Private military contractors (PMCs) were vital to the survival of Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province before the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Rwanda deployed in mid-2021 to combat insurgents, maintains Lionel Dyck, head of Dyck Advisory Group (DAG).
Speaking at a recent defenceWeb online event on Countering the Insurgency in Mozambique, Dyck explained that his company began operations in Cabo Delgado in September 2019 on behalf of the Mozambican police. “What we did achieve was to ensure insurgents didn’t get in to Pemba. They were at the gates of Pemba.”
“When we left in March  we were the smallest mercenary force ever deployed in a situation, with a couple of helicopters and some of my expert men,” Dyck said. As DAG did not have ground forces, it relied on helicopters to target the insurgents, who were in command on the ground. “We managed to hold them [insurgents] up for a year without ground forces,” he said.
Dyck believes DAG could have recaptured Mocimboa da Praia from the insurgents had there been the political will and if they had had ground forces combined. “With air support we could have easily escorted troops into Mocimboa da Praia and recaptured it.” The town was eventually retaken by Rwandan and Mozambican troops in August last year.
Dyck emphasised that DAG always operated in support of the government and never went off on its own. Whenever they went into action, there would always be a Mozambican general present. “We never engaged anything a Mozambican general didn’t agree we could engage. Sometimes we are not going to engage and they said we must and we said no.”
DAG was not the first PMC to operate in Mozambique, with Russia’s Wagner Group briefly active in late 2019. After a number of Wagner soldiers were killed by insurgents, Wagner departed Mozambique.
PMCs are hired because governments cannot cope themselves, Dyck said. “Every country in the world that calls on PMCs does so because their own ability to deal with the problem doesn’t exist. It buys time for the government to train, equip and deal with own forces. At the same time it creates a climate for government to re-establish law and order.”
Dyck believes mercenary forces did what they could and it is now up to the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) to ensure security. “PMCs were vital to the survival of Cabo Delgado and Pemba,” until SADC forces arrived, Dyck said.
He questioned whether the Rwandan and SADC forces were mercenaries too, as they are being paid to fight – “the difference is they don’t want to be there whereas we do.” He believes PMCs can provide valuable experience and leadership to the Mozambicans and teach them how to use equipment, as the Mozambican security forces are lacking in these areas.
Ultimately, Dyck believes military force alone won’t solve the insurgency. “Militarily, we weren’t achieving anything. There needs to be a strategy for the government to reimpose order, build schools and clinics, control the roads,” he said, as a military response will only give government time and space to sort out the root causes of the insurgency.
Experts agree that tackling the root causes behind Mozambique’s insurgency is the only way to provide a lasting solution. Political analyst at the African Centre for the Constructive Resolution of Disputes (Accord), Welile Nhlapo, believes the insurgency in Cabo Delgado was created by local grievances and these need to be addressed. He maintains high unemployment, low literacy, poverty and few services are the main reasons for the insurgency breaking out, with major unemployment combining with a history of economic marginalisation.
“It is important to understand that the people of Mozambique are not radical at all, including the people of Cabo Delgado,” said Borges Nhamirre, Researcher at the Centre for Public Integrity. “The insurgency started because of a government failure to address the grievances of the people. As soon as the government of Mozambique can employ the people of Cabo Delgado, train them, give them jobs…Mozambique will not need military operations then.”
To date, the Mozambican response to the insurgency has been a military one, with soldiers, police, private security contracts and now SADC and Rwandan forces involved. Private military contractors such as Wagner Group and Dyck Advisory Group met with mixed results but Rwandan and SADC forces are seeing better results, and have recaptured several towns, including Mocimboa de Praia.
However, there is little end in sight to the insurgency, and this month the SADC agreed to further extend the deployment of SAMIM forces.