ANDREW KUNAMBURA/TINASHE KAIRIZA
FRESH intricate details of back-to-back meetings by the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security have emerged, indicating that they failed to resolve a methodological dilemma on the military intervention in strife-ridden Mozambique after President Felipe Nyusi vehemently rejected suggestions of a co-ordinated regional effort.
Multiple official sources directly involved in the proceedings said Nyusi, in fact, boycotted the first meeting in Botswana in protest over what he is now reportedly considering as “irritating persistence” on a collective regional military response to the crisis which Maputo has previously rejected.
Officials said irate heads of state wrote to Nyusi demanding a second meeting in Maputo over the issue and even asked him to extend formal written invitations following his decision to boycott the Gaborone meeting. The subsequent meeting, which took place in Maputo on Monday this week, ended inconclusively after Mozambique officials remained adamant they did not want a sub-regional approach.
The former Portuguese colony is battling to contain a deadly Islamic insurgency that has so far claimed over 2 000 lives and displaced about 570 000 people, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Fighters from an Islamic State (IS)-affiliated extremist group known as Al Sunnah wa Jama’ah (ASWJ) have escalated violent attacks in the country, resulting in grisly killings, mainly in the resource-rich northern Cabo Delgado region.
There are fears that the insurgency could spill over into an already fragile Zimbabwe, threatening the country’s security and critical imports and exports via the Port of Beira, including vital fuel supplies.
Already, there is rising concern over the threat posed by the Renamo militia, which has carried out attacks on civilians in central and eastern Mozambique. The militants have disrupted freight on the Mutare-Beira trade corridor, which gives Zimbabwe the shortest route to the sea and pose a huge threat to the economically strategic Beira-Harare oil pipeline.
Sources said Nyusi boycotted the meeting in Botswana because of his administration’s mistrust for Botswana.
In addition to that, officials said, Mozambicans are highly sceptical of the sub-regional approach because of an obtaining bilateral dispute with Tanzania, which they accuse of sponsoring the insurgents, given also that the Cabo Delgado region astrides swathes of land in the northern-most area of Mozambique which is on the border with Tanzania.
The Sadc organ comprises Botswana President Mokweetsi Masisi, who chairs it, the immediate past chairman President Emmerson Mnangagwa, incoming chair, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo, whom sources said were left seething with anger after Nyusi’s actions, which they regarded as “disrespectful”.
“The heads of state were literally seething with anger. The meeting was specifically called to deal with the case and yet he failed to come despite having earlier committed himself to it. They were angry that they could not gather to try and find solutions to his own problems and he doesn’t turn up,” an official from the Zimbabwean government who was part of Mnangagwa’s delegation said.
“This prompted the leaders to write to Nyusi expressing their displeasure over his behaviour. They demanded that he urgently convene a meeting in Mozambique and send them letters of invitation and this is why we ended up meeting again this week in Maputo over the same issue.”
However, even in Maputo, Nyusi and his team reportedly stuck to their guns and refused to entertain any combined Sadc involvement, making it clear that there was no way they would allow Tanzania to be part of a solution to the problem they are creating.
Sources also told the Zimbabwe Independent this week that Nyusi flatly rejected an intervention that would involve Botswana and Tanzania, indicating that the former “could not be trusted over anything that is militaristic in nature while the latter was tacitly supporting the militants in Cabo Delgado”.
Nyusi was this week quoted in Mozambican and international newspapers as saying: “Foreign nationals mostly led the radicalisation of young Mozambicans in groups, whose membership includes Tanzanians, Congolese, Somalis, Ugandans and Kenyans.”
Although Mnangagwa gave an impression in interviews with accompanying state media that the Maputo meeting was a resounding success, sources said there was no significant headway towards containing the strife and Troika leaders resolved to refer the issue to the Sadc summit of heads of state due only in March next year.
The Independent first reported in August that the Mozambican government had abandoned the idea of seeking military intervention from Sadc and preferred a bilateral arrangement with Zimbabwe.
The United States government has also urged Zimbabwe to unilaterally intervene, but — it would be the worst-affected country if the situation degenerates into a full-blown war — Harare appears reluctant to send troops outside of Sadc.
“We can safely say they went there for nothing. Mozambique was unflinching in its denial of a sub-regional approach, insisting their preference was a bilateral arrangement with Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe, on the other hand, says it can only intervene under the auspices of Sadc. So, basically, it was a non-event,” an official said.
Sources further said Nyusi told the Troika he would rather accept help from countries outside Africa than allow Sadc to intervene.
In September, Nyusi wrote to the European Union soliciting for support and got favourable responses from EU members Portugal, Belgium and Spain, which are all heavily invested in Cabo Delgado’s vast natural resources which are at the centre of the deadly conflict.
“He clearly said he was assessing the promises of assistance coming from European countries and would rather consider that than a collective Sadc effort,” a source said.
According to media reports from Mozambique, Nyusi subsequently told the country’s parliament on Wednesday that Western countries had made offers to assist the country to contain the insurgency, but insisted that there was need to “manage” that support.
“The government has received offers of support from countries in Europe, Asia and the US. We need to know how we manage this support at the risk of tomorrow creating a Russian salad of interventions,” Nyusi told lawmakers using a Portuguese expression that describes a chaotic situation.
But, seeking to protect its geopolitical interests that now stand threatened due to the insurgency activities in Mozambique, Harare has already deployed sticks of specialist troops from the Special Air Service and Commando regiments to conduct reconnaissance work and help in the training of Mozambique’s commando unit, specially tailored to tackle terrorist activities, according to military sources.
In military terms, a stick comprises a minimum of three highly skilled fighters to a maximum of 11.
Sources also indicated that a sizable force was on standby, waiting to test action in the event that the command is given.
When Mozambique plunged into a civil war between 1977 and 1992, Zimbabwe deployed boots into the neighbouring country to quell Renamo militants.
During Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle against white minority rule in the then Rhodesia, Zanla freedom fighters received military training and weaponry from Mozambique.
Sources told this newspaper that South Africa, which is also eyeing gas and oil concessions in Cabo Delgado, had also deployed covert forces to gather intelligence relating to the “size of the militants force, the nature of its weaponry and its methods of attack”. It is also seeking to strategise on the military plan it would employ, should it overtly intervene in the Mozambican crisis, sources said.
However, in responses to questions posed by the Independent this week, South Africa National Defence Forces (SANDF) director defence corporate communications Brigadier-General Mafi Mgobozi said Tshwane had not deployed any boots in Cabo Delgado.
He said: “There are no South African National Defence Forces troops deployed in Cabo Delgado, northern province of Mozambique.”
Mgobozi, at the time of going to print, had not responded on whether SANDF was considering deploying troops into Mozambique, which it also shares a border with.