SADC postpones security summit ‘indefinitely’ as differences sharpen over Cabo Delgado conflict

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SADC officials have distance themselves from a leaked strategy paper calling for a 3,000 strong intervention force to defeat Islamist insurgents in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique
SADC officials have distance themselves from a leaked strategy paper calling for a 3,000 strong intervention force to defeat Islamist insurgents in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique

Pushing back against a growing determination among regional states to take concerted action to quell the insurgency in northern Mozambique, President Fillipe Nyusi has managed to engineer an ‘indefinite postponement’ of a Southern African Development Community security summit which had been due to be held on April 29.

Insiders say that the official reasons for the postponement of the meeting – agenda clashes and coronavirus infections – were a convenient pretext, given sharp differences between Mozambique and Zimbabwe on the crisis.

We hear that Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa favours a robust regional intervention force led by commanders from the Zimbabwe National Army, which undertook a similar operation in Congo-Kinshasa two decades ago.

A draft strategy paper arguing for that kind of force but disowned by SADC officials was thought to have been leaked by Harare.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Botswana’s Mokgweetsi Masisi were both unable to attend the planned SADC Troika meeting on Thursday last week, explained officials, with Masisi being forced to quarantine after being in contact with someone who has contracted COVID-19.

Meeting on 28 April, SADC foreign ministers agreed with the recommendation made by a SADC assessment mission that Mozambique’s security forces needed immediate support ‘to combat the threat of terrorism and acts of violent extremism in Cabo Delgado.’

Botswana’s International Affairs minister, Lemogang Kwape, who chairs the SADC committee on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation said in a statement that a regional force was permitted under the ‘collective self-defence, and collective action’ clause in the bloc’s 2008 defence pact.

SADC’s assessment mission included military and intelligence experts from Angola, Botswana, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, and concluded that although there was a lull in fighting since the Mozambican army recaptured the town of Palma, the retreat could have been due to the start of Ramadan. As they were meeting, reports from Palma said the insurgents had relaunched attacks on the town.

Over the past year President Nyusi has consistently rejected regional but not all foreign intervention: he has hired both Russian and South African private military companies to fight the insurgents alongside local forces.

Zimbabwean military sources say this isn’t working and a bigger force with more airpower is needed.

South Africa and Botswana are uneasy about Zimbabwe taking a lead role in Mozambique’s conflict but agree with Mnangagwa that the crisis risks spreading across regional borders. – Copyright © Africa Confidential 2021

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