Cabo Delgado: SADC’s biggest security threat

Phumlani Majozi says the longer the region takes to act the less chance it will have of ending the insurgency

As you may have heard, there is an Islamic terrorism crisis in Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique. The stories we hear from that region are harrowing. The ISIS-linked terrorist group beheads and brutalizes innocent, defenceless people. 

That these Islamic terrorists continue to carry on with their barbarism is testament to the incompetence and failure of the Mozambican government.

Let's be frank, history shows that our African leaders fail to crush and defeat Islamic terrorism in the African continent. They fail in West Africa with Boko Haram, they also fail in East Africa where al-Shabaab continues with its vicious terrorist activities that kill innocent men, women and children.

Those who believe in the philosophy of “African solutions to African problems'' must be completely disappointed in our leaders. Because clearly, we still do not have working solutions to Africa’s problems. It is 30 years after the Cold War and our continent fails on many socio-economic challenges. And look, it doesn't fail because of the West, it fails because of our leaders. We cannot blame the West at this point.

In my previous writings, I have penned that African leaders have not only failed on pro-market economic reform. They have also failed on continental security. Security is one of the fundamental prerequisites, in building one of the world’s fast-growing and prosperous continents.

We South Africans are not used to a wave of terrorism motivated by Islamic extremism. It is something we watch in the news. It is often news reports about the Middle East and Africa. Not a single administration in our democratic South Africa has experienced what the Nigerian, Kenyan and Somalian governments have experienced, and what Mozambique is experiencing, with the monstrous Islamic terrorists. In that sense, we have been fortunate. At least till now – because we cannot foresee what will happen in future. 

With this Cabo Delgado’s Islamic insurgency, South Africa faces a national security threat of great magnitude going forward. The threat will be more troubling if the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Mozambican government fail to crush the insurgency.

Earlier this year, I interviewed Malte Brosig and Ndungu Njeru on Mozambique’s Islamic terror crisis. Brosig is a professor of international relations at Wits University in Johannesburg, and Njeru is a research and programs manager at Eastern Africa Policy Centre in Nairobi, Kenya. 

Brosig said, “For Mozambique I’m slightly more positive than maybe for other areas because it’s still relatively new. And I think the longer the conflict continues the more difficult it is to actually reverse it back.” I agreed with him. It is new - and it must be crushed now before it becomes a bigger security problem in the Southern Africa region.

SADC in cooperation with the Mozambican government must handle this Islamic terror crisis throughout. It is good that this intergovernmental body held an urgent meeting this week. It must act fast. And South Africa must only participate along with other members of the body. Nothing from South Africa should be done unilaterally in the crisis.

As SADC tackles this matter, it’s very important to keep in mind that these terrorists will seek to retaliate in future.  We know these are heartless people who do not fear death and have nothing to lose. They are willing to sacrifice their lives to advance their Islamic extremist agenda. And their toxic ideas tend to spread fast. 

This then means SADC countries must strengthen security at home going forward. With the high levels of deadly crime in my country South Africa, I have little faith in our government providing adequate security for its citizens against potential terror attacks. Very little faith. They are already failing dismally on local deadly crime. The homicide rates that I wrote about recently when I reflected on the terrifying murder of my uncle, are shocking.

In 2011, Kenya sent troops to assist the African Union in the fight against al-Shabaab in Somalia. Since then, the country has endured reprisal attacks from the Islamic terrorist group. So, SADC countries must expect these Mozambican terrorists to launch or attempt to launch attacks at some point in future. It must be understood that this is a long-term battle.

President Cyril Ramaphosa has handled the situation well so far. He was right in repatriating South African citizens in Cabo Delgado.  That was a priority at this time. It's the only thing we had to do at this point.

The Mozambique’s terror crisis will test Ramaphosa’s presidency. African leaders fail in the terror fight, so let us not be surprised if Ramaphosa and SADC fail in Mozambique.

Phumlani M. Majozi is a senior fellow at African Liberty. His website is phumlanimajozi.com Follow him on Twitter: @PhumlaniMMajozi