The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Extraordinary Summit has approved the mandate to deploy the regional standby force to Mozambique.
The country which is hosting the meeting is battling terrorism and insurgents in the northern region of Cabo Delgado.
The 16-member bloc has been grappling with how to respond to the conflict in which thousands have been killed since 2017.
The insurgency, led by an Islamist group known as the Sunnar (popularly known locally as Al-Shabaab), has destabilized the region since October 2017. Its strength has grown tremendously since last year. In October it made a daring raid on one of the major towns in the north, Mocimbao da Praia. And then in March this year it targeted foreign contract workers, including South Africans.
After months of deliberations and disagreements on what would be the best response to the instability and terrorism in the region- a decision to deploy forces has finally been reached.
There are no specific details on how the SADC standby force would be deployed, how many troops would be involved, or when the deployment will begin.
The standby force is part of a regional defense pact that allows military intervention to prevent the spread of conflict.
The summit also urged Mozambique to continue working with humanitarian aid agencies to assist the nearly 800 000 internally displaced people.
Executive Secretary, Stergomena Tax, says: “The bloc aims to become a middle to the high-income region by 2050. This is part of the strategic direction: SADC Vision 2050.”
She says the goal is to ensure that citizens of member states enjoy economic sustainability by mid-century.
The mixed legacy of intervention
SADC interventions in internal conflicts in its neighborhood haven’t worked out well.
In 1998 Botswana, South Africa, and Zimbabwe took the lead on behalf of the regional body to restore order and constitutional legality in Lesotho. The haste in which the SADC conceived the operation guaranteed that it would not produce clear outcomes. South African troops lost their lives and SADC troops had to withdraw in ignominy.
The SADC has since had to continually intervene as a peacemaker in the fractious terrain of Lesotho politics.
The other major experience in the intervention was through the Force Intervention Brigade composed of Malawi, Tanzania, and South Africa.
This was put together to defeat the M23 in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 2013. It was deployed under a United Nations Security Council resolution to assist the United Nations Mission for the Stabilisation of the DRC.
Initially, the Force Intervention Brigade made a difference. It routed the M23 and contributed to a return to some form of stability. But the militia menace in the region has continued unabated, raising questions about the long-term efficacy of the work of the brigade.
The brigade remains in place, though countries contributing troops have lost enthusiasm for managing the multiple problems in the region.
In Mozambique, the insurgents have grown because of preexisting grievances. This includes the political marginalization of the largely poor and rural Muslim-dominated region.
This has coincided with the discovery of one of the world’s largest natural gas deposits, which has attracted French, Italian and American Companies.
The rich gas finds have turned Mozambique into a typical resource-cursed nation, where natural resource abundance in marginalized communities predictably fuels dissent and rebellion.
The Summit also committed to enhancing research and manufacturing of pharmaceutical capacity in the region. It recognized the disadvantage of not being able to produce vaccines. Less than 5% of citizens in the SADC region have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 as member states continue to struggle with procuring drugs for their inoculation programmes.
The economic bloc also endorsed South Africa and India’s proposal for a waiver of intellectual property rights on COVID-19 drugs and products.
Earlier this week – the World Health Organisation said South Africa could be producing vaccines in nine to 12 months. This is after the global body announced that the country would be the first location to establish a mRNA technology transfer hub.
President Cyril Ramaphosa promised the hub would service the region and the rest of the continent.