The arrival of foreign troops could mark a turning point in Mozambique’s four-year battle against an Islamic State insurgency. By Tomás Queface in Maputo.
More than 1,000 Rwandan soldiers and police officers have arrived in Mozambique to help curb the Islamic State (IS) insurgency in the country’s northern Cabo Delgado province.
The Rwandans are expected to be joined later in the year by thousands of additional troops from the South African Development Community (SADC) following Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi’s June U-turn to accept foreign intervention.
The president of Mozambique had previously rejected successive offers of help in his battle against the jihadists, who have waged a brutal four-year-long insurgency in the predominantly Muslim north of country, killing and kidnapping civilians and causing hundreds of thousands more to flee.
News of the U-turn was made by President Nyusi on June 9 during a visit to the troops in Mueda, the main base of the Mozambican Defence and Security Forces (FDS) in Cabo Delgado.
‘We have asked our friends from Rwanda to support us,’ announced President Nyusi, who was at pains to stress that the FDS would be responsible for coordinating the Rwandan and SADC troops.
‘The Rwandan authorities will work with us. They are not the ones in charge. They will organise themselves and work with [Mozambican] commanders.’
The Rwandan forces began arriving in the country on July 9 and is composed of 1,000 members by soldiers of the Rwandan Defence Force and the Rwandan National Police.
According to Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda, this contingent ‘will work closely with the armed forces of Mozambique and the Southern African Development Community Forces in the designated sectors of responsibility’.
The deployment of the highly-trained, battle-tested Rwandans is seen as significant in the fight against insurgents, who have managed to seize several important targets from the poorly equipped security services in recent months. Such targets include the strategically important city of Palma and its nearby oilfields, which were overrun by the jihadists in late March and early April.
André Thomashausen, a political analyst and expert in international law, believes Rwanda's military prowess may explain President Nyusi’s about-face on foreign intervention.
He said: ‘Rwanda is known as a country that has military and security arrangements of the best in Africa, well equipped and quite disciplined.’
The Rwandans were supposed to be joined on July 15 by troops from SADC member states. However, the SADC Standby Force has not yet been deployed for many reasons, including lack of budget and domestic issues.
The South African government, for example, was not able to send forces to Mozambique after having to deploy around 10,000 soldiers to quell riots and violence on its own streets.
According to the SADC statement sent to UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, the military intervention is part of the regional protocol on defence and security policy and recognised by the United Nations and aims to ‘support the Republic of Mozambique in combating acts of terrorism and extremist violence, as well as helping the country to restore the rule of law in the affected areas of Cabo Delgado province’.
Moisés Mabunda, a political analyst, is positive about the imminent SADC mission, saying the intervention was long overdue given the terror experienced in Cabo Delgado.
‘The SADC mission comes late because the situation in Cabo Delgado has not been good for quite some time,’ explained Mabunda. ‘The Mozambicans, especially those who suffer the situation of terrorism, think that this support should have happened a long time ago.’
But while many analysts welcome the arrival of foreign troops in Cabo Delgado, civil society organisations, including the opposition parties, have questioned why the move has not been the subject of debate in parliament.
The spokesman for the third largest political party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM), Sande Carmona, said that it was 'regrettable' it was not discussed in parliament, adding: 'The presence of foreign troops in Mozambican territory is a sensitive issue and the parliament as a sovereign body should have had the opportunity to discuss it as soon as possible, but this did not happen.'