Camps for refugees fleeing violence in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado are mushrooming in the provincial capital of Pemba. Picture: MSF
Camps for refugees fleeing violence in the northern Mozambique province of Cabo Delgado are mushrooming in the provincial capital of Pemba. Picture: MSF

It’s panic stations and all hands to the pump at least as far as the UN is concerned regarding the bloody insurgency under way in Mozambique’s northernmost province, Cabo Delgado.

A cluster of UN agencies held a combined media conference last Monday to draw attention to the mushrooming humanitarian crisis stemming from the deteriorating security situation in Cabo Delgado where more than 2,000 people have been killed and more than 550,000 internally displaced.

With the briefing that described what was gathered from its fact-finding visit to the region in December, the global body also launched an appeal to the public and NGOs to raise the $250m (R3.8bn) required to implement wide-ranging interventions to halt the growing crisis.  

Mozambique’s approach to the security situation thus far has been hit-and-miss. As a poor country with a dilapidated and underequipped military, the government was initially forced to rely on a shadowy Russian paramilitary group, Wagner, with strong links to the Kremlin to counter the insurgency.

It has been argued that Wagner is a proxy for the growing influence of Putin’s Russia in Africa. Wagner and its purported principal, Yevgeny Prigozhin (sometimes referred to as Putin’s chef), have been accused of a disinformation campaign using social media in five African countries: the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Sudan and Mozambique.

But the organisations’ adventure in Mozambique ended in ignominy with the sudden departure of the group in late 2019 after more than 10 of its mercenaries were killed, some of whom were beheaded.

The SA government’s attitude to what is essentially a private military contractor operating on its doorstep is interesting, especially as it is believed that Dyck’s team contains a number of SA citizens

A clash of cultures between Wagner’s soldiers — many of whom were trained and served in the Russian army — and the Mozambican forces, as well as challenges in communicating with one another and informants, were some of the reasons cited for the breakdown in the relationship.

Since then, responsibility for the rapid deployment units was assigned to the police force who employed a private military contractor under the command of Lionel Dyck. Details are sketchy, but the involvement of Dyck Advisory Group appears to have brought mixed results thus far.

The SA government’s attitude to what is essentially a private military contractor operating on its doorstep is interesting, especially as it is believed that Dyck’s team contains a number of SA citizens.

This would ordinarily draw vociferous objections to SA participation by the government, as has been the practice when confronted with evidence of such in other parts of the continent.

In this instance, it appears the government has been a bit more accommodating. For starters the operatives are working for, and under, the supervision of a legitimately elected government.

Were Dyck to have been a roaring success in Cabo Delgado, it also would have taken the impetus off the need to commit the SA National Defence Force to a situation fraught with all sorts of risks.

The regional bloc thus far has limited its involvement to publicly supporting Mozambique’s efforts while passively looking on. But things have not turned out as hoped for and it appears the time for sitting on the fence and hoping the problem goes away has long since passed.

Bold decisions

The real question thus concerns what the Southern African Development Community (SADC) will do about it.

Bold decisions should be made by SADC heads of state, not least of which must be by President Cyril Ramaphosa, to commit assets and, regrettably, risk human lives to staunch the bleeding.

Of course, it’s always easy armchair-quarterbacking what should and shouldn’t be done when committing people’s lives to defeat a violent insurrection in another country. These decisions come with severe and heavy consequences, namely: will the SA public tolerate soldiers returning in body bags for this cause? 

But conversely, doing nothing will diminish our standing as a regional and continental leader, and may ultimately be worse on our conscience.

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