It would appear that the issue of the terrorism in Mozambique by extremist armed groups, reportedly linked to the Islamic State militancy, has been put on the back burner by Heads of State and Government of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC).
There have been indications that the terrorists, who are based in northern Mozambique, are affiliated with a similar group operating out of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Their stated intention is to create a Caliphate of Central and Southern Africa.
The Mozambican terrorists have been around since at least 2017, and they are recruiting young people into their ranks in ever greater numbers as they escalate the destabilisation of the country just as it is rolling out a US$60 billion gas project.
More than 2,000 people have died as a direct result of the terror activities in that time, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says the number of internally displaced persons could hit one million by June this year.
There have been several engagements at SADC Heads of State level – sitting both as the full Summit and as Summits of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation – to deliberate on the Mozambique issue.
All of those meetings have resolved to treat the matter with urgency and to come up with a holistic plan to assist the government and people of Mozambique.
At a high-level meeting in Maputo in mid-December 2020, President Felipe Nyusi (Mozambique), Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa), Mokgweetsi Masisi (Botswana) and Emmerson Mnangagwa (Zimbabwe), and then Vice-President Samia Sulihu Hassan (Tanzania) agreed that SADC should hold an Extraordinary Summit to specifically focus on this matter.
The meeting was scheduled for January 17, 2021 – and it was in indefinitely postponed just a week before it was to be held.
Since then, there has been little said publicly about what SADC leaders are doing about this very real and very big threat to the peace, security and stability of the region.
There should be no mistake about this: it is not a Mozambican problem; this is a problem for the entire region.
Granted, there are many competing pressures at the moment, all of them demanding attention. For instance, there is the life death matter of COVID-19, and there are the economic and livelihood issues related to the pandemic.
But as we have said before on these pages, leadership is about ably juggling the competing demands to one’s attention. We cannot allow one emergency to distract us from all the other existing and emerging emergencies.
Because we have appeared to be distracted and to have put the Mozambique issue on the back burner, we suddenly find that other countries are taking the lead in intervening in the crisis in Mozambique.
Already, the government of Mozambique has hired mercenaries to assist it against the terrorists. Southern Africa has an unsavoury history with hired guns, and it goes without saying that allowing private militaries to flourish in the region is the last thing anyone wants when extremists are already threatening our peace, security and stability.
Now, on top of that, the region is allowing the United States military machine to get a foothold in Southern Africa. At the same time, the British, Portuguese, French and others are circling.
It is not a secret that the US has long coveted an entry point into the region. There is a reason why for decades SADC has resisted American advances to establish a base here.
Now we have allowed them to waltz in because we have not been decisive in dealing with the problems emanating from the north of Mozambique.
The experience of post-Cold War geopolitics should have taught us by now that problems like terrorism cannot be confronted with solely military means. Terrorism requires military, political, social and economic responses.
By allowing the US to define the problem at hand in purely military terms, and to allow American boots on the grand, we are potentially sowing the seeds for a bigger explosion of terrorism in Southern Africa than we are currently facing.
The inescapable fact is that the United States has a very poor history of dealing with extremism around the world. Look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria. Where the US does not itself create entities like Al Qaeda and individuals like Osama bin Laden, it tends to enter conflicts big footed and ill-informed and thereby further inflaming already volatile situations.
In addition, the US rarely – if ever – gets involved in international conflicts out of altruism or any sort of enlightened sense of responsibility and good neighbourliness. No. The US comes in where there is money involved. And few projects right now come as big as the Mozambique gas development.
Surely, are we saying the US is smarter than the whole of SADC in seeing the sense in investing in Mozambique’s peace and security?
And who can blame Mozambique for opting for American military support if we cannot put our act together?