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Urgent SADC intervention is vital to end violent extremism in northern Mozambique

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David Matsinhe is southern Africa researcher at Amnesty International and Adjunct Professor of African Studies at Carleton University, Canada. Writing in his personal capacity, the views he expresses in this article are his alone and do not represent the position of Amnesty International. [email protected] and @MatsinheDM on Twitter

The cloud of official secrecy over the ongoing carnage in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province means that the world remains largely oblivious to the scale of death and destruction, and the breadth and depth of fear, suffering, pain and trauma. SADC must intervene, now.

The intensifying war in northern Mozambique which began in October 2017 has so far claimed around 1,500 lives, displaced 250,000 people and condemned more than 700,000 to precarious living conditions in need of some form of humanitarian assistance.

The human spirit will be the last thing to die, but it remains strong even as the human condition is stripped to its bare bones and rendered brutish.

The resilience of the human spirit and will to live are embodied in the victims’ extraordinary active exercise of agency when it matters the most – for example, the woman in labour who, while fleeing an attack in her village, stopped in the middle of the bush to give birth, then continued to run; or the children lost and left to fend for themselves in the middle of an unforgiving wilderness, who find and steer each other to safety.

The cloud of secrecy and information taboo over the ongoing carnage means that the world remains largely oblivious to the scale of death and destruction, and the breadth and depth of fear, suffering, pain and trauma.

The Mozambican government, in clear violation of the right to free expression, free press and access to information, has banned journalists, researchers and civil society from doing their work in the conflict zone, leading people to make decisions about their lives without vital and potentially life-saving information.

The government has failed to promptly, thoroughly, impartially and transparently investigate numerous allegations of human rights violations, including forced disappearances, torture, inhumane treatment and extrajudicial killings by government forces of civilians accused of aiding and abetting the armed groups.

In a recent 702 Radio interview, Aubrey Masango wanted to understand the war’s implications for South Africa and why South Africa should be involved. Massango’s questions reflected a growing regional and international interest in the contours, ebbs and flows of this war. 

ISIS warnings to South Africa have prompted parts of the public to muse whether South African involvement in northern Mozambique would be wise. Clearly this war appears to weigh heavily, as it should, in the public consciousness in South Africa and in other SADC member states.

Should SADC member states intervene in northern Mozambique? Here, I put forward the case for such an intervention:

  1. First, they should ask themselves: to whom should SADC member states listen – ISIS or their citizens? Are SADC member states prepared to take marching orders from an international criminal organisation even as it slaughters their citizens? While SADC member states should take ISIS threats seriously, they are accountable to their citizens: they have the regional and international obligation to protect human rights from foreign and domestic threats anywhere in the region. The SADC Mutual Defence Pact declares in article 6(1): “An armed attack against a state party shall be considered a threat to regional peace and security and such an attack shall be met with immediate collective action.” SADC member states must honour this pact and not be cowed by ISIS threats.
  2. SADC member states must learn from their colonial history, notably the aggressor’s divide-and-conquer practices. By warning South Africa to keep its hands off Mozambique, ISIS is clearly plagiarising the colonial divide-and-conquer playbook. Will SADC member states permit ISIS to play them for fools with these old tricks?
  3. Whether South Africans know it or not, South Africa is already implicated by, and involved in, Mozambican state dysfunction. Mozambique’s metamorphosis since the early 1990s – from a cheap labour reservoir for South Africa into a migration-trade corridor into South Africa – gradually dragged South Africa, and to a greater or lesser extent the whole of SADC, into the middle of the mess. Corruption at all levels of government positioned Mozambique, since the early 1990s, as an important conveyor of drugs into South Africa, from where they are conveyed farther to the lucrative markets of Europe. To drug traffickers and corruption, Mozambique’s 2,000km long and unguarded coast is the gift that keeps on giving. The status quo is not in the best interest of SADC member states.
  4. The insurgents and drug traffickers in Mozambique operate beneath the surface, spreading across borders states in a rhizomatic fashion. However, SADC member states model their response, or lack thereof, on colonial ideas of territorial integrity and sovereignty, notably the so-called principle of non-interference. The reason why SADC member states have not intervened, and perhaps will never intervene, is the myopic orientation between and within themselves and dis-identification with each other. It is the same reason why SADC member states’ leaders preach regional integration while acting against integration, which ensures that SADC remains a group of bounded and indifferent state monads, each turned inward, “much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes”, as Karl Marx said. The cumulative result is foreseeable – SADC disintegrates as member states disintegrate one after the other.
  5. The protagonists of the golden age of African leadership – Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Eduardo Mondlane, Nelson Mandela, Amilcar Cabral, Oliver Tambo, Patrice Lumumba, Robert Mugabe and Kenneth Kaunda, to name a few – should inspire SADC member states to intervene in northern Mozambique. This golden class of leaders knew that, and acted as if, the threat of subjugation anywhere in Africa was a threat of subjugation everywhere in Africa. They knew and acted as if Africa was not free as long as any African state remained under colonial oppression. Oneness, solidarity, common purpose, mutual identification and decisiveness permeated their relationships and dealings with each other. They knew that if Africans remained divided, they would attract manipulation, conquest and subjugation.

Regrettably, the new breed of self-seeking men and women who replaced the classic, noble and magnificent class, have no message of hope to offer this continent. A group of them met this week as SADC heads of states, and as usual, nothing will come out of it. DM

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