After months of deliberation and inconclusive meetings about addressing violence in northern Mozambique, leaders from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) agreed on Wednesday to send a regional military force to help government forces to fight an armed group affiliated with the Islamic State (ISIS).
A SADC statement issued in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, lacked crucial operational details, such as the role the announced Standby Force would play vis-a-vis Mozambique’s armed forces, and the timing and number of troops to be deployed.
Since October 2017, the armed Islamist group known as Ansar al-Sunna has attacked villages, killed civilians, and destroyed property and infrastructure, including schools and health centers, in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province. In August 2020, it attacked and took control of the important port town of Mocimboa da Praia, from where its fighters apparently launched a massive attack on Palma town in March, killing scores of people and displacing thousands.
On Monday, Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi and his Botswana counterpart, President Mokgweetsi Masisi, launched SADC’s Humanitarian and Emergency Operations Center (COHE), which aims to improve regional preparedness and response to humanitarian crises. It is unclear how this center will help address the immediate needs for protection, shelter, food, and other necessities of civilians and the over 700,000 internally displaced people in Cabo Delgado.
SADC leaders should rapidly adopt concrete action to prevent further deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Cabo Delgado, which has the potential to spread across the region. They should start by clearly communicating how both the Standby Force and the Humanitarian and Emergency Operations Center will, in the short term, enhance protection of civilians, act to prevent human rights abuses by armed groups and government security forces, and seek to ensure those responsible for violations in the Cabo Delgado crisis are held to account.