Decree No. 15/2023 of 14 April, legalizing Local Forces operating in Cabo Delgado, was finally made public in July, having been initially approved at a session of the Mozambican Council of Ministers held on 4 and 5 April 2023. Prior to that, the National Assembly had, on 15 December 2022, paved the way for the revision of the act governing the Mozambican armed forces, the FADM Act, and the legitimization of the activities of Local Forces. The four-page decree, which contains 14 articles, clarifies relevant issues regarding the concept of Local Forces, their activation and deactivation, composition, forms of acquisition and loss of membership, as well as their rights and duties.
This article was first published on 22 August 2023 as part of the Cabo Ligado Monthly: July 2023
The late publication of the decree, three months after its approval, was no coincidence. During this period, the Mozambican government sought to complete the long process of disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration of Renamo fighters in Solala, avoiding the contradiction of simultaneously disarming and arming the population. The last Renamo base was closed on 15 June. President Filipe Nyusi said at the time that the moment symbolized "a stepping stone on the road to lasting peace."
A far cry from lasting peace is the province of Cabo Delgado, where Local Forces, made up of community members, are expected to be active in the ongoing counterinsurgency efforts. Prior to their legalization, Local Forces had been operating unconstitutionally since around 2018. The main purpose of their legalization is to allow them to operate within the law and to benefit from logistical support from the government. According to the decree, Local Forces will be incorporated into the structure of the FADM and will operate under its authority, but it will be up to the Ministry of Defense to activate and deactivate Local Forces and to decide on the number of their members, on the basis of a proposal from the FADM's general staff.
Any citizen of a given community where sovereignty is threatened can join Local Forces, provided he/she is known by the local authorities. Members may also leave Local Forces of their own will or through resignation, death, or deactivation of Local Forces. Regarding their duties, Local Forces will do no more than what they have already done: patrol, conduct surveillance, and neutralize enemy forces, all under close coordination with the Defense and Security Forces (FDS). The government provides Local Forces with logistical support, uniforms, weapons, military equipment, allowances, medical assistance, funeral assistance, and disability pensions. After the deactivation of Local Forces, their members are to receive allowances for a period of 12 to 24 months, depending on the length of time they have been active.
The decree makes no provision for training or psychosocial screening of people who want to join Local Forces. This could be a problem in the future. Notably, most of those who make up the current Local Forces are war veterans and have some military experience. However, it is not known whether they are aware of the laws of war and the rules of accountability for their actions. The decree stipulates that Local Forces must act according to the Mozambican constitution and respect human rights, and will be subject to the same disciplinary procedures and regulations as the FADM. It remains to be seen, however, whether the Mozambican government will be able or willing to hold members of Local Forces accountable for cases of extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, arbitrary detention, and ill-treatment of detainees.
Human Rights Watch criticized the government's decision to legalize "untrained and seemingly uncontrollable militias," and suggested that the regular armed forces focus on becoming more professional, and respecting human rights. Others have suggested that funds allocated to Local Forces would be better used to strengthen the logistics of the military.
By virtue of their incorporation into the FADM structure, Local Forces are nominally non-partisan. However, they are highly susceptible to partisan influence. Their headquarter is in the district of Mueda, a Frelimo stronghold, and most of them are veterans and members of the Association of Combatants of the National Liberation Struggle, a body within the Frelimo party.
Given the limited capacity of the military to provide security in the vast province of Cabo Delgado and the lack of professionalism within the military, Local Forces can be instrumental in the defence of communities while the regular forces carry out offensive operations against insurgent bases. However, if the state fails to maintain military, political, and social control over Local Forces, this ad hoc solution may lead to other unpredictable problems in the future.