SADC’s Mozambique intervention force ‘de-escalates’ – and expands, leaving summit analysts baffled

President Cyril Ramaphosa and President President Filipe Nyusi visit the military camp during the Working Visit to Mozambique ahead of the 53rd Heroes Day commemoration in Mueda ,Cabo Delgado Province on 03 February 2022.Photo:Kopano Tlape/GCIS

How can the intervention force both de-escalate and expand at the same time? South Africa, for example, seems to be increasing its contingent in it from about 300 special forces and support staff to about 1,280 troops, according to military experts.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and other regional leaders have agreed to a “de-escalation” of their intervention force fighting Islamist insurgents in Mozambique – though it’s not quite clear what that means. 

The leaders agreed at a virtual summit on Tuesday of the security organ troika of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that the SADC Mission in Mozambique (Samim) would transition on April 15 from its current status as a “Scenario 6” rapid intervention force to a larger “Scenario 5” peacekeeping force with a more consolidating mission. 

The different scenarios are described in the African Union’s African Standby Force guide which describes a Scenario 6 mission as an “… intervention, for example in genocide situations where the international community does not act promptly…”

Whereas a Scenario 5 mission is described as a “peacekeeping force for complex multidimensional peacekeeping missions, including those involving low-level spoilers”.

The African Union has officially classified Samim as part of its African Standby Force. 

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Analysts are battling to understand how this transition of Samim constitutes a “de-escalation”, which was how SA’s minister of international relations and cooperation, Naledi Pandor, described the change in the status of Samim when she addressed a meeting of fellow ministers of the SADC troika last week.

She noted that the previous heads of state summit of the security organ in January had extended Samim’s mandate “with additional capability requirements and additional integral personnel for a further three months, from 16 January to 15 April 2022, and thereafter de-escalation to Scenario 5 up to 15 July 2022”.

How can Samim both de-escalate and expand at the same time? South Africa, for example, seems to be increasing its contingent in Samim from about 300 special forces and support staff to about 1,280 troops, according to military experts. 

This would mainly comprise three rifle companies totalling about 430 infantry troops, plus one rifle or support company of parachute troops, as well as two special force commandos amounting to 150 to 200 troops, plus other supporting elements. 

The SA National Defence Force is also sending many armoured vehicles plus a navy frigate according to observers, including Cabo Ligado, the Mozambique insurgency observatory. 

It is possible that Pandor called this reinforcement a “de-escalation” because SADC is seeing the nature of the mission changing from a rapid response to a crisis when Samim went into northern Mozambique in July last year, to a new, less urgent role of consolidating the gains made since then. 

However, it is not clear if the insurgents, known as Al-Sunna wa Jama’a – also known locally as Al-Shabaab – and affiliated to the Islamic State, have also de-escalated. 

Though a force of about 2,000 Rwandan troops has pacified the area around the TotalEnergies liquefied natural gas processing facility at Afungi near Palma in the far northeast of Mozambique, insurgent attacks are still occurring elsewhere in that region. 

The United Nations Refugee Agency has said it would be premature for displaced people to return to their homes, as Liesl Louw-Vaudran, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies, noted this week.

She also said that to resolve the insurgency crisis, “a joint vision for long-term stability was needed that includes all the forces in Mozambique”.

Louw-Vaudran noted that the Rwandan and Samim forces had still not been integrated into an overarching strategy, and so, for instance, Rwanda was again not present at Wednesday’s SADC summit to discuss the insurgency. DM


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