Zimbabwe has dismissed reports that it has deployed its military in neighboring Mozambique to fight an Islamic State (IS) insurgency.
In an exclusive interview with VOA Zimbabwe Service, Information Permanent Secretary Nick Mangwana, debunked the rumor that Harare had deployed boots on the ground in Mozambique.
“Zimbabwe has not deployed any troops to Mozambique, at all. There is no troop deployment, there is no plan.”
However, Mangwana did not completely rule out the prospect of a future deployment. “If at all at some point something will need to happen we will always fall under SADC (Southern African Development Community) and anything that would happen will happen under the auspices of SADC. But at the moment and as a nation we have no troops in Mozambique. We have not deployed any troops in Mozambique and we have no intention of bilaterally deploying troops into Mozambique.”
Opposition legislator and lawyer, Innocent Gonese, told VOA that any such deployment will be unconstitutional if not brought urgently before parliament.
“We are gravely concerned and disturbed by reports that Emmerson Mnangagwa (Zimbabwean president) is reported to have deployed Zimbabwean troops to Mozambique. In terms of the law, in terms of Section 213 as read with Section 214 of our constitution, the president has authority to deploy Zimbabwean troops outside the country but it can only be for the reasons which are specified in the constitution which are namely, either on peace keeping operations under the United Nations or any other international or regional organization of which Zimbabwe is a member or to defend the territorial integrity of a foreign country or in fulfilment of an international commitment or lastly in defense of Zimbabwe’s national security or national interest.
“However, the president must promptly and without delay inform parliament of such a deployment and as of now, no such information or compliance with that provision has been done in the event that our troops have actually been deployed.”
What fueled the speculation is President Mnangagwa’s one-day trip to Mozambique last week to meet President Filipe Nyusi in Chimmoi. Mnangagwa chairs the powerful SADC Organ on Politics, Defense and Security and Nyusi is the vice chairperson.
A communiqué released after the meeting acknowledged that instability in Mozambique was on the agenda. “The two Heads of State addressed the security situation in Cabo Delgado and parts of the Manica Provinces and Sofala where terrorists and armed groups carry out attacks, murders and destruction of public and private infrastructure and strongly condemned these acts, which seek to undermine efforts towards peace and development.”
Mozambique after many years finally admitted that an ISIL-affiliated group, nicknamed Al Shabaab by the locals, is terrorizing the gas-rich northern province. In a press statement, the country’s National Council of Defense that advises Nyuse on national security blamed the ISIS-linked rebels of killing 52 villagers in Cabo Delgado last month, bringing the death toll to nearly 1,000. The so-called Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) has claimed the attacks since last year.
Gonese noted that the cash-strapped Harare government cannot afford another costly war. “But of greater concern is the fact that the country is going through very difficult times even before the issue of the COVID-19 outbreak. We were already struggling to cater for the people of Zimbabwe.”
Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube recently admitted in a letter addressed to International Financers that Harare was “on the brink of collapse” if it fails to secure a US$200 million to help fight the novel coronavirus pandemic. The leaked letter was released by the British-based website, Africa Confidential. Efforts to authenticate the letter were futile as calls to Ncube’s mobile were not being answered.
The World Food Programme also estimates that nearly eight million Zimbabweans will need food assistance this year owing to last year’s severe drought, economic downturn and devastating effects of Cyclone Idai.
Zimbabwe in the 1980’s deployed more than 7,000 troops to fight alongside the Mozambique government that was battling rebels under the banner of Renamo (Mozambican National Resistance).
The Mozambican civil war ended in 1992. Zimbabwean troops were first deployed to guard the strategic Beira corridor comprising of a road, railway and oil pipeline system. The corridor connects land-locked Harare to the Beira port on the Indian Ocean. Zimbabwe though has diversified to use ports in South Africa after the end of apartheid and Tanzania.
Mozambique also played host to Zimbabwe’s freedom fighters during the liberation war which intensified from 1976 until independence in 1980. Claiming national interest, the late President Robert Mugabe also deployed troops to the Democratic Republic of Congo to shore up support for the late President Laurent Kabila from 1998 to 2002. Though the financial costs of these wars have been hushed up, many economists in Harare blame them for accelerating Harare’s economic crisis.