EU must step up military assistance to Mozambique, says Portuguese presidency

Portuguese Minister for Foreign Affairs Augusto Santos Silva, moments before presenting the priorities of Portugal's presidency of the EU in the European Parliament in Brussels on 26 January 2021. [EPA-EFE/OLIVIER HOSLET]

The European Union must step up its military and security assistance for Mozambique as the southeast African country struggles to cope with a growing threat of jihadist insurgency, Portugal’s foreign minister, Augusto Santos Silva, has told EURACTIV.

The insurgency, which has also reached into neighbouring Tanzania, has primarily been focused in and around the coastal town of Cabo Delgado, the capital of the northern province of Mozambique. About 310,000 people, or more than 15% of the provincial population, have been displaced.

Despite the growing frequency of murderous attacks and displacement over the past year, the government of President Felipe Nyusi has frustrated its neighbours in the region by its ineffective response and its reluctance to ask for help.

Instead, the government has relied on the support of private military contractors Dyck Advisory Group and South Africa’s Paramount Group, with little success.

In an interview, Portugal’s foreign minister Santos Silva, whose government currently holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, said the bloc should step up its security cooperation with Mozambique, primarily by training local forces.

“The intensity of our cooperation in terms of security is very low,” said Santos Silva.

“What we have to do is increase our cooperation with Mozambique in the three dimensions, which means significant enhancing of the security dimension. What Mozambique is asking for is training facilities. I think it’s manageable to contribute this way,” the minister added.

The EU, Santos Silva added, should work “in close cooperation” with the countries in the Southern African Development Community and the African Union.

The rising number of attacks has also threatened to jeopardise the safety of lucrative LNG development sites, for which French oil and gas major Total is the major investor. Total currently has around 750 troops dedicated to their protection.

“The phenomenon of terrorism and Mozambique has to be addressed. It is a European interest to participate in managing that situation and addressing that challenge,” said Santos Silva.

“We cannot accept that the radical Islamism, and the terrorism inspired by the radical political Islamism can extend its influence in eastern Africa,” the minister said.

The EU has so far invested €7.5 million in humanitarian projects while a further €25 million has been invested by the bloc in development projects in northern Mozambique.

However, the prospect of more ambitious EU military or security missions in northern Mozambique appears slim, if efforts in Africa’s Sahel region are anything to go by.

The G5 Sahel taskforce – itself set up to tackle Islamist terrorism in the region – has had mixed success since being launched in 2014 as the successor to France’s Operation Serval. The 4,500 troops deployed across the region from Mali to Chad have killed hundreds of jihadist fighters but have been unable to deliver peace thus far.

Meanwhile, the French-led mission does not command widespread public or political support in the region, with some complaining that it is an attempt to ‘recolonise’ the Sahel.

As the former colonial ruler of Mozambique, Portugal could also face a similar backlash.

The leaders of the G5 Sahel countries – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – have called for the force to be brought under the auspices of the United Nations and become a regional peace-enforcing, rather than peace-keeping and training force.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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