The only official word on military assistance for Mozambique to date comes from non-Southern African Development Community (SADC) member Rwanda with questions remaining around South African commitment to and involvement in a regional bloc rapid deployment force (RDF).
The Rwandan involvement was made public by way of a statement by the east African country’s Ministry of Defence on 9 July.
It reads: “The Government of Rwanda, at the request of the Government of Mozambique is in the process of deploying a 1 000 person contingent of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) and the Rwanda National Police (RNP) to Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique, which is currently affected by terrorism and insecurity”.
“The joint force commanded by Major General Innocent Kabandana will work closely with Mozambique Armed Defence Forces (FADM) and forces from SADC in designated sectors of responsibility.
“The Rwandan contingent will support efforts to restore Mozambican state authority by conducting combat and security operations, as well as stabilisation and security sector reform (SSR).
“RDF Army Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Mubarakh Muganga briefed the departing contingent on behalf of the RDF Chief of Defence Staff, reminding them to uphold RDF values including honour, patriotism, valour and integrity.
“This deployment is based on good bilateral relations between Rwanda and Mozambique, following the signing of agreements between the countries in 2018 and is grounded in Rwanda’s commitment to the responsibility to protect (R2P) doctrine and the 2015 Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians.”
Weekend reports on the necessary SADC Status of Forces (SFA) agreement not yet signed raise questions about whether the force will start moving into northern Mozambique this week as has been suggested. It appears the agreement does not yet have Mozambique President Felipe Nyusi’s signature.
Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula told the SABC on 10 July it was “unfortunate” Rwanda deployed troops to Mozambique before SADC as it was expected the east African would have gone in under an SADC mandate. She added SADC did not have control over the timing of the Rwandan deployment as this was agreed between Rwanda and Mozambique.
She said the SADC military experts planning the Mozambique intervention originally proposed a South African major general should command the SADC standby brigade with a Botswana colonel as deputy.
The move by Rwanda raised eyebrows in South African defence circles with questions coming from Kobus Marais, Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister.
He maintains an admission by Mapisa-Nqakula that South Africa has “yet” to sign the SFA bodes ill for the deployment, supposedly set to start on Thursday (15 July). He asks how she can sign off a national defence force deployment without an SFA agreement. Marais also wants Mapisa-Nqakula to tell the defence oversight committee who is “footing the bill” for the SADC RDF and the number of South African military personnel in it.
Marais is concerned about what he calls “tension” between Maputo and Pretoria.
“That Mozambique went outside the SADC procedure and agreed with Rwanda on a troop deployment clearly shows tension between Mozambique South Africa,” he said adding it is “curious to expect South Africa to deploy to a foreign country when the host government shows mistrust as well as a lack of co-operation”.
“A signed SFA is non-negotiable and Mapisa-Nqakula should steer clear of plans to send SANDF troops without the express invitation of the Mozambican government. Doing so will worsen strained relations with Mozambique and compromise an already fragile security situation in Cabo Delgado,” Marais said.
There was, at the time of publishing, no official statement from SADC on deployment of a regional RDF as a precursor to the arrival of s SADC standby brigade in Mozambique.
African Defence Review director Darren Olivier believes Mozambique “is clearly playing SADC against Rwanda and delays in approving the SADC deployment and signing the SFA seem intentional to allow the RDF to deploy first.”
According to Olivier, Nyusi and the Mozambican military, it seems, want to use other countries as muscle to enforce the deeply flawed approach to the insurgency that has failed until now and is rejecting what could lead to a change in strategy or political reform.
Last month, the 16-member SADC approved the deployment of a joint force to help Mozambique respond to the conflict in the northern Cabo Delgado province. The decision by SADC concluded months of deliberation in the bloc about what was required to stop an insurgency threatening to open up southern Africa’s first jihadist front.
Almost 800 000 people have been displaced in Cabo Delgado and fighting brought a $20 billion natural gas project led by oil giant Total to a halt.