Why Zimbabwe Has Interest in Mozambique Crisis

30 MAY, 2021 - 00:05 

Lincoln Towindo for the Sunday Mail

A CRUCIAL SADC extraordinary Double Troika meeting to discuss the security situation in Mozambique took place last week.

Somewhere along the picturesque shores of the Indian Ocean in Maputo, six regional leaders, among them President Mnangagwa, gathered to try and stitch up a forceful solution to the violent terrorist insurgency engulfing northern Mozambique and threatening regional peace and security.

The Double Troika brought together leaders from Mozambique, the current SADC chair, Malawi (incoming chair) and the United Republic of Tanzania (immediate-past chair).

Leaders of member states constituting the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation — Botswana (current chair), South Africa (incoming) and Zimbabwe (outgoing) were also in attendance.

Ahead of the summit, there was immense anticipation in public discourse of a “final solution” to deal with the marauding insurgents in northern Mozambique.

However, come the end of the meeting, there was no bold declaration of a statement of intent, as was largely anticipated in public spaces.

There was no indication of an anticipated deployment of the SADC Force Intervention Brigade into Mozambique.

Instead, a rather lukewarm post-summit communique referred to the region’s pledge of solidarity with Mozambique in her efforts to combat insurgency in pursuit of peace.

An anticlimactic end, some concluded.

I was fortunate to be among the pack of regional journalists who covered the latest summit.

Having covered a handful of SADC Heads of State meetings over the years, I have learnt to temper my expectations on summit outcomes publicised through official communiques.

More often than not, communiques are blasé and fantastically diplomatic in tone and give away very little of the whole story.

This is by no means meant to cast aspersions at the SADC institution, which is a fundamental bedrock of regional integration, development, peace and stability.

Over the years covering these summits, I have also cultivated a respectable army of high-level sources who have religiously attended these meetings for some time.

And oftentimes they whisper stimulating musings into my ear, of the goings-on within the hallowed corridors of regional diplomacy, which many may not be privy to.

Attending last week’s summit was one such opportunity to interact with some of them, after having last interacted during the last summit I attended in Gaborone, Botswana towards the backend of 2020.

These interactions have afforded me a broader perspective into understanding why a regional approach into handling the Mozambican crisis has seemingly turned into a protracted war of attrition, with no end in sight.

Here I will attempt to dissect the intricacies and diplomatic obstacles that appear to have the region tied up in knots, with the grim spectre of terrorist insurgency looming large.

This is by no an exhaustive dissection of all the challenges because there are others, in fact many others who are better placed to do that.

I will also attempt to zero in on Zimbabwe’s stake, options and ostensible opinions in this chapter of sub-regional diplomacy.

Mozambique’s preferences

Over recent months, there has been a shift in Mozambique’s position on foreign intervention.

Originally Mozambican authorities did not want outside involvement from SADC countries.


Because once there is regional intervention, their domestic issue becomes regional.

What this means is that the Troika will then have to report on Mozambique to the Heads of State, firmly locating the country on the body’s agenda.

SADC will also have to escalate the issue from summit to the African Union, which in turn will have to take it to the United Nations.

This is on account of the principle of subsidiarity under which these bodies operate.

The rule of subsidiarity provides that sub-regional organisations have the first right of involvement before they report to other structures all the way up to the UN.

But once the issue is escalated to the UN, it means that Mozambique will become a subject of the United Nations Security Council.

This is exactly what the Mozambicans are against.

And their reluctance is understandable because no country wants to be a subject of discussion at the Security Council.

Their apprehension stems from the fact that the more the UN and the Security Council are involved, the less their sovereignty is respected.

This is why they have been pussyfooting on the regional initiative.

Preferred solution

However, Mozambique prefers a solution which is largely bilateral.

And through seeking a bilateral solution, they are gunning for Zimbabwe’s involvement.

To them Zimbabwe is a trusted ally and also because they know the capabilities of the Zimbabwe National Army.

In addition, if Zimbabwe were to deploy bilaterally, this would preclude the requirement to report to SADC, AU or UN or the Security Council.

Enter the US/EU axis

On another level, we have the United States of America who are also courting Mozambique.

The US are, however, not keen to have body bags coming from Mozambique.

Instead, they prefer to send a small unit, which is situated away from the theatre of war.

What they want is to be put in charge of capacity building of the Mozambican army.

More interestingly, the US are keenly interested in the idea of Zimbabwe’s involvement.

The only problem to that is the sanctions regime imposed by the US through various instruments including the infamous Zidera.

This has placed the Americans in a double bind, which is that there is a package of sanctions against Zimbabwe and a requirement in Zidera which says that they cannot have military co-operation with Zimbabwe which is under those sanctions.

Yet they realise the vitality of extending support to the ZNA in the event that Zimbabwe deploys to Mozambique.

It has since become public knowledge that the US has been attempting to reach out, using back channels, to try and get Zimbabwe involved in Mozambique.

But of course, Zimbabwe has her own price to ask.

The country wants a complete and unconditional removal of all sanctions.

On the other hand, Zimbabwe’s foreign policy does not allow for the country’s military to be turned into an askari army because of foreign interests.

Zimbabwe believes that it has sufficient grounds to be interested in the politics and security of Mozambique without the involvement of the Americans.

Mozambique is considered a close ally and is a fellow SADC country, which also houses some of our routes to the sea.

So, Zimbabwe has ample vested interest in the stability of Mozambique.

However, it appears as if the US are the ones who are more anxious to get Zimbabwe involved.

Away from that, there is also the European Union that is also coming in.

The EU is looking at having a training force of around 300 soldiers.

So far Portugal and France appear the most interested.

But this where this matter becomes difficult for SADC.

SADC has a binding policy against non-African foreign involvement in the region.

The region does not want Europeanisation or Americanisation of the Mozambican conflict.

The problem with Americans, in regional leaders’ opinion, is that once they are in your neighbourhood they will never leave.

As a result, SADC finds itself in an unenviable situation where the host country does not want the deployment of regional forces but would prefer a bilateral initiative with the involvement of Zimbabwe.

The region is, on the other hand, not amenable to a foreign invasion.

There are fears however, that what we are seeing is an escalation in the conflict which essentially creates a situation where SADC might end up being overtaken by events.

But once the matter gets Americanised or Europeanised, it means it is now beyond the control of SADC.

SADC leaders fear that the region may end up becoming a vortex of international forces who are settling scores using SADC territory as a theatre for conflict.

Zim interests

Zimbabwe has direct interests in the Mozambican conflict.

Historically, the jihadist movement has always been trans-border.

The notion of creating a caliphate redraws the political geography in regions as we have witnessed happen in the Middle East.

So when Mozambique is under apparent attack by supposed jihadists, there are obviously worries from a sub-regional security point of view and also from a national security point of view in Zimbabwe’s case.

On the second level, Zimbabwe has direct economic interests: some of her key trade routes pass through Mozambique.

The country has a far flung plan to build two new ports south of Maputo and north of Beira through a quadrilateral initiative which also involves South Africa, Mozambique and Botswana.

Thirdly, Mozambique is an ally and fellow SADC member state and there is a standing SADC defence pact which states that when one is under attack, then everyone has to get involved.

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