by Tirivanhu Katerera - Correspondent
Since October 2017, over 700 civilians have been killed in attacks in Cabo Delgado province, northern Mozambique. At times the attacks were claimed by the Islamic State, an armed group or other militants hailing from Kenya and Tanzania who have joined a home grown group called either Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama or Ansar al-Sunna (ASWJ) (meaning ‘supporters of tradition’). That group is often locally called Al-Shabaab, but it has no practical connection to the Somali rebel organisation.
ASWJ is reportedly fighting for the emancipation of that part of the country it feels has been neglected by the central government in Maputo for decades. To feed the movement, the rebels rely on local Muslim population that share the same marginalisation and underdevelopment narrative with it.
Since 2017, observers accused SADC of having a “lackadaisical approach” to the conflict in Mozambique at the expense of unarmed civilians comprising of women and children.
The relaxed approach has also given a leeway for erstwhile colonisers to fill the gap and continue on a looting spree of the Southern African country’s resources in the middle of a conflict.
However, SADC took a bold standpoint on 8 April in Maputo to urgently resuscitate and capacitate its Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) in order to facilitate deployment in Mozambique.
This is the kind of response which peace loving Mozambicans have been eagerly waiting for since 2017. Mozambicans have every reason to believe in the intervention of SADC or any of its member states, as positive results were obtained before in the region after similar interventions.
In the past serious conflicts in Angola (Jonas Savimbi and his men), Mozambique (Matsanga and his men), Democratic Republic of Congo (Joseph Kony and his men) erupted and resolved at SADC level.
President Mnangagwa recently noted that “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. United we stand. Hence, we cannot sit back and allow acts of insurgency to continue without a robust regional response.”
This is a clear message that the region is charged and is determined to end the crisis in Mozambique by all means possible.
It is also important to note that Mozambique is a gateway to the sea for landlocked SADC member states such as Zimbabwe, Democratic Republic of Congo, Zambia and Botswana. In light of this, there is every reason for the region to ensure peace in Mozambique so that there will be economic growth.
Apart from the economic side, if not contained, the conflict might have a buy-in from other “disgruntled groups” in the region and spread. This possibility buttresses SADC intervention at this juncture.
Further to that, there was likely going to be an influx of refugees in SADC member states running away from the conflict. In the wake of Covid-19, this had the potential to spread the pandemic and other diseases.
Apart from the pandemic, refugees come with other challenges such as social ills, trans-border crimes and pressure on existing infrastructure.
Overly, kudos to SADC for the intervention which we all hope will bring a lasting solution to the Mozambican conflict.