SA warned on Mozambique insurrection last year


More than seven months after the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) called for continental assistance to be given to troubled Mozambique, the call has been echoed by an opposition Parliamentarian with – to date – the SA government response an expression of concern and an increase in diplomatic personnel in Maputo.

Last August the Pretoria headquartered think-tank urged the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) to assist Mozambique in stemming the violent insurgency in Cabo Delgado province and bring relief to thousands of people in dire need. The heads-up was in the form of a media statement made public five days ahead of the SADC summit in Maputo where Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi was named chair of the regional bloc.

In support of its call the ISS pointed out “various SADC instruments oblige the regional body to come to Mozambique’s aid. For instance, Article 6(1) of the SADC Mutual Defence Pact stipulates an ‘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 collective action’”.

“Additionally, SADC’s 2015 regional counter-terrorism strategy, developed in line with the UN global counter-terrorism strategy, provides for assistance in preventing youth radicalisation, border security, humanitarian aid and tackling the root causes of terrorism,” the ISS statement added.

Following attacks by Islamist extremists, present in Mozambique since 2017, last week in Palma in the north of the country with civilians killed and a temporary halt called to major oil and gas exploration and beneficiation activities, the ISS call was this week reiterated by the Democratic Alliance (DA) shadow defence and military veterans minister, Kobus Marais.

He asks for “a troop surge” from all SADC countries to counter the “scourge of increased terrorism” in the wake of reported South African deaths in the latest round of violence.

“Given the steady rise of problems with insurgents in the northern-most province of Mozambique since mid-2018, the DA will write to International Relations and Co-operation (DIRCO) Minister Naledi Pandor, as to an explanation why the extraordinary summit involving heads of state and government of all 16 SADC member states due to be held this month (March) in Maputo hasn’t happened.

“Problems in Mozambique have the potential to destabilise the whole region and we cannot afford to let it be moved to the back burner or wait until Mozambique is torn apart before our neighbour extends a request for intervention from SADC.

“Insurgents are increasingly emboldened as their control over territories in Cabo Delgado grows. South Africa must extend its hand to our neighbour in need and while the country should ready itself to assist Mozambique as part of an SADC contingent, the time has come to repatriate SA citizens trapped in Palma as a matter of urgency. The SA National Defence Force (SANDF) can send Special Forces to assist with this vital evacuation to Pemba,” he said in a statement adding an SADC intervention was needed – immediately – to save Mozambique and ensure stability for the southern African region.

A weekend DIRCO statement had it that the South African mission in Maputo was going to be “reinforced with additional staff to handle the work of locating, identifying and responding to the respective needs of the affected”.

On whether South Africa should deploy militarily to assist its eastern neighbour Darren Olivier, African Defence Review (ADR) director, notes the SANDF is capable of intervention, as was shown in its surge after the Battle of Bangui, but lacks sufficient budget to sustain one without additional funding from national budgets.

“The SANDF is not in great shape. Decades of underfunding and poor leadership left it fragile with many capabilities in a borderline state. It cannot fight a war on its own budget or with existing stocks. It would be capable of this task with extra funds.

“This isn’t unusual as few militaries can start serious combat operations on peacetime budgets. A deployment order is almost always concurrent with a substantial injection of funds for direct costs and to build up spares and ammunition stocks.

“In effect this means South Africa can’t claim it has no choice as it lacks the military means, though it may decide it lacks the economic means to provide a necessary level of short-term funding. Still a choice, but perhaps an acceptable one.

“Similarly, South Africa may choose not to intervene for high level strategic or political reasons, relating to expansion of the conflict and the risk of blowback. This all assumes intervention is even allowed or requested by Mozambique, though it may not be.

“I make a point of stating the SANDF has the capacity for intervention, provided it is given emergency war funding, to dispel the idea South Africa is powerless to act. It isn’t – it has options and choices, even if all are painful in some way.

“The worst thing the SA government could do  would be to order the SANDF to intervene without extra funding to cover costs. That would lead to an ineffective engagement at best or a disastrous one if sufficient the supply lines grind to a halt.

“Either be willing to properly fund and support an intervention, which would mean taking funds away from other government departments or borrowing further, or opt out of a military solution altogether. Trying to do it on a shoestring budget will fail,” Olivier concludes.