Mozambique: Cabo Delgado deployments pits SADC solidarity against Rwandan unilateral interests

Mozambique: Cabo Delgado deployments pits SADC solidarity against Rwandan unilateral interests

Throughout July, both Rwanda and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) deployed troops to Mozambique to combat the long-running Islamist insurgency. While the Rwandan troops were first to deploy, their secretive arrival has been dogged by controversy surrounding Rwanda’s intentions. Meanwhile, the SADC force has been troubled by more tangible concerns, such as funding. Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi’s role in both cases has been contentious; pivotal in allowing the Rwandan mission whilst delaying the SADC deployment. 

On July 9, 2021, Rwanda’s government confirmed the deployment of one thousand troops to Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province to aid the fight against the Islamist insurgency which has blighted the region since 2017 and threatened to spillover across Mozambique’s borders.The insurgency has so far cost over 200,000 lives and displaced 700,000 people. In response, seven hundred troops from the Rwandan Defence Forces (RDF), alongside three hundred personnel from the Rwandan National Police (RNP), have been dispatched under the command of Major General Innocent Kabandana. The Rwandan contingent was lauded by the Chair of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat, who described their arrival as:  “a strong and concrete act of African solidarity to support a fellow member state fight terrorism and insecurity”.

However, this optimistic viewpoint was not shared by all observers. The Southern African Development Community (SADC), the regional grouping to which Mozambique belongs, has expressed concern at the presence of troops from a non-SADC state within the territory of one of its members. The bloc was due to dispatch troops under its own authority to Cabo Delgado on the 15th of July. Yet, their deployment was delayed while Mozambique’s government tarried in signing the requisite Status of Forces Agreement. With the belated arrival of South African troops on the 20th of July, Cabo Delgado now plays host to Mozambican troops, the RDF, and SADC forces. 

Mozambique and SADC 

Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi was uniquely positioned to champion and facilitate the SADC deployment, given his  previously holding the SADC’s chairman post. Following the summit in August 2020, at which Nyusi was appointed, the bloc released a statement citing: “SADC’s solidarity and commitment to support Mozambique in addressing the terrorism and violent attacks

However, as a former defence minister himself, Nyusi may have held genuine concerns about the viability of any such SADC deployment. In recent weeks, South Africa has been forced to deploy 25,000 troops within its own provinces to quell widespread, violent disorder. Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is struggling to mobilise troops and materiel for the SADC force due to its ongoing economic crisis. Given such constraints, gathering and supporting three thousand troops from Mozambique’s neighbours may well have appeared unfeasible. 

That President Nyusi was keen to permit a unilateral mission from a non-SADC nation and recalcitrant in accepting or authorising an SADC deployment may also relate to concerns over mission control. At a press conference confirming the arrival of Rwandan troops, the Mozambican President stressed that international troops would remain under Mozambican command. This is far easier to achieve when coordinating with one thousand troops from a single nation, rather than the three thousand troops from SADC member-states.

Yet, despite the struggles Mozambique has faced in combating the insurgency, Rwanda’s willing contribution has not been met with universal Mozambican support. The leader of the Mozambican opposition party, RENAMO, has opposed the deployment, citing a lack of parliamentary oversight or public consultation by President Nyusi. These arguments are echoed by the concerns surrounding Nyusi’s previous, secretive reliance on the South African-based Dyck Advisory Group (DAG), a private firm of military contractors, all the while downplaying the need for international intervention

Rwanda in Mozambique – “African solidarity” or influence-peddling?

Moreover, questions regarding the motives behind Rwanda’s deployment have been raised. The unilateral deployment of RDF and RNP personnel in Cabo Delgadofollows the same pattern as Rwanda’s dispatching of troops to the Central African Republic (CAR) in December 2020. The self-titled “protection force”, which operated outside the mandate of the United Nations mission already in the country, was arranged directly via bilateral relations between Rwanda and the CAR. In defeating the rebel advance on Bangui, Rwanda’s success in translating military intervention to political and economic gains was evident four months later through the announcements of extensive tax holidays for Rwandan investors in the CAR. 

Similar prospects await in Mozambique. Cabo Delgado is the site of vast offshore reserves of liquified natural gas (LNG). It is perhaps telling then that the first reported engagement of the insurgents by Rwandan forces occurred in the vicinity of Afungi, the abandoned site of the French firm Total’s $20bn LNG investment. By centering operations in these areas, Rwanda may seek to ensure the protection of this infrastructure, with the intent of securing favourable future investment opportunities in Mozambique’s burgeoning LNG industry. 

However, there are accusations of more sinister ulterior motives. Exiled Rwandan opposition representatives have suggested that Rwanda seeks a presence in Mozambique from which to target Rwandan dissidents, hostile to the government in Kigali, currently residing across southern Africa. These concerns mirror those which swirl around Rwandan involvement in the deaths of two prominent rebel leaders in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), following a warming of relations between the two nations. 

Forecast: Whither now for Cabo Delgado? 

Rwanda’s mission in Mozambique seeks to replicate the country’s previous successes in impactful, directed deployments, and translating those military successes into political and economic gains. At the time of writing, Rwanda’s delegation is already reporting success in liberating Mocímboa da Praia, alongside Mozambican troops. This key port city had been held by insurgents for almost a year. However, without buy-in from the broader Mozambican society, such unilateral efforts are not guaranteed a warm reception, especially if their motives are questioned. Coupled with criticism of President Nyusi’s arranging the Rwandan deployment, these controversies could prove severe hindrances, especially were the political situation in Mozambique to shift before Rwanda could capitalise on its intervention. 

In contrast, whilst the multilateral SADC force may operate with clearer mandates and better represent the spirit of African solidarity, it is of considerable concern that the force must operate seemingly with only the begrudging support of the organisation’s own chairman. Alongside delays to their deployment, these constraints are likely to manifest through tighter constraints on SADC troops and their activities in-theatre.

Categories: Security, South Africa

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