Home Opinion Military-centric approach won’t work in Cabo Delgado

Military-centric approach won’t work in Cabo Delgado



THE heated debate in the media of late has been about the situation in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. A Sadc Troika, at the time of writing, was being held to deal with the Mozambican insurgency. Zimbabwean government spokesperson Nick Mangwana summarised the entire discourse, in a tweet on the matter, by suggesting that the President of Zimbabwe, Emmerson Mnangagwa was attending the talks, ostensibly, to come up with solutions “to end the acts of terrorism” in Mozambique. What a brave characterisation of the situation!

What is needed, however, is pragmatism more than the simplistic characterisation of the dire situation as spelt out by Mangwana.

Terrorism is theatre that is meant for the watching audience. The fact that the media is coming up with different euphemisms, or rather, definitions of what is happening in Cabo Delgado shows that a holistic appreciation of the situation is yet to be achieved; definitions matter.

An insurgency represents a protracted military struggle directed towards subverting or removing the legitimacy of a constituted government or occupying power and completely or partially controlling the resources of a territory through the use of irregular military or political forces.

There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism but it is generally accepted that the use of terrorism, as a tactic, can be seen as premeditated politically motivated violence perpetrated against non-combatants by sub-national groups or clandestine agents.

In short, an insurgency is a political process that uses terror as a tactic for numerous reasons, chief among them recruitment, waging warfare, propaganda and governance. Terrorism is part of a plethora of battle tactics witnessed within the realms of 4th generation warfare where the battlefield is extremely diversified, including, but not limited to, the whole of an enemy’s society. Legitimacy is an issue and usually propaganda is the thrust. Labels matter and it is because of this that we end up having people being labelled as “infidels”.

The primary purpose of waging 4th generation wars is to destroy the strategic centre of gravity of the enemy. The role of propaganda is at the heartbeat of any 4th generation warfare initiative. In essence, the government is supposed to guarantee population security while the actor, using terror as a tactic, seeks to make it appear the government cannot protect its population.

All attacks are broadcast to amplify this “inability”. It must be recognised that propaganda favours the insurgents as the acts of terror can be communicated thereby influencing the attitude and behaviour of various audiences. Sadc and the African Union (AU) are such audiences that have been influenced into “adding their voices” over what is happening in Mozambique.

The situation in Mozambique is dire but definitely a localised problem just like violent extremism in South Africa.

What these terrorists are looking for are political gaffes under the auspices of regional solidarity, collective security and defence etc. We have seen this fail elsewhere while a recent intervention aimed at countering insurgency by Sadc in DRC ended in similar fashion: withdrawal of foreign troops and more violence.

There is a lot to say but of major importance is to highlight options available for Mozambique and the region.

Let me make it clear, the military-centric approach wherein foreign troops intervene is definitely out of the question. I remember even using the Asymmetric Warfare equation in one of my articles to highlight this reality.

However, via the adoption of the Sri Lankan Model, the Mozambicans can adopt that route. For Mozambique to embrace the military-centric approach, they need to have their military strengthened and capacitated.

It is not about counter-terrorist. It is about counter-terrorism. Killing the insurgents will not stop the insurgency. Actually, that might amplify it.

The Indonesian Model can be adopted. This includes the use of the law enforcement approach for counter-terrorist thrust (check densus 88) whilst conceiving entirely new institutions along the lines of the BNPT (National Counter Terrorism Agency) whose aim is to achieve de-radicalisation and ensuring that counter-radicalisation efforts succeed.

Ideological issues are at the heartbeat of this entire debacle. Islamic extremists are thriving because they are in an environment where they are tolerated. There is a need to separate them from the population (this is where they get their fodder from) via ensuring that pestel + ideological factors are well taken care of. These are civilian centric initiatives. The Mozambicans are supposed to be assisted with resources to build back the war-torn region, provide security and amenities while restoring law and order.

As our leaders gather in Mozambique under the broad banner of Article Six of the Mutual Defence Pact of 2003, they must stand guided that there is a genuine risk of escalation and also that we have done this before with dire results.

Mozambican institutions are key in all this. The rest of the solidarity language can be dire. Imagine having that Jordanian scenario in Zimbabwe where a local soldier is captured and burnt alive by these fanatics who do not respect nor recognise the laws of war? Their level of brutality and fanaticism is at par with what we saw from the Tamil Tigers. Just like the Tamil Tigers before them, they can be neutralised. However, we have to be circumspect in our approach.

 Sapien is a security and trade expert.