The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) that last year leapt into the political squabbles in Lesotho must now play a bigger role in a far more serious situation in northern Mozambique, where continued low-level conflict sparked by the rebel movement-cum-political party, the National Resistance of Mozambique (Renamo), threatens wider instability and deeper problems for the country.
Following a series of incidents in the northern and central regions of the country, including as yet unverified claims of mass graves, the escalating tensions between the government and Renamo – which has claimed it will take over governing some regions – has human rights organisations and the United Nations (UN) concerned.
In a statement, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) said that it had received reports of “rampant human rights abuses being perpetrated by the two warring sides”. According to the UNHCR, these human rights violations include cases of disappearances and summary executions.
The UNHCR said that 14 Renamo officials had so far been killed or abducted by unidentified individuals or groups since the beginning of the year. Security forces have been accused of summary executions, looting, destruction of property, rape, ill-treatment, and other violations, while the UN added that Renamo has also been accused of attacking police and military infrastructure and committing their own abuses and violations against civilians perceived to be sympathisers of the government.
There is a growing concern among regional sources with a focus on security that the clashes in Mozambique have the potential to create deeper and wider instability and that there has already been a negative impact on investor sentiment and the economy.
Local media reports have quoted President Felipe Nyusi as acknowledging the political instability in parts of the country, saying that the development had forced some citizens to seek asylum in Malawi. Mr Nyusi said his government was seeking a way to restore stability and security in the affected regions so that the displaced people could return.
Renamo – which tends to escape censure from international organisations for its continued use of illegal militia and its threats to govern by force – claimed it would take over rule in those regions of the country where it won a majority in the last elections. That resulted in a series of clashes between Renamo militia and government security forces in a low-intensity, but deepening, conflict since late last year that forced government to take extra measures to protect traffic and transport routes, among other steps.
While the latest bout of instability and conflict in parts of the country does not significantly alter our overall political risk rating – at least part of what has happened was anticipated – there is growing concern in the region that the conflict could escalate with a negative impact on the country’s economic and investment profile.
The government clearly wants to engage and resolve the issues underlying the conflict, but it seems unable to do so without some outside assistance.
Given its intervention in a lesser issue in Lesotho, it is SADC that must take up the challenge. It is imperative that SADC begins to play a larger role in dealing with a problem that threatens to become more threatening by the day with wider regional consequences.
*Gary van Staden, Senior Political Analyst, NKC African Economics