from ARMANDO DOMINGOS in Maputo, Mozambique
MAPUTO – THE intervention of foreign forces to end the five-year insurgency in Mozambique has been hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against terror.
Yet, resurgent attacks perpetrated by the jihadist militias and the crisis spilling to other provinces after the deployments indicate the radicals have been emboldened.
The three major attacks blamed on the main insurgent faction, known as the Ansar al-Sunna and with an allegiance to the Islamic State (hence know as ISIS-Mozambique), since the beginning of this year indicates the local and international forces have their work cut out for them to eradicate the insurgency.
On January 2, no less than three civilians were killed after ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) militants attacked the Christian village of Nofa Zambizia in Macomia district of Cabo Delgado, which is the epicentre of the terror attacks.
Five days later, Ansar al-Sunna operatives killed two Christian Mozambican militiamen and destroyed at least 30 houses after laying siege in the village of Nashi Bandi, also in the province.
The ISIS-aligned group also claimed responsibility for attacking the village of Ikomila, in the Mueda region of the northernmost province.
The terror group killed an individual and set several buildings ablaze.
Scores were forced to flee their homes as a result of the resurgence of the insurgency.
By masterminding these attacks, the militants have taken over from where they left in 2021, the year when foreign countries deployed personnel and humanitarian aid.
Last November, the insurgency spread to the neighbouring province of Niassa, the most sparsely populated of the 11 provinces in the Southern African country of some 32,6 million people.
Insurgents killed a Mozambican police officer.
The ISIS also claimed responsibility for an attack on the village of Naulala, also in the province.
The village was raided of its health supplies. Houses were razed to the ground.
Most gruesomely, the Muslim radicals killed a number of Mozambican soldiers and a single South African special forces operator after ambushing patrol ground troops of the two countries.
Several other soldiers were injured.
It reportedly marked the first death of a South African special forces operator in combat since the South African Border War that raged from 1966 to 1990.
Human Rights Watch in December 2021 reported the ISIS-linked Mozambique group had kidnapped and enslaved more than 600 women and girls in northern Mozambique since 2018.
The deployment of South African forces in Mozambique has for months been a political hot potato in South Africa, Mozambique’s southwestern neighbour that is undergoing serious political, social and economic turmoil.
The death of the military officer has further widened divisions in polarised South African society.
Divisions come at a time the dust is still to settle as opposition parties are uneasy at the hefty impact on state coffers by the deployment of the local military in Mozambique.
Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, who is the chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, is under incessant pressure locally.
Firstly, the official opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) is concerned at the deployment, especially the costs.
It is enraged following revelation by Ramaphosa that the deployment was to be over R984 million (about US$63,4 million).
The deployment of South African soldiers was initially planned for a period of three months from July 2021 but the military remains there as the insurgency continues.
The DA is of the view that it will take significantly longer to defeat the ISIS insurgency in Mozambique.
“This is a SADC initiative and the almost R1 billion price tag should be covered by them, not South Africa,” said Kobus Marais, DA Shadow Minister of Defence.
The opposition official added, “The notion that the thinly stretched South African taxpayer will foot the bill for this employment is grossly unjustifiable.”
DA is incensed at the death of the local military man during the “half-baked military commitment where funding by SADC has not been confirmed.”
It believes SADC and the government must take full responsibility for the death and injuries to soldiers.
“SADC must either accept this (it must fund the war) and properly prepare and support the troops thus deployed or get our soldiers out of the war-zones,” Marais said.
It is not the first time the deployment of troops has degenerated into a domestic political issue.
In fact, in addition to the domestic dispute from the deployment, the presence of Rwandan troops triggered a diplomatic muddle between Mozambique’s administration of President Filipe Nyusi and the SADC) regional bloc member states.
Mozambique is one of 16 SADC member states.
Rwandan troops were deployed in the middle of July in 2021.
There were worries within SADC that Mozambique did not officially notify the bloc that Rwanda would be deploying the troops.
This was seen as out of line with SADC guiding instruments.
Uncharacteristically, Rwanda’s 700 soldiers and 300 police arrived before the regional body’s forces were in place.
Opposition parties, including the main Movement for the Resistance of Mozambique (RENAMO) and human rights groups opposed the deployment that went ahead even though Parliament was not consulted.
ISS had warned that the lack of support from opposition parties, which generally have significant support in the affected districts, could damage relations between Rwandan soldiers and locals.
“And this could lead to the failure of the mission,” added Borges Nhamirre, ISS consultant.
There have been breakthroughs despite the diplomatic snags after Mozambique accepted foreign assistance to deal with the insurgency threat in Cabo Delgado, the oil and gas rich province.
Countries from Africa, Europe and North America are directly involved in combating the terror.
More than 20 nations are now assisting Mozambique to fight the Islamists in the resource-rich region sanctified with gas deposits running to billions in dollars.
These countries train the Mozambican army or deliver humanitarian aid.
The support has also come in the form of food pledges.
Countries such as the neighbouring Malawi and Zimbabwe, which have their food woes to deal with, are also alongside South Africa among the pledgers for food, showing thus the gravity of the crisis in Mozambique.
In August, Mozambican forces reclaimed areas earlier taken over by the rebels.
This includes the Mocímboa da Praia, reclaimed in August. It is a border post for travel to and from Tanzania, the neighbouring country to the north.
Other areas reclaimed include Chinda, Mapalanganha, Mbau and Marere. This week (17-21 January 2022), the army generals of Mozambique and Rwanda met for a joint security and defence meeting in Kigali, Rwanda.
Chiefs of Staff of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF), Bosco Kazura, and the Chief of General Staff of the Mozambican Armed Forces, Admiral Joaquim Mangrasse, have met in the capital city – Kigali.
They signed an agreement of expanding the cooperation between the two nations’ security forces in order to boost operations in Cabo Delgado.
Col. Ronald Rwivanga, the RDF spokesperson, confirmed the meeting.
“Among the decisions made included expanding the spheres of cooperation in terms of capacity building of the Mozambique security forces and improving the modus operandi of the joint forces in the theatre,” Rwivanga said.
Speaking at the SADC Heads of States Summit in Lilongwe, Malawi President, who is also the Chairman for SADC regional bloc, Dr. Lazarus Chakwera, insisted the the SADC Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) would remain put in order to see peace and stability has been restored in Cabo Delgado.
He said the regional bloc’s standby force would continue working with the Mozambican Defence Forces in decimating the insurgency.
“Our approach to this mission must continue to be multi-dimensional and comprehensive. It must not only focus on neutralising the threat but also have a post conflict plan to rebuild,” Chakwera said.
The conflict in northern Mozambique has led to more than 3 100 deaths, according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project.
More than 817 000 people have been displaced.
At a just-ended summit on the situation in Mozambique, which was held in Lilongwe, Malawi, SADC expressed mixed feelings over the deployments by Personnel Contributing Countries (PCCs).
SADC welcomed international intervention and expressed condolences and sympathies to the countries and families of personnel who lost their lives while on deployment.
– CAJ News