Mozambique: SADC, South Africa Edge Closer to Providing Military Assistance

On 19 May, the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Extraordinary Organ Troika Summit urged support for Mozambique in the fight against armed groups – linked to the Islamic State – that have mounted attacks in Cabo Delgado province since October 2017. The official announcement came after a meeting between the presidents of the troika countries – Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zambia’s Edgar Lungu and Botswana’s Mokgweetsi Masisi – and President Filipe Nyusi in Harare, Zimbabwe. Nyusi had formally requested the meeting, as the security situation has worsened in recent months.

Afterward, Mnangagwa said that the challenge is regional and that an attack on one member of the SADC is an attack on all members. Nyusi, in turn, said that terrorism cannot be fought alone and that there is a need to share forces. Meanwhile, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation Naledi Pandor said that the two countries are engaged in talks on how South Africa could provide assistance, drawing from its own resources. The minister noted that the instability in Cabo Delgado was extremely worrying for the region. In our view, South Africa’s statement increases the likelihood of a regional intervention in Mozambique, although it is unclear if it would be bilateral or under a SADC mandate. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa currently chairs the African Union and might be able to rally even greater regional support.

After months of claiming that the violence in Cabo Delgado was mostly criminal in nature, Mozambican authorities have finally acknowledged the threat as the situation escalated and the Islamic State came into the fray. Notably, on 22 May, al-Qaeda’s Al Thabat news agency reported an attack in the Mocimboa da Praia region in which 12 government soldiers were killed. It is too soon to draw a definitive conclusion, but al-Qaeda may be seeking to compete with the Islamic State in terms of propaganda, as it has been doing in other parts of the world.

Of note, South African Minister Pandor referred to Mozambique’s use of private military companies (PMCs) to counter the threat. In our view, this was a message to Mozambique that assistance is contingent on said companies leaving the country; their deployment has been criticized both domestically and abroad. However, withdrawing PMCs would pose a challenge, considering the Mozambican armed forces’ inability to contain the threat by themselves and that regional assistance would take some time to materialize, given the required logistical, legal and legislative procedures in the countries involved and within the SADC. The terms and conditions of assistance, such as sites of intervention and means to be deployed, have yet to be negotiated. If PMCs were to pull out before any external SADC or bilateral military forces deploy, the security environment would deteriorate significantly in the interim.

On the Mozambican side of the negotiations, a key role will be played by National Defense and Security Council Chairman Jaime Basilio Monteiro, Eugenio Roque, the head of the president’s Military House, and Interior Minister Amade Miquidade. Of note, Miquidade, who is highly influential among security institutions and the Frelimo Political Commission, was the only government official to accompany Nyusi to Harare; Defense Minister Jaime Neto was not present, underscoring his lesser importance. All three aforementioned figures, but especially Miquidade, would be good engagement targets for how regional assistance may best serve investors’ interests.