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SADC mission to Mozambique faces questions over its future

As the SAMIM mission heads towards the end of its current mandated deployment in mid-January, the mission faces a series of unresolved questions about its long-term future

Cabo Ligado Monthly: November 2021

As the SAMIM mission heads towards the end of its current mandated deployment in mid-January, the mission continues to make some operational gains, but still faces a series of unresolved questions about its long-term future.

On 8 November, SAMIM’s political head, Mpho Molomo, told a public webinar in Pretoria that SAMIM forces (alongside Rwandan and Mozambican forces) had been instrumental in stabilizing the security situation, which “has allowed the Mozambican Government, together with International Cooperating Partners, and multilateral agencies of the United Nations to roll out the much-needed services as well as humanitarian assistance.”  Molomo pointed to improvements in communication and coordination with Rwandan and Mozambican forces following the establishment of a joint coordinating liaison committee comprised of generals from the three forces.

Operational progress includes the killing of insurgents, over 150 hostages rescued, and recovery of items such as medicine, foodstuffs, generators, computers, documents, and vehicles. Molomo indicated around 15,000 displaced persons had been able to return to their homes as a result of SAMIM’s efforts.

In the bigger picture, there is evidently much more to be done. According to one estimate, over 2,000 insurgents are unaccounted for, as are hundreds of hostages. Stability in many areas remains fragile, as evidenced by the limited numbers of displaced people returning home and the caution from humanitarian agencies in resuming operations.  The mission in many ways remains in its formative stages.

Molomo acknowledged that military intervention is only one aspect of the challenge and that securing Cabo Delgado necessitated a return of law and order and the rule of law, alongside the restoration of public services such as electricity, water, and the reopening of schools.

On 10 November, SADC itself released an update on the SAMIM deployment, setting out basic facts about its mandate, and core areas of progress, but revealing little operational detail. On 11 November, SAMIM issued another media release, claiming it had destroyed three insurgent bases north of Lake Nguri and the Muera river in northern Macomia as part of a major operation launched on 24 October. The statement emphasised SADC’s commitment to helping Mozambique to create conditions for a return to normal life for the people of Cabo Delgado.

Measuring advances towards this goal presents a significant challenge. SAMIM’s Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) does not provide a framework against which SADC can assess progress to determine whether mandate objectives have been achieved, and, in turn, benchmarks and modalities for drawing down the mission remain undefined. A SADC meeting of Troika officials in Pretoria on 25 November sought to set out what such a framework might look like. Ahead of SADC’s formal Troika meeting in January, SAMIM will conduct its own internal assessment of the mission’s progress. The Troika is expected to extend the mission’s mandate for a further three months, but whether this will include an expansion of personnel and a commitment to moving beyond a hard security focus will be contingent on funding and political developments. In the meantime, additional South African forces have been approved, but remain on standby.

While SADC does not want to get drawn into an expensive, drawn out deployment, it believes an unstable Mozambique will undermine wider regional security and economic integration plans. What constitutes sufficient stability in this context remains unclear; the SOFA provides little by way of a wider angle focus beyond a militarized engagement, although a commitment to support the return of law and order suggests a possible policing role. Beyond that, there are currently no clear moves towards developing a broader strategy that would extend beyond the current ‘hard security’ counter-terrorism focus. A recent report from South African and Mozambican academics provides a framework of considerations that could be incorporated for a more comprehensive SADC strategy. This specifically calls for the development of an “effective and credible” countering and preventing violent extremism strategy from the foundation of current counter-terrorism commitments. This would necessitate a further investment in SADC’s mediation and conflict resolution infrastructure, which currently has very limited capacity.  Such an approach, however, requires the government of Mozambique to take the lead; it is unclear if that is likely to take place.

Underpinning continued SADC involvement in the conflict is the issue of finances. SAMIM currently relies on self-financing, limiting the extent of the SAMIM deployment. Troop contributing countries will be able to provide some further support, but this is not a sustainable option. SADC has started the process of exploring funding options (through the European Union, the African Union, and the United Nations), but there are no clear pathways and certainly no guarantees in place at this juncture.