Reports that Southern Africa has decided to intervene militarily on the side of Mozambique to thwart the incursions of Islamist forces that have been wreaking havoc in that country may come as relieving for many of us who have been following the tribulations there with mounting concern.
People who have been working in those areas have been sharing their horror stories coming from the field, including killings, arson and rape, mounting death tolls, and increasing numbers of displaced civilians. The situation has been untenable for a number of months, and it does not seem like there is going to be an amelioration any time soon.
The chaos sown by the terror groups has made life for the native people more untenable, and the exploitation of the country’s huge natural resources in north-east Mozambique has been rendered impossible, with a number of operators packing their bags and leaving.
So, it comes as good news that the neighbours are coming to the rescue of one of theirs, and, after all, a friend in need has to be a friend indeed. Back in the colonial days, when Kaulza de Arriaga was setting up his desperate ‘Gordian Knot’ in northern Mozambique, with road transportation networks designed to stop the descent of Frelimo’s fighters southward advance, neighbours in the form of Tanzania and Zambia intensified their support for Frelimo, and soon Arriaga’s plans crumbled, and in short order the Lisbon regime was overthrown by progressive military officers who hastened the advent of independence for Mozambique, Angola and Guinea Bissau, among others.
That was then, and now is now. The circumstances have changed. The erstwhile liberation fighters that we used to admire have turned to be a most corrupted lot with no thought for the suffering their people have been through, and everywhere in the former Portuguese colonies, with the possible exception of the tiny islands of Cabo Verde, have become, literally, dens of thieves.
There is no place that provides as good as a haven for terror groups to thrive as a country that is ruled over by people who steal from their own people, where there is no economic justice, and where the people are made to see no difference between the people ruling over them and the colonialists who they replaced.
In the 1990s the group that wrought terror in the north was a renegade group of former Frelimo fighters disaffected by Frelimo’s policies after independence. A brutal war was fought for many years, causing terrible economic devastation until a peace treaty was signed between Frelimo and Renmo and an election was held in 1994, which Frelimo won.
This time round, it seems, a more virulent variant of terror has made its appearance, with echoes of the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and perhaps West Africa and the Sahel. A new and more widespread terror, with ramifications of a pandemic, has found its way to the southern African shores, and the whole subregion stands threatened.
It will not end with Mozambique alone, because that country has no monopoly of cluelessness when it comes to managing our people’s expectations and frustrations.
The areas affected by these armed groups are inhabited by people who are, nominally Muslim, though their creed of Islam may be very different than Al Qaeda’s and al-Shabaab and Boko Haram, and more akin to a melange of the Hadith and juju of the mutimen from the savannas of Mueda.
The only thing that will motivate them to join the insurrectionists is the feeling that they do not enjoy full citizenship rights, and that they are discriminated against in their own country, their rights are trampled on and the resources of their country are being plundered by a parasitic elite.
So, now the SADC countries are giving succour to a neighbour. What could be better than being one’s brother’s keeper. Indeed, for an economic bloc that has defence and security protocols, how can the others just stand by and watch the unravelling of a struggling neighbour who does not seem to know what to do in the face of an enemy conjugated with formidable foreign insurrectionists.
The gesture is as noble as it may seem inevitable. Indeed, if Mozambique is left to its fate and allowed to crumble, who will be safe in the neighbourhood? So, better to confront the terror groups in Mozambique before they come to your front porch.
But great care needs to be taken in the taking of these interventionist measures. We have been here before. In the 1980s, Tanzania threw in its lot with the government of Samora Machel, lost many soldiers and eventually encouraged negotiations between the warring factions.
There is no comparable situation today, because al-Shabaab or IS cannot be credible counterparts. What you have are foreign groups militating for an impossible international order whose only realisation is death and hopelessness, not groups of Mozambicans fighting for any discernible policy change that is capable of negotiating around.
For those forces sent to help the Mozambicans, there will be difficulties around the knowledge of the terrain, command unification, integration and interforce adaptability.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]