Southern African leaders have postponed an extraordinary meeting that was to discuss a plan to deploy troops to counter insurgency in Mozambique.
The meeting between leaders of Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa and Mozambique, that was scheduled for Thursday, was to receive a report from a Southern African Development Community (Sadc) security assessment team that recommended the immediate deployment of a 3000-strong rapid response force in the Cabo Delgado region.
However, Botswana President Mokgweetsi Masisi, chairperson of the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, and his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa could not make it to Mozambique for the crucial talks.
President Masisi went into self-quarantine on Tuesday after a Covid-19 case was detected among his staff while President Ramaphosa is appearing before an inquiry into allegations of state capture.
Foreign Affairs ministers from the four countries met in Maputo on Wednesday where they deliberated on the report by the regional security chiefs.
Botswana’s Foreign Affairs Minister Lemogang Kwape told the summit that the region could not afford to let the security situation in Mozambique deteriorate any further.
“The rise in these dreadful attacks raises concern that they are most likely to spread quickly to other provinces in Mozambique and to the entire region,” Dr Kwape said.
“Therefore, the sooner we respond collectively, the less likely that these barbaric acts of terrorism will continue to destabilise our region.
“We commend and recognise the important role played by our cooperating partners in assisting to find a long-lasting solution to this problem.”
Sadc’s assessment mission included military and intelligence experts from Angola, Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.
They concluded that although there was a lull in fighting since the Mozambican army recaptured the town of Palma after it was overrun by militants in March, the retreat could have been due to the start of the holy Muslim month of Ramadhan.
“The possibilities of renewed attacks are high after Ramadhan. However, this does not rule out the likelihood of attacks during the fasting period,” the mission’s report states.
It added that Mozambique’s security forces needed immediate support “to combat the threat of terrorism and acts of violent extremism in Cabo Delgado.”
Sadc leaders, however, would have to convince Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi to accept the deployment of the troops as he has previously been reluctant in accepting boots on the ground from Mozambique’s neighbours.
The Mozambican crisis worsened dramatically on March 25 when an armed group linked to the Islamic State (ISIS) besieged the gas-rich town of Palma in northern Cabo Delgado province, killing hundreds of civilians and displacing thousands of others.
Cabo Delgado has, since 2017, been under siege from the Ansar al-Sunna group, known locally as Al- Shabaab but having no links to insurgents in Somalia going by a similar name.