Mozambique’s conflict goes regional

Mozambican soldiers participate in a US-led training exercise in Pemba in 2019. (Source: US Navy/Flickr)

On June 23, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) agreed to deploy troops to Mozambique to combat the growing jihadist insurgency in the country’s northern province of Cabo Delgado. The decision came after months of deliberation and disagreement among the bloc’s 16 members — and four years after the conflict, which has killed 3,000 people and displaced over 750,000, began in 2017.

Last weekend, Rwanda threw its hat into the ring, announcing it had sent 1,000 troops to fight insurgents in northern Mozambique. The speedy approval of Rwanda’s intervention caused tension between SADC and Mozambique, which has delayed permission for the bloc’s forces to enter the country. Nonetheless, when SADC forces arrive, they are expected to work closely with Rwandan troops and the Mozambican military in an integrated anti-insurgency force.

While SADC and Rwanda’s troops will be the first large-scale international deployments to Mozambique, they are not the first foreign actors involved in the conflict. Portuguese and American soldiers have been training Mozambican troops since January and April, respectively, and the European Union agreed last week to send its own training mission by the end of the year.

Will an international approach work?

The support of foreign troops is no doubt welcomed by Mozambique’s armed forces, which are under-resourced and unprepared to address the escalating violence. The conflict has the potential to spread beyond Mozambique’s borders and jeopardize regional security if it is not properly handled. As regional forces step into their new roles in Cabo Delgado, other African nations will be watching. Jihadist insurgencies are a similarly growing threat throughout the continent, including in Congo, the Horn of Africa, and the Sahel. If SADC and Rwandan forces are successful in helping combat the insurgency in Mozambique, regional and international security cooperation may become an increasingly appealing option for African countries facing domestic and transnational threats.

But Mozambique’s new approach is not without its risks. SADC’s crisis resolution record is spotty at best, nor is it a strong promoter of human rights and democracy among its members. These weaknesses are especially significant to the situation in Cabo Delgado, as the conflict there is rooted in large part in resentment over poverty, inequality, corruption and neglect by the state. A heavy-handed militarized approach will not be enough to achieve lasting peace because it does not address these underlying causes.

Beyond boots on the ground

Without substantial efforts to improve service delivery, provide humanitarian relief, and address local concerns, further militarization will only exacerbate Mozambique’s insecurity. Policy moves like regional and international assistance could be useful in helping to resolve the Cabo Delgado crisis. But until Mozambique and its foreign partners recognize that, in the words of one scholar, “dialogue and development,” rather than just military might, are required to end the conflict, peace and stability will remain out of reach.

John Dashe
Communications Intern,
Africa Program



Center for International Policy, Africa Program

The Center for International Policy Africa Program analyzes U.S. foreign policy toward the nations of Africa to promote greater positive U.S. engagement