Southern African leaders met Wednesday to discuss the growing Islamist insurgency in northern Mozambique.
At the day-long meeting in Harare, leaders of Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Mozambique said they had discussed the COVID-19 pandemic and the security situation in southern Africa, including Lesotho, where Prime Minister Thomas Thabane resigned this week after months of pressure over his alleged role in the murder of his former wife.
But much of the talk centered on Mozambique, where an Islamist insurgency has raged in Cabo Delgado province since 2017. Media reports say the situation has deteriorated in the past month, and that the insurgents have killed nearly 1,000 people and displaced tens of thousands more.
Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi told reporters that he was hopeful that the continent would rally behind his administration in driving out the jihadists.
“Armed attacks like that looks like terrorists,” he said. “Terrorism you can’t fight alone. That is the experience we have. We need to share the forces.”
The meeting took place under the banner of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) security committee. The meeting’s final communique said the region would “support” the former Portuguese colony but did not specify what form that support would take.
Zimbabwe’s president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, the current chair of the security bloc, refused to confirm if his country or the region would deploy armed forces to Mozambique. He said in his opening remarks that the security situation was “dire.”
“An attack on a member state of SADC is an attack on the rest of members of SADC,” he said at the end of the meeting.
Alexander Rusero, a former international relations and security studies lecturer at Harare Polytechnic College, said he is confident the SADC will send troops to Mozambique.
“Proliferation of terrorism in Mozambique is actually a cause for concern,” Rusero said. “And one way or the other, the regional bloc has to intervene because SADC is more of a security architecture than it is a development community, which is in its name.”
Unlike the West Africa bloc ECOWAS, SADC does not have a standing army. But individual countries have in the past deployed their armies to quell security threats in other member countries. Zimbabwe sent troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998, and South Africa sent troops to Lesotho the same year.