Mozambique is reluctant to accept troops from neighbouring member states of the Southern Africa Development Community to fight Islamic insurgents in the north of the country, after retaking the town of Palma that had fallen to the militia a fortnight ago.
President Filipe Nyusi last week gave the strongest hint yet that his country would only accept technical support from the international community to fight the insurgents as his government declared that Palma was now “under the control of the state.”
SADC leaders meeting in Maputo last Thursday, only agreed on “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique while they explored a “proportionate regional response to the insurgency.''
The leaders have been pushing for a military intervention in Mozambique fearing that the insurgency would spread to other countries. Some of the countries have been pushing for the deployment of a SADC brigade, with Zimbabwe declaring last year that it was ready to contribute troops once the regional body okayed the intervention.
Ahead of the Thursday summit, Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s spokesperson George Charamba said: “Lately and especially after the attack on Palma town, SADC has had to shape a robust sub-regional response to the insurgency whose international and religious flavour portends ominous danger to the whole SADC region.”
Since the start of the insurgency in Cabo Delgado province in 2017, Mozambique has relied on foreign mercenaries to help its weak army stop the violence from spreading to other parts of the country.
A year ago it hired South African private security company Dyck Advisory Group (DAG) to support its counter-insurgency after terminating a contract with Russia’s Wagner private military company in 2019.
The contract with DAG expired soon after the devastating Palmer attack, but there are indications that more private military groups have been hired. Mozambique has also accepted military training packages from the United Kingdom, United States and Portugal.
The US recently deployed its special forces to train Mozambique’s marines for two months while Portugal will be sending 60 military trainers to the country.
Dewa Mavhinga, southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch said the worsening crisis in Mozambique now needed the urgent intervention of regional bodies such as SADC and also the continental African Union.
“The rise in horrific attacks since October 2017 raises concerns that the attacks may spread to other provinces in Mozambique and neighbouring countries,” Mr Mavhinga said, adding, “This makes it imperative for the SADC and AU to take urgent measures to help Mozambique protect civilians and end the abuses. The SADC should immediately act by providing humanitarian aid to the affected people and training for security forces tasked with protecting people in Cabo Delgado and elsewhere in the country, in accordance with human rights standards.
“Mozambique authorities, SADC and the African Union need to demonstrate to civilians in Palma and the entire Cabo Delgado province that the security protection of their rights is top priority.
“Failure to act now could have dire consequences for the people of Cabo Delgado and the entire southern Africa region.”
Cabo Delgado has been under siege from the Ansar al-Sunna group, known locally as Al- Shabaab since 2017, but the conflict has intensified in recent months.
Amnesty International in its The State of The World’s Human Rights 2021 report released this week says thousands of civilians have been killed by al-Sunna group, government security forces and mercenaries hired by the government to thwart the insurgents.
It says by the end of 2020, over 500,000 people were displaced internally and more than 700,000 needed humanitarian assistance.
“The armed conflict between the so-called al-Shabaab and government forces created a humanitarian crisis in Cabo Delgado,” Amnesty International said.