SADC at crossroads

April 8, 2021

TINASHE MAKICHI

The Southern African Development Community (Sadc) leaders have been thrown into quandary following deadly Islamist insurgents in Mozambique’s Northern Cabo Delgado Province as they meet today to discuss the deteriorating security and humanitarian crisis.

The crisis dates back to 2017 and over 3 000 people have been killed and more than 50 000 households displaced.

Today’s Extraordinary Double Troika Summit will be preceded by the Extraordinary Organ Troika Summit which will also take place on the same day and the supporting Technical meetings held yesterday.

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi, and Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa- who form the organ on politics, defence and security, will also meet to discuss the crisis.

President Mnangagwa is accompanied by Defence and War Veteran Affairs minister Oppah Muchinguri.

The meeting in Maputo could result in Sadc members wanting to intervene militarily to quell the threat.

In the event that members agree to intervene militarily, individual countries would deploy their armies since Sadc does not have a standing army unlike other regions like ECOWAS. 

Mozambique is a strategic location in the region. It is the corridor for the movement of fuel and goods into the region from the Beira Port. What is critical is that there is a fuel pipeline that feeds into Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Analysts who spoke to Business Times yesterday said Sadc member States should provide a lasting solution to the crisis that could potentially destabilise the whole region.

Most countries in the region are landlocked and depend on the port in Mozambique petroleum products and goods in general.

“….There is a need to confront the insurgency at its doorstep because if it escalates then Zimbabwe is going to suffer more or less in similar proportions with the way the people in Mozambique. Firstly there are vital energy interests in Mozambique,” Alexander Rusero, an international relations analyst, told Business Times.

He added: “There is also the regional approach where Zimbabwe comes as part and parcel of the troika and Zimbabwe also has to come in as an equally concerned regional player and one of the strongest military players. Zimbabwe has to take the lead and it does not have a choice because an injury in Mozambique is an equal injury to Zimbabwe.”

Another international relations expert, Fidelis Chikerema said historically Sadc has been known to be more reactive than proactive to conflicts bedevilling the region, for example the DRC war and problems in Lesotho and Zimbabwe.

“Sadc has been quiet on the matter respecting their clause on non-interference on the internal politics of a member country at the same time respecting the narrative of sovereignty.

“The other is to what extent will Sadc member countries benefit or not to the Mozambican conflicts and does intervention promote or expand their national interests. The organ on politics has been blamed for being lethargic and poor in responding to conflicts that destabilise the region,” Chikerema said.

He questioned the role played by the standby Sadc army and the effectiveness of the regional bloc’s capacity and conflict mitigatory measures to address the crisis.

“Where is the standby Sadc army, how effective are our conflict mitigatory strategies and does Sadc have the capacity and resources to help Mozambique? All these questions need to be put into perspective.

“A peaceful and stable Mozambique will help the region to attain the sustainable development goals by 2030,” said Chikerema.

International Crisis Group’s senior consultant for Southern Africa, Piers Pigou, said Sadc does not have capacity but rather Mozambique must be leaders in driving the process.

“Sadc does not have the capacity to end the crisis and essentially Mozambique must be the leader of this and must have a strategy that is fit for purpose. One of the challenges for Sadc is it is not entirely clear on what it is dealing with and exactly how it can help. Maputo has come to the table with a number of requests. Some describe this as a shopping list for training and for equipment,” Pigou said.

He added: “The Sadc is intent on an integrated strategy that works within Sadc’s peace and security architecture.  Meanwhile Maputo is more interested in pursuing bilateral relations around intelligence sharing, border security and it has made some headway in the region. But these initiatives do not appear to have contributed to standing the worsening tide of the security and humanitarian situation.

“Of course Palma has alarmed a number in the region as to what is really going on. This is unchartered territory on this kind of conflict for Sadc and there has never been something like that. This also poses fundamental challenges on the financing for any kind of intervention in the future and we have seen in the past on financing of FIB deployments in the DRC,” he said.

A security expert who requested anonymity said the starting point on the Mozambique crisis would be to acknowledge that Sadc as a regional organisation has a regional counter terrorism strategy that is already in place. 

“If you look at that strategy it underscores the collective desire to take measures to weed out terrorism meaning already before they act, they are compelled to act because they are bound by the obligations under that counter terrorism strategy in a way recognising that violent extremism in one country is a threat to regional stability and development.

“This double troika suggests a sense of urgency on the part of regional leaders to operationalise the counter terrorism strategy.

There might blame game happening at the moment but there might be reasons behind the delays when it comes to Mozambique and this may be due to the fact Mozambique has never made a formal request for assistance and the principle that binds Sadc is that they can only intervene when invited,” the analyst said.

A political analyst said the crisis in the northern province of Cabo Delgado in Mozambique has got very serious repercussions for the entire Southern African region.

He said the armed jihadist insurgents who are causing havoc and mayhem in Cabo Delgado pose a chilling security risk to the whole region.

“As such, the geo-political implications and ramifications of this armed conflict have to be fully investigated and ventilated when the Sadc troika on defence and security meets in Maputo tomorrow [today]. Of course, the prowess of the Zimbabwe National Defense Forces is well-documented after its previous intervention in Mozambique fighting against RENAMO in order to protect the Beira corridor,” the analyst said.

He said it will however not be strategic for Zimbabwe to commit to intervene in Cabo Delgado on a bilateral arrangement with Mozambique because the stacks are extremely high and might cause a serious financial drain on Zimbabwe.

“The best approach in combating the armed insurgents in Cabo Delgado would be to assemble a Sadc joint military intervention force.

If this happens, Zimbabwe can then easily exploit her renowned military prowess in crushing the armed jihadists once and for all,” the analyst said.

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