West Africa: Lessons for Mozambique After France’s Withdrawal From the Sahel

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French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent decision to withdraw troops from Mali nine years after first intervening in the conflict against jihadi separatists sparked debate across Africa.

The failure of Operations Barkhane and Takuba to stem the spread of violent extremism begs the question: can big multinational troop interventions against the type of terror groups in the Sahel and northern Mozambique, for example, ensure lasting peace and security?

In Mozambique, around 1 000 troops of the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) were deployed in mid-2021. Together with Mozambican security forces, they initially succeeded in driving terror groups from their bases, reopening key roads and protecting some villages in the hinterland of Cabo Delgado province. Another 2 000 Rwandan troops are securing areas around Palma and the Afungi Peninsula – the base of activities for liquid natural gas (LNG) projects in Cabo Delgado’s Rovuma basin.

The province is far from secure however, and few internally displaced people have returned to their homes. Attacks have also spread westward from Cabo Delgado to neighbouring Niassa province.

Following President Cyril Ramaphosa’s visit to Mozambique last month, SAMIM’s South African contingent, deployed alongside soldiers from Botswana, Tanzania and Lesotho, is being beefed up. Zambia has also apparently promised air support, along with Angola. This up-scaling could increase the military intervention to 3 000 troops, as SADC intended in April 2021. Funding is being sought from the European Union and the African Union Peace Fund, among others.

With this mission, SADC got at least one thing right. Instead of opting for non-African interventions, Mozambique’s neighbours dug into their already heavily constrained defence budgets to fund the initial deployment.

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