BY TARIRO CHIVIGE
Different opinions are being aired on whether Zimbabwe should intervene in the civil unrest currently underway in Mozambique. The violent escalation of an insurgency in northern Mozambique recently has whipped up fresh concerns about security in southern Africa. An armed group of terrorists, locally known as al-Shabaab, has wreaked havoc in northern Mozambique since late 2017, killing hundreds, displacing communities, and capturing towns. The recent escalation began when more than 100 well-armed rebels attacked Palma on March 24 and held more than half of the strategic centre for more than 10 days. The deftly planned assault marked a major intensification in an insurgency that has wreaked havoc across Cabo Delgado province for over three years as the jihadists seek to establish a caliphate. The consequences of war, especially civil war, for development are profound.
Zimbabwe can certainly act in self-defense should there be any instigation of the conflict affecting the country. While Zimbabwe is in a state of economic collapse, its army is battle-hardened with its troops having fought in the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as having supported US operations in Angola and Somalia. There are many reasons why it would be beneficial for Zimbabwe to intervene in the Mozambique crisis, the most important being the protection of its trade route through Mozambique, especially the Beira pipeline, through which it imports approximately $1,2-billion worth of fuel a year.
Destructions or disruptions of this corridor would detrimentally affect Zimbabwe’s economy overnight hence its protection should be of the highest priority to the government. The Mozambican port of Beira is key for landlocked Zimbabwe’s imports. The corridor links landlocked Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to Mozambique’s Beira port, and the Cahora Bassa hydroelectric dam, located in northwestern Mozambique. In the 1980’s Zimbabwe intervened in the civil unrests in Mozambique mainly because the Beira Corridor enabled Zimbabwe to limit its dependence on networks through the then apartheid South Africa, but its importance to Mozambique and Zimbabwe made it a natural target for sabotage — hence the Zimbabwean troops
The location of Mozambique on the geographical map also poses a strategic threat to trade not only for Zimbabwe, but within the Sadc region as a whole. The civil war in the country also poses threats to the region’s trade corridors. The country on the Indian Ocean shares borders with Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Eswatini and Zimbabwe and provides transit routes to countries as far as Zambia and DRC.
Apart from trade disruption, the whole Sadc region is at threat due to the unrest currently being experienced in Mozambique. The violence represents a serious threat to peace and security not only in Mozambique, but also to the whole region and humanity at large. If Mozambique was to collapse, it could be used by all sorts of groups as a transit point to affect the region.
While Mozambique’s jihadists have so far remained relatively contained, their 2018 allegiance to the Islamic State group has raised fears of a more expansive agenda and more sophisticated tactics. The jihadists have already targeted parts of southern Tanzania, including a deadly raid on the city of Mtwara last October.
The borders with Mozambique are huge and not easy to manage. In Zimbabwe there are many unmanned entry points from Mozambique into Zimbabwe hence it is easy for the terrorists to get into Zimbabwe if they deem it fit. Tanzania is also now in fear as they fear that the insurgency could accelerate extremism in the country. Though the risk of territorial expansion still remains quite limited for the time being, as the jihadists seemed more prone to spreading further into Mozambique than crossing borders, there is no certain assurance that such will not happen in the near future.
Intervening in the Mozambique civil unrest however poses a great number of threats as opposed to the general pros that can be noted. Intervening will be publicly daring the terrorists that Zimbabwe as a whole is willing to go to war with them. Terrorists will have good reasons to invade Zimbabwe and spread mayhem here. With how poorly secure the Mozambique- Zimbabwe border line is, it will be a walk in the park for the terrorists to get into Zimbabwe unnoticed and begin to cause havoc especially in the communities along the border. The terrorists already having carried their war across the border into Tanzania, where they beheaded 20 people in a terror onslaught unleashed against Kitaya in the Mtwara province near the border with the Cabo Delgado district, there is none to tell if they won’t attempt to do the same should the government decide to back the Mozambican army.
Apart from the threat to human life that may be caused by the terrorists should they decide to also carry their war into the country, there is also the death of the economy that is most likely to be caused by the Zimbabwean intervention. Supporting countries at war brings about a lot of costs that currently our economy cannot handle. Lessons should be learnt from the country’s previous involvement in the DRC war, where billions of dollars are said to have been spent by the government, not to talk about the massive loss of life of the troops that were deployed to the DRC.
Currently our country is failing to meet its financial obligations as can be witnessed by the constant demand for increased salaries by the civil servants. The authorities clearly stated that there are currently not enough funds to cater for the wage increases as well as to adequately fund our health sector. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe is in a state of economic collapse and the intervention is likely to go beyond the interests of peacekeeping, but more to do with illegal siphoning of resources into the pockets of the few ruling elites. This happened in the past and some emerged wealthy and surely today cannot be an exception.
The actual cost of the DRC war has been heavily contested, but figures released to Parliament by then Finance minister Simba Makoni in January 2000 suggested that the government had spent about $200-million during the two-year intervention. But analysts said the government had taken into consideration only food rations, salaries and medical supplies and had overlooked other costs, such as replacing old military equipment. They estimated that an additional $281,5-million could have been spent. Military analysts said the figures were too low as they excluded expenditure on military equipment acquired for the estimated 12 000 Zimbabwean troops in the DRC as well as the replacement value of losses to the equipment.
Zimbabwe deployed soldiers to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1998 to rescue the government of Laurent Kabila from a rebel onslaught, and high-ranking officials from the Zimbabwean government, including army generals, were reported to have amassed quick riches by smuggling minerals from the DRC. There was also a widespread and accurate perception among the Zimbabwean population and, even more dangerously, the armed forces, that the government’s decision to intervene in the DRC was due largely to the personal business interests in the DRC of a number of senior politicians and military officers.
The intervening into the Mozambique war can also largely affect our national army. In the DRC war, the country lost its military arsenal running into billions of dollars. The government has since 2000 been demanding about US$1 billion from the DRC for military and consumables expenditure incurred during the war. Government has written to the DRC insisting on US$1 billion compensation, but nothing has been realised thus far. Zimbabwe wants to be compensated for losses of military equipment, supplies, and monies spent on operations and consumables. The same scenario is also most likely to repeat itself should the authorities choose to get involved in Mozambique. There is no way to tell how much this involvement would be detrimental to the army’s finances as well as its human capital. When the Zimbabwean government sent its troops to the DRC to assist in its civil war the exact number of the sent troops has never been disclosed to the general public.
Rather, what Zimbabwe can rely on is the involvement of Sadc as a region in the crisis. In 2003 the Sadc signed a Mutual Defence Pact that encouraged the combination of member states’ military forces into a Sadc standby force to assist democratically elected governments that were threatened. It will be more prudent for Zimbabwe to work through Sadc and to invoke the tenets of the Mutual Defence Pact in order to ensure there is stability in Mozambique.
This way, the country will be absolving itself from the sole commitment of financing its involvement had it intervened as a country. Both financial and physical losses will be minimised by taking this route. It is also important to remember that the civil unrest in Mozambique has the potential to affect the whole Sadc region hence the need for a collective approach from all the member states to ensure that peace is restored in Mozambique.
Chivige is an economist. These weekly New Horizon articles are coordinated by Lovemore Kadenge, an independent consultant, past president of the Zimbabwe Economics Society and past president of the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators in Zimbabwe. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org/ cell: +263 772 382 852