SADC leaders discuss ‘regional response’ to Mozambique insurgency, but intervention plan remains uncertain

Violent attacks in Cabo Delgado have triggered a humanitarian crisis, with 700,000 internally displaced [File: Marco Longari/Reuters]

Southern African leaders have agreed on a “regional response” to the Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique, but there is still no plan on how the region should intervene.

Five SADC presidents met at an extraordinary summit in Botswana’s capital Gaborone on Friday to debate the worsening crisis in Mozambique. At least 2000 people have been killed while over a half a million have fled their homes since the jihadist groups began attacks in the Cabo Delgado region of Mozambique in October 2017.

In a statement, the leaders who met under the aegis of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) “noted with concern, the acts of terrorism in the region, particularly in Cabo Delgado province”.

“The Extraordinary Organ Troika Summit directed the finalisation of a comprehensive regional response and support to the Republic of Mozambique to be considered urgently by the Summit,” the leaders said in their communique.

The leaders did not state what sort of response would be considered.

[EXPLAINER: Gas and Guns: What exactly is happening in Mozambique, and should Zim be worried?]

President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is the outgoing chairman of SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, was among the leaders at the meeting. Also attending were the presidents of Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and South Africa.

The presidents of Tanzania and Mozambique did not attend but sent in representatives. The two countries last week signed an agreement to jointly fight the insurgents. Mozambique has recently also called for aid from the European Union in repelling the insurgency.

A woman in Cabo Delgado looks at her home, torched by militants (pic: Jorge Marcos)

‘Solution lies in Maputo’

According to a senior diplomat involved in Friday’s talks, Mozambique’s Defence Minister Jaime Bessa Augusto Neto, who represented President Filipe Nyusi at the meeting, told leaders that his country would notify the region if the situation spun further out of control.

SADC can invoke Article 6(1) of the SADC Mutual Defence Pact, which states that that “an armed attack against a state party shall be considered a threat to regional peace and security and such an attack shall be met with immediate collective action”.

However, the diplomat said, “the solution lies with Maputo itself. SADC cannot intervene without their (Mozambique’s) green light”.

The beheading of at least 50 people by the insurgents earlier in November prompted Mnangagwa to tweet that Zimbabwe was ready to help “in any way we can”, adding that the “security of our region is paramount in the protection of our people.”

However, Zimbabwe does not have the capacity, nor the will, to act alone.

Big oil

The conflict is at the doorstep of Cabo’s gas fields, where American and European control US$60 billion worth of liquefied natural gas (LNG) assets. However, the companies and their home countries are reluctant to fund a broad effort to fight the insurgency, opting instead for separate pacts to protect their assets.

In August, French energy firm Total signed a security pact with the Mozambique government to protect its US$20 billion LNG project. The details of this pact have not been made public, but it will see Total providing logistical support to a joint task force in the Afungi peninsula, where Total’s project is located.

Separately, the US has set aside US$1.5 billion for political risk insurance for its companies there, including ExxonMobil.

A report by global intelligence company Stratfor on August 25 said Total’s security pact with the government would reduce threats against Total’s project, but would not weaken militants’ activities across the region, leaving the rest of Cabo Delgado vulnerable to further attacks.

In July, Mozambique National Defence and Security Council member and former Security Minister Jacinto Veloso said the insurgents were being backed by an outside power to frustrate development of gas fields.