Of course, the lessons learned will serve the future interventions in the region. If factors such as its mandate, the relationship with the host country and lack of understanding of the nature of ad hoc interventions are comprehensively understood, then SAMIM did its part to advance peace support operations in the region. SAMIM exemplifies the principle of ‘African solutions to African problems.’” As the peace operations landscape is rapidly changing, the SADC’s approach serves as an example of the adaptive peace paradigm allowing for sustainable interventions,” he concluded.