Q&A with Elizabeth Sidiropoulos: Insurgency in Mozambique

Image: Getty, Seungyeon Kim
Image: Getty, Seungyeon Kim

International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor told parliament last week that SA is waiting for a lead from Maputo before acting on the insurgency in Mozambique. Chris Barron of The Sunday Times asked Elizabeth Sidiropoulos for her take:

Is it risky to wait for Maputo before we do anything?

It is risky. Clearly Maputo has been very hesitant to have the region engage in any significant way.

Why?

There are a lot of interests interlinked up there in Cabo Delgado which they don’t want to change or be affected. Meanwhile there is growing support for the insurgency as Isis piggybacks on local grievances.

How important is it for SA to address these?

Very. The last thing we need is for Mozambique to descend into destabilisation. These are issues of development. It’s about the elite in Maputo doing something about development in the context of the huge gas finds.

If SA gets involved militarily, is there a danger it will be seen as propping up a corrupt, elitist government?

You do need a short term response to contain the insurgency. You can’t allow it to fester while you try to deal with development.

Does this require a military intervention?

Not necessarily. But the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and SA do need to think about some co operation with the military in the north in terms of intelligence gathering, which is really, really poor.

Do we actually know what’s going on there?

I don’t think the Mozambican government, the region or SA has a full picture of who is involved, what are the networks, the routes used in terms of supplies and so on. The critical thing is improving intelligence. That’s a big gap.

Can we afford to wait for SADC to get its ducks in a row before we do anything?

No. If we feel we need to move as a region then we need to impress upon Sadc the need to do this quickly. Meanwhile there is room for a bilateral initiative between SA and Mozambique to ensure the insurgency doesn’t spread.

Should we take seriously the Isis threat of retaliation against SA if we intervene?

I think we should, if we look at how they’ve behaved elsewhere in the world. But doing nothing would be just as bad as doing something and having to deal with the Isis retaliation.

Does the insurgency pose a direct threat to South African interests?

Yes. Mozambique is an important economic partner for SA. It has significant and diverse investments there, not just oil and gas.

So every reason for us to act as quickly as possible?

Yes. You don’t want a destabilised country right on your border with which you have strong economic and people to people links.

Are we looking at another failed state like Zimbabwe?

Yes, if nothing is done soon to stop the problems in the north. It’s certainly on the horizon. We really can’t wait until it’s on the doorstep or happening before we act.

Can we afford not to get involved militarily?

I don’t think we should be deploying the army. We should be deploying intelligence and engaging with the Mozambican government diplomatically and getting them to be more active in a constructive way to deal with this.

11 Sep 2020
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