BY FAITH ZABA
THE recent brutal attack by Ahlu Sunna wa Jama, known as ISIS-Mozambique, on a Palma – a city of 75 000 people, which saw vulnerable people being killed and kidnapped have jolted Sadc into action, at least a high-level meeting for starters.
But the growth of the Islamic fundamentalists in Cabo Delgado province in Mozambique started in October 2017 and over the recent years, attacks have relentlessly escalated, with 3 000 having been killed so far, while 700 000 have been displaced.
What has Sadc been doing in past three years? A humanitarian crisis has erupted. Sporadic violence by the militants popularly known as al-Shabaab in Mozambique has caused food shortages, market disruptions and communication lines have been cut. National and personal security has drastically deteriorated.
The militants in Cabo Delgado are believed to have wider international links to the Islamic State (IS) and have now firmly added Sadc to a list of unstable regions.
Other regions rocked by Muslim extremism are West Africa — Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon — where Boko Haram constantly triggers nightmares, while East Africa has al-Shabaab ruthlessly killing people in Somalia and Kenya.
Religious conflicts are now a major reason for insecurity across the world, although in Africa there are other motives orchestrating the rise of Islamic insurgency, including alarming impoverishment, marginalisation and rampant unemployment.
In Cabo Delgado, young Muslims have been languishing in abject poverty while surrounded by vast off-shore natural gas reserves being exploited by European multinational companies.
As the Mozambican situation is exploding to a regional threat, with fears attacks could spread to other countries, Sadc yesterday held a Double Troika made up of Mozambique, the current Sadc chair; Malawi (incoming chair) and the United Republic of Tanzania (immediate previous chair). Other members included countries that constitute the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation — Botswana (current chair), South Africa (incoming) and Zimbabwe (outgoing).
The summit is the regional bloc’s highest policy-making body and expectations were high that Sadc will show some sting. Sadc has been criticised for its lackadaisical approach concerning regional catastrophes, often being caricatured as a grouping of helpless countries, always looking beyond its shores for solutions.
Mozambique has had three peace deals signed in the past 30 years, but none was neither mediated nor brokered by Sadc. The 1992, 2014 and 2019 deals were brokered by European mediators (Italy, Switzerland, Community of Sant’Egidio).
Authorities in the country have in the past been granted blanket amnesties for serious human rights abuses as part of peace negotiations. Impunity for grave abuses has been prevalent in Mozambique, encouraging future abuse. State security forces have been implicated — with impunity — in grave human rights violations during all Mozambican conflicts.
In Cabo Delgado, government forces have been accused of human rights violations, including illegal arrests, abductions, torture of detainees, excessive use of force against unarmed civilians, intimidation and extrajudicial executions.
Insurgents have also been implicated in abuses such as beheadings, village attacks, summary executions, looting and infrastructure destruction, including schools and health centres.
What has the region done to salvage life-threatening situations? Now that threats of Islamic extremism have knocked on its doorsteps, we wait to see how Sadc will handle this situation or it will fail to live up to expectations just as the African Union (AU) has done in dealing with situations in west and east Africa.
Sadc yesterday directed “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique as it targets to attain what it described as a “proportionate regional response” to insurgent attack in Cabo Delgado. The response has come a bit late. While people were perishing, regional bodies were holding endless meetings, which have until yesterday failed to proffer lasting solutions. The dire Cabo Delgado situation requires urgent intervention.
South Africa recently said it sent its troops to evacuate its citizens, while Mozambique’s erstwhile colonial master, Portugal, says it will send 60 troops to train fighters against the Islamist fanatics.
Critically required is for national and personal security to return to that country. Sadc member states subscribe to the Mutual Defence Pact of 2003, which proclaims that a threat to one member is a threat to the whole region and must be meted with immediate collective action. There cannot be personal, national and regional development when strife abounds. Hence, Sadc must act expeditiously!