The Sunday News / Analysis

SOUTHERN Africa faces, arguably their biggest challenge after the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, as reports are indicating that for the first time, Mozambique has admitted, the presence of the Islamic State and the Levant (ISIL)-affiliated fighters in that country amid escalating attacks in the gas-rich Cabo Delgado Northern Province.

Mozambique’s admission follows a recent police report, in which it claimed that the terror group massacred 52 villagers from the Cabo Delgado region who had apparently refused to be recruited into the ranks of the ghostly terrorist group that has been terrorising the region’s villages and towns for more than two years now.

The terror attacks in the neighbouring country have left a trail of destruction, which could have a negative impact not only on its neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe, but the whole Sadc region, if left unchecked. In 2019, more than 600 people were reportedly killed, while in December alone, more than 17 attacks from the terrorist group were recorded, which claimed the lives of innocent citizens in the process.

Reports have established that the insurgency in Cabo Delgado follows conflict mainly fought between Islamist militants attempting to establish an Islamic state in the region, and the Mozambican security forces. Civilians have been the main target of attacks by Islamist militants. The militants are known to speak Portuguese, the official language of Mozambique, Kimwane, the local language, and Swahili, the lingua franca of the Great Lakes region in East Africa.

The Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) which is known to be affiliated to ISIL, has reportedly claimed responsibility for some of the attacks in the Mozambican region since last year, posting images of killed soldiers and seized weapons. In recent weeks, the fighters have unmasked themselves, openly declaring their campaign to establish an “Islamist caliphate” in the gas-rich region.

Jasmine Opperman, the Africa associate of Islamic theology on counter-terrorism, who does research on terrorism related issues, is quoted in many publications highlighting that there were between seven and 10 cells of the terrorists, operating in Cabo Delgado. The situation in the neighbouring country is getting serious by the day with reports revealing that the insurgency group has been scaling up their attacks, seizing buildings, blocking roads and temporarily hoisting their black-and-white flag over towns and villages across the province.

The insurgency is reportedly moving more inland indicating that the Mozambican army might be overwhelmed. Johann Smith, an independent political and security risk analyst postulated that the ISIL group is getting more dangerous and savage by the day. She adds that the terror group is very resourceful and has access to modern weaponry and technology.

“They have access to intelligence, access to knowledge on where the deployments are and when they are at their most vulnerable. They have access to Mozambique Defence Armed Forces (FADM) uniforms, they have seized weapons that (Russian military company) Wagner has given to the FADM, sophisticated weapons, which means their sophistication is escalating day by day.”

The foregoing is just a pointer to the magnitude of the crisis that is facing Southern Africa which has been relatively quiet over the years, with no serious open conflict. The crisis unfolding in Mozambique has dire consequence for the whole region and should be a concern to Sadc and Africa as a whole. The security threat becomes more peculiar as countries bordering Mozambique would suffer the ripple effects of the terrorist attacks, as border control among these countries is virtually non-existent because of the cultural, social and economic interchange between citizens living on either side of these borders.

Closer to home, a self-proclaimed ISIL member, France Al Rasak has reportedly taken to his micro blogging site to issue a threat against Zimbabwe’s military deployment to fight the insurgency in Mozambique. He also extends an invitation to the opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa to engage the insurgency group to violently remove Zimbabwe’s constitutionally elected Government from power. His attempts at luring junior security service officers with huge sums of money to join the Islamic extremists also poses a threat not only to Zimbabwe, but the region and continent.

Sadc should place the issue at the top of its priorities as Islamist extremism has the potential to destabilise the whole region, hence, it should not be underestimated. Sadc countries cannot afford instability in the region as it pursues its overall aim of achieving regional integration and eradicating poverty.

To that end, Zimbabwean President and Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation Chairperson, His Excellency Emmerson Mnangagwa visited his counterpart, Mozambican President and Sadc Deputy Chairperson, Filipe Nyusi last week and held a bilateral meeting in which they jointly condemned the terror attacks in Mozambique.

Sadc, through the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, an institutional framework which was set up on 14 August 2001, is mandated to promote peace and security across Southern Africa while protecting the region’s people from instability due to the breakdown of law and order, developing a common foreign policy throughout the region, and co-operating on matters related to security and defence.

This shows that it is well within Sadc’s mandate to convene an emergency gathering to discuss on the insurgency in Mozambique and the repercussions it may have on the region. It is up to the member states to collectively make a decision and map the way forward on how to deal decisively with the threat posed to Mozambique and the region at large, by the Islamic militants.

This is one war that Sadc cannot afford to lose as it should implement Article 6 of the Mutual Defence Pact 2003 which states 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.”

Analysts have pointed out that the terror attacks on Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado is due to the recent discovery of massive gas reserves and the northern state currently is home to Africa’s three largest liquid natural gas projects namely the Mozambique LNG project, Total and Rovuma LNG project. One is made to wonder, why Africa always experiences these proxy wars whenever the exploitation of its resources is concerned. That is a topic for another day.