ISLAMIC insurgents in northern Mozambique have killed over 2 000 people and displaced 500 000 more.
Zimbabwe, which relies on its neighbour’s ports for transportation of imports and fuel, is under pressure to militarily intervene.
The Daily News Consulting Editor Constantine Chimakure spoke to Professor Stephen Chan of the University of London on the developments in Mozambique and the political situation in Zimbabwe.
Chan, last year, published a book on Islamic insurgents titled Spear to the West: Thought and Recruitment in Violent Jihadism, London: Hurst, 2019. Below are the excerpts of the interview.
Q: What is your reading into the Islamic insurgents in northern Mozambique and its impact on Sadc stability?
A: The insurgency has both local roots and external animation. There is a clear link to the example of militarised Jihad in other parts of the African eastern seaboard.
However, poor Mozambican governmental delivery of goods and services, and the heavy perception of corruption within the ruling party, have left many people disenchanted and open to Jihad.
The first line of defence for Sadc countries outside Mozambique is to ensure inclusiveness in the benefits of development.
There are minority Islamic populations throughout Sadc and there must be outreach to them.
But military intervention in Mozambique must be very carefully planned to avoid inflaming the situation and delivering more recruits to Jihad. The more indiscriminate and brutal the response, the more Jihadism will grow.
Q: What do you attribute to the emergency of the insurgency?
A: Because of the element of external animation, the insurrection has become well-armed.
The militaries of the Sadc countries are, however, far better armed.
But, as I said, firepower must not be indiscriminate. In Somalia, the Ethiopians created enemies for themselves for their bulldozer tactics in Mogadishu and these tactics drove people to Al Shabab.
The Kenyans, in their artillery clearance of a buffer zone in southern Somalia between their country and the rest of Somalia, invited terrorist attacks on their seaside resorts and even Nairobi shopping malls.
There is an emergency in a part of Mozambique. Care must be taken to ensure it does not become an emergency in the cities of Sadc.
The key lesson posed by the insurgency is how sensitive governance is, and how inclusive government is, in the Sadc region.
Q: Does Sadc have enough fire-power to counter the insurgency?
A: Yes, but conventional militaries cannot wage conventional war in these situations. Like Zanla did in the days of Zimbabwean liberation, the Jihadists will move in and out of the local populations.
If Sadc attacks them like the Rhodesians attacked the Zanla and Zipra forces, and if too many civilian lives are lost or ruined, the support for the Jihadists will grow. In their own way, they too preach a form of liberation.
Q: What are the likely consequences to Sadc nations in fighting the Islamists?
A: Shopping malls, as in Nairobi, and rural universities with many vulnerable young people, are the most likely targets for retaliation. These attacks would involve very small numbers of insurgents, able to create maximum bloodshed and chaos.
The Jihadists will not stand and fight a full-frontal military attack. As I said, they don’t have the fire-power to do that. This opens the temptation for Sadc forces to use their own fire-power to the maximum, but thereby create new enemies in those who survive indiscriminate fire-power.
Q: So far the Islamists have killed over 2 000 people, displaced 500 000. Are we set to witness Mozambicans fleeing the country to seek refuge in neighbouring countries?
A: Yes, there will certainly be a refugee crisis and this will inflame existing economic problems in all Sadc countries. The strategy should be to build safe zones and safe camps, properly equipped and properly guarded, within Mozambique itself. The UNHCR should be consulted and engaged with in a significant manner right now.
Q: What impact would that have on countries with weak economies like Zimbabwe?
A: If refugees flood into Zimbabwe, the first impact will be in the Mashonaland provinces in the north east of the country, to a lesser extent in Manicaland. But this means that refugees will want to stream towards Harare itself.
Harare has its own problems already with services such as electricity.
There is no capacity without external support to build holding facilities that are well equipped.
People are not cattle, and they must be treated with sensitivity and with health facilities. Zimbabwe’s hospitals already cannot cope. And Zimbabwe has been busy insulting the very countries, like the USA, who could provide help. The Zimbabwean ambassador to Washington DC had better start earning his living by carefully planned lobbying of the new Biden administration.
Q: Can Zimbabwe alone deploy its army and counter the Islamists and at what cost?
A: No, for the reasons outlined above. Not just an army alone, but skilled Islamically-versed negotiators. And the Zimbabwean army will need help from the South Africans for a properly equipped and sustained logistics line. An army goes into battle these days with huge support units. These units tend to outnumber the combat soldiers two to one. This becomes an extremely expensive operation, especially for Zimbabwe which is relying almost entirely on deficit financing for all of the next financial year.
Q: Will Zimbabwe not repeat the DRC feat which left it in bankruptcy?
A: Zimbabwe is already in some senses bankrupt, I regret. Its prospects lie almost alone on projected mining revenues which may or may not eventuate. And unlike the magnet of DRC, where mineral resources were expropriated by Zimbabwe, no such deposits exist in northern or coastal Mozambique.
Q: Let’s turn to Zimbabwe politics? How do you describe the current political situation in Zimbabwe?
A: It’s a very depressing situation with, as I said, deficit national financing, huge external debts, and the suspicion of an impending downturn even in Chinese investment and liquidity lines.
The world is losing, or has lost, interest in a Zimbabwe that cannot get its act together. There are no end of rumours of plots within Zanu PF and MDC-Khupe is looking basically silly to the outside world right now, with Chamisa seemingly drained of all energy.
All the main political actors seem intent only on power-plays, and there is no national strategy or policies.
Zimbabweans wouldn’t want to hear the discussions within the high echelons of the ANC, after the failure of its two mediation missions in Zimbabwe. But they are very disparaging indeed.
Q: What now can be done to resolve the political crisis?
A: It’s a comprehensive stalemate right now. I doubt the crisis will be resolved in 2021. Like the hopes of Finance Minister Mthuli, the only chink of light —and it remains a chink — is the coming on-stream of new mineral resources and revenues.
These revenues may take longer to come on-stream than people would like.
There is the clear prospect, like the diamond fields, of revenues leaking dramatically into private pockets and not the national treasury.
But, without money, even the resolution of the political crisis will not in itself lead to the creation of new and progressive, modern, policies, and nor will it create the discipline in the political class to consider first and foremost the welfare of the majority of the citizens.
Q: Has the Zimbabwe opposition, especially Nelson Chamisa, done enough to find a solution to the political crisis?
A: I am still awaiting a detailed economic policy from Chamisa’s people. And, frankly, he has been as reluctant to talk to Mnangagwa as Mnangagwa has been reluctant to talk to Chamisa. And Chamisa has his hands full with Khupe-related problems. No one is really thinking of the details of saving the country. Bold sound-bites are not policies.
Q: Can Chamisa deliver change in the country?
A: Well, he is at least younger than the ruling oligarchy. But he also has a record of his own coercive authoritarianism. He basically created the Khupe phenomenon when he moved quite decisively, but brutally to inherit the party from Tsvangirai. Perhaps he should be given a chance. But even the West, which once hoped he would win elections, is disenchanted both by him and whatever faction of the MDC seems now to be the more dominant.
Q: Will his quiet diplomacy work?
A: It’s not working. We would all like to see his step-by-step plans to pay-down national debt and how he would use new borrowings to stimulate key sectors of the economy.
He needs to come to the remaining well-wishers with such detailing.
Q: The Zimbabwe government believes it has stabilised the economy. It speaks of price stability and a steady local currency. What is your reading into that?
A: A tiny percentage uplift of the Zim$ is not stabilisation. And, if it is, it is stabilisation at a seriously degenerated level. And, even if it is a breathing space, there is as yet no space for growth. It is far from stable enough to encourage meaningful and above all sustained foreign direct investment.
At the other end of the scale, the hard working mothers who sell tomatoes by the roadside are not feeling stabilisation or uplift. And they do not like the feeling of being left to the last in the Finance Minister’s plans.
Q: What is your take on claims by the government that the National Development Strategy 1 will spur economic growth in the next five years?
A: If it does, I will be happy. I have very clear doubts. And, to return to the beginning of this interview, if Zimbabwe makes war in Mozambique, this will be hugely costly — even as part of a Sadc force.
Any Sadc force would in any case want to use Zimbabwean military airport facilities — they are within the range needed for airstrikes in northern Mozambique – and just the upgrading of those would be costly. But I really do hope I am wrong and that Zimbabwe does grow. If I am, I will be the first to say I got it all wrong.