LESOTHO stands with the rest of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in supporting Mozambique’s fight against extremist Islamist rebel groups that have killed tens of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands others in the oil-rich Cabo Delgado region, north of that country.
This was said by Foreign Affairs and International Relations Minister ‘Matsepo Ramakoae during a press briefing in Maseru.
The press briefing was held shortly after an Article 8 Political Dialogue meeting. The annual dialogue, which took place in the framework Political Dialogue takes place in the framework of Article 8 of the Cotonou Agreement.
The Cotonou Agreement is a treaty between the European Union (EU) and the African, Caribbean and Pacific group of states (ACP countries). It was signed in June 2000 in Cotonou, Benin by 78 ACP countries and the then 15 EU states. It went into force in 2003.
The agreement aims to reduce and eventually eradicate poverty and contribute to the gradual integration of the ACP countries into the world economy based on development cooperation, economic and trade cooperation and political dimension.
This week’s meeting was the first in two years after last year’s meeting was cancelled due to Covid-19 travel restrictions. It was attended by nine Pretoria-based EU embassies.
Speaking soon after the meeting, Ms Ramakoae said Lesotho stands ready to offer Mozambique military support provided SADC decides that a force be sent to fight the insurgents.
“SADC has made a decision that there should be a standing force that should be sent to Mozambique to assist,” Ms Ramakoae said.
“Lesotho is a member of SADC, and if SADC says our people should go, they will definitely go to assist in Mozambique as part of SADC.”
Ms Ramakoae added that the decision to send a standby force would be confirmed during a meeting of the SADC organ for politics, defence and security in Beira on 29 April 2021.
“It’s not just a question of human assistance. It’s also a question of what type of equipment you’re going to use. There are studies to be done on exactly what needs to be used. And also, the strategy is aligned with the type of assistance.”
She said Lesotho was also on high alert looking out for telltale signs of terrorism within Lesotho as Mozambique is geographically close to the kingdom.
“The insurgencies could spill to us because Mozambique is not far. We have to be on guard, civil society groups are already watching out. We need to make sure that we address this issue (in Mozambique) before it affects us,” she said.
Among others, the meeting also discussed the national reform process, regional integration and trade between Lesotho and the EU. It also discussed how Lesotho can start recovering from the Covid-19-induced economic downturn as well as the repair of infrastructure that was damaged by heavy rains earlier this year.
Lying on the east coast of southern Africa, Mozambique share borders with Tanzania, Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa and eSwatini. Since 2017, Islamist insurgents have wreaked havoc killing tens of thousands of civilians.
So violent has been the situation that at least 570 violent incidents were recorded from January to December 2020 in the province according to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) which monitors political violence globally.
Human rights groups have reported the extensive killings and kidnappings throughout northern Mozambique by the militants.
Unlike the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), SADC does not have a standing army. In the past, individual countries have deployed their armies to quell security threats in other member countries. Zimbabwe has sent its troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo and in Mozambique in the 1980s and in 1998.
In 2017, SADC deployed the Standby Force, also known as the SADC Preventive Mission in Lesotho (SAPMIL). SAPMIL comprised of 207 soldiers, 15 intelligence personnel, 24 police officers and 12 civilian experts.
The SADC force was essentially deployed to prevent LDF soldiers from destabilising the then coalition under former Prime Minister Thomas Thabane as it went about implementing SADC-recommended reforms to curb perennial instability in the kingdom.