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OP-ED: EU’s military deployment to Mozambique a sign of Europe’s growing global muscle-flexing on security


A Mozambique army soldier patrols the streets of Palma, Cabo Delgado. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Joao Relvas)

The planned deployment of a 120-strong European Union military training mission to Mozambique’s insurgency-plagued Cabo Delgado province is a logical step. But it throws another actor on to an increasingly crowded stage.

Andreas Bohne and Fredson Guilengue

Andreas Bohne works as a political adviser at the Berlin Development Policy Council (Germany) and as a freelance journalist. He has a master’s degree in African studies, geography and international agricultural sciences.

Fredson Guilengue is with the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung (RLS) regional office in Johannesburg. He has published extensively on Mozambique’s politics. His work also extends to areas such as social movements, land, agrarian issues and climate change. He is currently enrolled for his PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand.

On 12 July 2021, the European Council finally decided to establish an EU military training mission to Mozambique (EUTM Mozambique). The mission is due to start in September and October. EUTM Mozambique, which will have a lifespan of two years, will comprise up to 120 people. But why is the EU getting involved militarily in Mozambique’s conflict?

The EU is coming to Mozambique in a context where Rwanda has already established its military presence and Southern African Development Community (SADC) troops, who had long been asking to join the conflict, are said to be on their way as well. They are waiting for Mozambique to finally sign the Status of Forces Agreement in order to move in. Whether Rwanda and Mozambique signed the agreement before the arrival of the Rwandan military in Cabo Delgado is unclear.

President Paul Kagame’s involvement raises more questions than it provides answers. They include: Why Rwanda specifically? How much will the Rwandan mission cost? Who will pay for this mission? Neither Rwanda nor Mozambique is openly talking about this. And more broadly, how the individual missions (Rwanda, SADC, EU) will effectively complement one another on the battlefield and make positive progress against the brutal insurgency, remains to be seen.

Mozambique, and more broadly the SADC region, has also been of geopolitical interest since huge natural gas deposits were discovered off the coast of Cabo Delgado in 2010, considerably increasing the appetite of major transnational energy companies and the Mozambican elite to fill their pockets with gas dollars.

With the EU’s decision last week, a fourth major actor is entering the conflict in Cabo Delgado (the Americans have also provided military training to Mozambique’s forces) after a long hesitation and the apparent rejection by the Mozambican government of foreign boots on its territory. However, in its official notification, the EU states that the strategic goal of the mission is the military training of a future rapid-reaction force, especially to fight terrorism and protect the civilian population. The mission is also to expand its training activities to units of Mozambique’s army and navy.

The EU’s decision is by no means a surprise and must be regarded as a logical step. For several months, Portugal and France in particular have been pushing for a stronger security commitment in Mozambique. The EU mission will be operating with Portuguese military instructors who are already stationed in the country. Mozambique’s former colonial power has been offering its support for fighting this conflict for several months and is on the ground providing training to Mozambique’s troops.

The Portuguese have a much easier explanation for their involvement. They can claim to have no direct economic gain and that Portugal is helping put down a radical Islamist threat in a country with which it shares deep historical links — theirs is a bond of solidarity and historical responsibility.

France, Italy and Spain are also said to be preparing to provide personnel for the EU’s Mozambique mission. A few weeks ago, Portuguese defence minister João Gomes Cravinho said that seven to eight European countries had indicated a willingness to commit military personnel — not necessarily on the ground, but also for support such as satellite communications.

France has not been shying away from its security concerns around its interests in Mozambique. The operations of the French energy giant Total have been profoundly affected by the conflict. The war stopped its €20-billion investment project and its projected profits will also be affected as a result. It is therefore unsurprising that a French and a Portuguese military officer will lead the mission. While Portugal comes with the language and history, the French have the money.

However, the particular interests of both states (and certainly also Italy, whose gas company ENI is only indirectly affected due to its gas fields off the Mozambican coast) cannot be viewed in isolation from EU policy. Parallels to existing EU missions, for example in Mali, become clear. Individual countries have geopolitical interests that the EU bundles as a bloc and community and now acts as a common actor — at least externally.

The military training mission in Mozambique takes place within the framework of the EU’s Common Security and Defence Policy. This is an expression of the militarisation project of the EU which started towards the end of the 1990s. On paper, however, the policy is also geared towards crisis prevention. This is certainly the excuse used to become active in Mozambique.

The EU has long renounced preventative and civil conflict resolution mechanisms in Cabo Delgado. Therefore, the training mission appears to be a “there is no alternative” solution. It is of less use when the military card is presented as an “instrument of an integrated approach” and is to be flanked by conflict prevention and development cooperation measures. The EU has intensified these measures in recent weeks. However, one cannot speak of a real prioritisation of civilian resources — the measures are still too small in terms of content and funding.

This action is embedded in the current (re)orientation of EU security and defence policy, in particular the European Peace Facility. It is the new financing instrument that covers all its foreign policy measures that have military or defence implications within the framework of the Common Security and Defence Policy.

According to the EU Treaty, it is forbidden to finance military measures from the EU budget. To circumvent this prohibition, the budget for military financing is created outside the EU budget. With about €5-billion for the period 2021 to 2027, extra-budgetary funds are to be endowed. With the peace facility the EU is seeking greater flexibility that would allow it to bypass the African Union (AU) and pay directly for national and sub-regional military initiatives.

The peace facility replaced the African Peace Facility, which was the main instrument through which the EU participated in financing operations led by the AU or African regional organisations. Furthermore, with the peace facility, the EU aims to more easily supply arms to crisis regions and directly finance training and equipment for national armies. According to the International Crisis Group and several international non-government organisations, this could exacerbate tense situations in fragile states.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign affairs representative, recently said the peace facility would “make the EU an even more effective security provider worldwide”. The mission to Mozambique is one of the first visible signs that this path is being followed.

Consequently, domestically the EU training mission will intervene in intra-Mozambican dynamics. It will strengthen the position of the army vis-à-vis the police security forces, which have so far been primarily engaged in combat. It will also significantly strengthen the oppressive capacity of the ruling Frelimo regime.

Politically, the war is a good opportunity to benefit from foreign resources and to build up Frelimo’s military capacity which can also be applied to other less democratic activities such as suppressing unarmed local civil society and political parties. The multiplicity of security actors — including the EU — could contribute to this. DM

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