Mozambique: Insurgency Requires Urgent Response From SADC and the AU

A map of Mozambique, showing Mocimboa da Praia.
press release

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) should urgently assist Mozambique to stem the violent insurgency in Cabo Delgado province and bring relief to thousands of people in dire need.


This should be a priority for SADC leaders as they meet for their 40th annual summit on Monday 17 August. At the summit, Tanzania will hand over the position of SADC chair to Mozambique.

The security situation in northern Mozambique is deteriorating at an alarming rate. Attacks by violent extremists have claimed over 1 000 lives and displaced 250 000 people since October 2017. Infrastructure has been destroyed and citizens robbed of their livelihoods.

The number of incidents has dramatically escalated this year, forcing scores to abandon their homes. Communities are caught between heavy-handed government responses and attacks by insurgents, some of which the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for.

Military action by the Mozambique government, including the continued use of mercenaries, has not stopped the attacks and has worsened the plight of civilians. Left unchecked, the insurgency is likely to grow and spill over into neighbouring countries. Human security in the region could further deteriorate as seen in other parts of Africa afflicted by violent extremism such as the Sahel, the Horn of Africa and the Lake Chad Basin.

Mozambique should not be expected to deal with a potential regional security threat of this gravity alone. As a member of SADC and the AU, it has recourse to regional and continental support.

Mozambique is also a state party to 15 of the 19 international conventions and protocols against terrorism, and the AU Convention on the Prevention and Combating of Terrorism – all of which provide for assistance from the international community under the current circumstances.

Various SADC instruments oblige the regional body to come to Mozambique’s aid. For instance, Article 6(1) of the SADC Mutual Defence Pact stipulates that an ‘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.’

In addition, SADC’s 2015 regional counter-terrorism strategy, which was developed in line with the United Nations global counter-terrorism strategy, provides for assistance in preventing youth radicalisation, border security, humanitarian aid and tackling the root causes of terrorism.

SADC should invoke Article 6(1) of the Pact and implement its 2015 counter-terrorism strategy to help combat the insurgency in northern Mozambique and prevent a spill-over into the region.

The SADC summit of the Troika of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security held in Harare on 19 May 2020 put the Mozambican insurgency on the SADC agenda. But after hours of deliberations, the meeting concluded its work without any concrete agreement on SADC’s role. The upcoming SADC summit is a crucial opportunity to take decisive action to help end the crisis.

Other specific steps that SADC could take are:
  • Develop a comprehensive operational strategy that allows for a range of military, economic, political and humanitarian measures.
  • Send a fact-finding mission to Cabo Delgado to determine the extent of the crisis and the humanitarian needs of the population.
  • Consider appointing a special envoy to coordinate efforts to assist Mozambique.
  • Engage with Mozambique’s development partners, international institutions and private companies active in the country to draw up a relief plan for victims and mobilise resources to help end the insurgency.
  • Outline measures for the effective coordination of security, surveillance and control of borders by neighbouring countries.
  • Communicate on the matter effectively and publicly when appropriate, to reassure citizens of SADC’s commitment.
  • Assist Mozambique to develop a long-term strategy to address the root causes of the violence, including the confiscation of land for mining, unemployment, high illiteracy, underdevelopment and a lack of basic services.
The AU should:
  • Engage with SADC to strengthen its efforts in Mozambique.
  • Table the crisis on the monthly agenda of the Peace and Security Council.
  • Use its convening power to mobilise international support from Mozambique’s development partners and international institutions.
  • Facilitate a process of sharing lessons from similar crises in the Sahel, the Lake Chad Basin and Somalia. 
As chair of the AU for 2020 and a SADC member state, the South African government is well placed to spearhead these efforts. This will be in line with the AU’s theme for 2020 – ‘Silencing the Guns: creating conditions for Africa’s development’.

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