Mozambique’s battle with terrorism hinges on unprecedented co-operation

SADC, Mozambique and Rwanda working together in bid to overcome Islamist threat

The potential for historical grievances to undermine international efforts to stabilise Mozambique's war-torn north was brought sharply into focus last week after regional leaders modified their military mission in Cabo Delgado province.

At a Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit on April 12th, member states agreed to adapt their operation in the troubled province from a force with rapid deployment capabilities to one that is more multidimensional.

The move has come on foot of the SADC Mission in Mozambique (Samim), which to date has comprised mainly special forces, recording decisive battlefield victories against Islamic insurgents who have terrorised the area since 2017.

Using the African Union’s military classifications system, Samim – which was first deployed to Cabo Delgado last July – had been operating under Scenario 6, an intervention designed to degrade the jihadists’ military capabilities.


The group, known locally as Al-Shabaab (“the youth”), has attacked towns and villages in the province, killed more than 1,400 civilians and forced hundreds of thousands more to flee their homes, creating an internal refugee crisis.

But under the new approach to the conflict, Samim will transition to a Scenario 5 operation, according to South Africa’s Lieut Gen Siphiwe Sangweni.

“Transitioning to Scenario 5 gives effect to peace support, and actually requires a larger effort and more feet on the ground,” he told reporters after last week’s summit, before adding it would still allow for “attack and destroy” operations.

Scenario 5 also entails strengthening governance structures, rebuilding infrastructure, re-establishing education and creating general normality for the region’s residents. Samim’s mission strength will be taken up to 1,600-1,800 personnel under Scenario 5.

However, this adjusted approach requires SADC, Mozambique, and Rwanda – the last of these has also deployed a military mission to Cabo Delgado – to engage in a level of co-ordination and co-operation that is unprecedented in southern Africa.

Liquefied gas

About 2,000 Rwandan troops have been protecting multibillion-euro gas project sites in coastal districts in Cabo Delgado since last June.

It is believed Mozambique's president, Filipe Nyusi, invited the Rwandan force to assist his country at the behest of France. French energy company Total is one of the main developers of a liquefied natural gas project in the Afungi peninsula in Palma District.

Samim is operating in three inland districts, while the Mozambican army is responsible for the rest of areas affected by the conflict.

Although Al-Shabaab has been forced to reduce its activity in Cabo Delgado, worryingly it has re-emerged in neighbouring provinces, where it has begun to attack villages.

But the need for greater co-operation has raised questions around whether some southern African nations and Rwanda can work together at a high political level in order to deploy SADC’s multipronged plan successfully.

Relations between Rwanda and South Africa, SADC's political heavyweight, have been strained for years due to a variety of security and political disagreements.

Critics of president Paul Kagame have accused his regime of assassinating a number of Rwandans opposed to his rule on South African and Mozambican soil, where they had taken refuge.

Institute for Security Studies (ISS) security analyst Liesl Louw-Vaudran said last week that the historical tensions also related to "differences over election results in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in early 2019".

“Despite overtures by [Rwandan] president Paul Kagame to key SADC countries, concerns persist,” she wrote in ISS Today.

Local buy-in

Louw-Vaudran maintained that for Samim’s new plan to succeed it would require “local buy-in and co-ordination with Mozambique and Rwanda”.

SADC has not held any official high-level discussions with Rwanda about its military presence in Cabo Delgado to date, and no representatives of the central African nation have attended its security summits on the crisis.

Despite these political concerns, the SADC, Rwandan and Mozambican troops operating on the ground in Cabo Delgado appear to have started to co-ordinate more effectively when engaging the enemy after initially operating in isolation.

After last week's SADC security summit, South Africa's top general, Rudzani Maphwanya, told reporters that Samim had inflicted "massive losses" on the jihadists since overcoming co-ordination problems with its allies.

Gen Maphwanya said that on one of his visits to Cabo Delgado he had met the head of the Rwandan intervention force and both agreed they should work together, as they had “the sole mission of ridding Cabo Delgado of the scourge of terrorism”.