The SADC region has been relatively politically stable and the last civil wars ended in the early 2000s. There haven’t been any systematic or nation-wide conflicts even though there have been sporadic conflicts which resulted in fatalities across the SADC region. However, the SADC region has not been able to resolve latent ongoing conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a recent insurgency in Mozambique. These conflicts are unique in that they are either contained within a specific geographic region or have not resulted in outright war at a national level. What is the historical legacy of these conflicts, what are the sources of these conflicts and how can they be conclusively resolved?
Colonial Legacy and the Conflicts in SADC
The conflicts in SADC, like the rest of Africa, always have a historical legacy linked to the struggles for independence or the balance of power in the post-colonial context. This historical legacy is either reflected in the nature of the conflict or the limited capacity of post-colonial state’s ability to decisively respond to the conflict. Due the arbitrary nature of national borders linked to the scramble for Africa and its subsequent division, the geographic extent of modern African states is not linked to development of indigenous political power or the ability of those with political power to defend a specific territory. Hence, many African countries were plunged into civil conflict due to a post-independence power vacuum. Furthermore, the state was significantly weakened leaving it without control over the entire geographic extent of the country or biased towards specific regions where the balance of power was accommodated through federal divisions.
In addition, conflict also stems from the political economy of development or competition for control over natural resources, which is often linked to the legacy of colonialism which defines the patterns of capital accumulation. Since, colonialism fuelled European expansion and the industrial revolution by sourcing raw minerals from Africa and other regions under colonial rule, most post-colonial countries still depend on exporting raw minerals. The political economy of development in countries that rely on raw mineral commodity exports leaves African countries dependent on manufactured imports and capital goods imports from advanced and industrialised economies. In addition, African countries face repeated problems with import-substitution due to the recurring balance of payment crises caused by volatility of raw mineral commodity prices and their high price elasticity of demand. Alternatively, African countries depend on advanced and industrialised economies for finance for development in the form of foreign direct investment or funding public investment. Very often, this finance is attracted to exporting sectors (raw minerals or mining) which have the highest rate of economic returns in order to hedge for inherent exchange rate risk. This reinforces the dependence on raw mineral exports and heightens the contestation for direct control over raw minerals or indirect control over raw minerals through the state which is often the only way for capital formation in post-colonial countries.
Conflict in Africa is largely results from the legacy of colonialism either through its consequences on the state’s ability or inability to maintain a monopoly on violence throughout its geographic extent; or its consequence on the political economy of development which defines modern capital accumulation in post-colonial countries. The so-called “Asian Tigers” are thus far the largest group of post-colonial countries who have redefined or restructured their economies away from depending on raw mineral exports. In the African context there is still a significant deficit in national infrastructure and industrial capacity which has slowed the process of redefining the political economy of development and restructuring economies away from dependence on raw mineral exports. The conflict related to the balance power in the post-colonial context are almost inevitable as part of the organic formation and development of the state, which was disrupted by colonialism in Africa. This process should be embraced in order to allow organic reformation of national borders in Africa even though the processes of state formation and self-determination may be violent and filled with contradictions – as we’ve seen in South Sudan which is marking its 10th anniversary of independence amid slow political progress and a range of humanitarian challenges. The process is further complicated when conflict resulting from a combination of the abovementioned sources of conflict. Otherwise, African conflict resolution could be easily achieved through industrialisation or power-brokering depending on the context.
Lastly, there is a more recent form of religious-extremism-based conflict. This is often linked to religious fundamentalism which has led to conflict amongst different religious groups in some instances. In other instances, the religious conflict or terrorism is linked to the expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). However, it is often difficult to differentiate between these sources and these religious conflicts are sometimes opportunistic in that they stem from ISIL supporting or manipulating existing political tensions to expand their reach. Furthermore, the sporadic nature of some of these religious conflicts is difficult to separate from domestic conflict based on the balance of power or the political economy of development linked to natural resources. Nevertheless, the existence of long-standing religious conflict from Boko Haram in West Africa and ISIL-linked groups across the Sahel region over the last decade illustrates the existence of religious conflict in Africa. Religious conflict has not been a dominant feature in the SADC region until the recent insurgency by ISIL-linked groups in Mozambique.
Sources of the Conflicts in SADC
The conflicts in both the DRC and Mozambique started as struggles for independence against the Belgians and the Portuguese respectively. This later evolved into conflict linked to the balance of power in the post-colonial context for the DRC. The conflict is commonly known as the Congo Crisis period in the DRC which started soon after independence in 1960 until 1965 when Colonel Mobutu Sese Seko led a decisive coup d’état and took personal control over the country. Mobutu eliminated opposition parties, allowing his Popular Movement of the Revolution to run unopposed until the resurgence of secessionist and rebel forces, including Rwandan troops plunged the DRC into a second round of conflict in 1996. This led to Congo Regional Wars that involved a number of neighbouring countries from 1996 to 2003. Rwandan troops repeatedly entered Zaire from 1996 to 1998 to fight against rebel forces of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) which includes alleged exiled perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. This ultimately led to the Congo Regional Wars which officially ended with an agreement to establish a Transitional Government of the DRC and the first democratic election in 2006.
Despite the successful conclusion of post-war elections in 2006, the conflict has continued unabated even though it has been concentrated in east provinces and Kasai provinces in the centre of the DRC. There have been high levels of human insecurity and conflict in the eastern provinces of North Kivu and South Kivu where unreconciled domestic and foreign armed groups remain active. The situation has remained untenable due to diplomatic tensions with neighbouring Burundi, Uganda and Rwanda who are partly complicit in the violence in the Kivus. Rwanda has pressured the DRC government to take a tougher stance against the FDLR rebels; meanwhile the DRC has pressure Rwanda to withdraw support for a rebellion by the March 23 Movement (M23) in North Kivu. The existence of foreign rebel groups such as the FDLR, the Burundi RED-Tabara, and Ugandan Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) has worsened matters. Meanwhile, the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the DRC (MONUSCO) has been marred by poor relations between the MONUSCO and the DRC government. In addition, alleged collusion between the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FADRC) and the FDLR has created major setbacks for the DRC government in dealing with what has become the most complex and protracted humanitarian crises in the world. In 2021, an estimated 19.6 million people across the country are facing human insecurity and in need of assistance and protection. Approximately 5.2 million people have been internally displaced as of May 2021. The eastern provinces of the DRC including Ituri, North Kivu and South Kivu have the greatest humanitarian needs in the country. In addition, MONUSCO is now focused on a transition process in the Kasai and Tanganyika provinces which have faced significant conflict. In May 2021 MONUSCO also faced direct attacks orchestrated by suspected members of the ADF in North Kivu.
In Mozambique the struggle for independence resulted in a shift in the balance of regional forces that threatened white-minority-ruled regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia (modern day Zimbabwe). The source of the conflict evolved into the political economy of development as a proxy war to weaken the Mozambican government served the narrow interests of sanctioned regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia. Rhodesian troops repeatedly entered Mozambique from 1977 to 1979 to fight against rebel forces of the Zimbabwe African Liberation Army (ZNLA) bases tolerated by the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) administration. The conflict is commonly known as the Mozambican Civil War period which started in 1977 and lasted until 1992 after the end of the Cold War left belligerent parties without support which resulted in a stalemate. During this conflict Rhodesia and South Africa enabled the establishment of Resistência Nacional Moçambicana (RENAMO) which fought against the liberation movement FRELIMO until the collapse of the Soviet Union and South Africa’s Apartheid regime ended support for RENAMO and FRELIMO, respectively. Following the 2014 elections, RENAMO rejected the results and demanded control over six provinces which they claimed to have won. In the run up to the 2019 elections, FRELIMO and RENAMO signed the Maputo Accord to demonstrate their commitment to peace. After almost three years since the signing of the Maputo Accord in August 2019 a total of 2,716 out of the estimated 5,221 Renamo combatants have completed the disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration (DDR) process.
A new conflict has developed with the insurgency by militant Islamist groups Ansar al-Sunna wa Jama’a and Al-Shabab (although not publicly related to the Somali group). The conflict started in 2017 and contained within the northern province of Mozambique, Cabo Delgado. Violent attacks in Cabo Delgado province, which shares a border with Tanzania, have worsened leaving over 697,500 people displaced due to insecurity and violence since 2017. The conflict in Cabo Delgado has also had a much more severe impact on women and children. From the 36,288 internally displaced people from Palma, 43.0% are children, 32.0% are women, 25.0% men. In August 2020, the Islamic insurgents captured a heavily-defended port of Mocimboa da Praia which is 60 kilometres South of the of the major natural gas mega-projects follow five days of conflict. The Islamic State later claimed to have taken over two military bases in the vicinity of Mocimboa da Praia, which resulted in the deaths of a number of Mozambique soldiers and the capture of weaponry ranging from machine guns to rocket-propelled grenades. The Cabo Delgado conflict has also taken a regional dimension following the attacks in Tanzania in October 2020. In March 2021 attacks throughout Palma escalated resulting in total evacuating all its staff and declaring force majeure on the Mozambique LNG Project. Analysis of the previously used has noted that the primitive nature of the weapons has evolved into advanced weaponry which suggests external funding of the insurgence.
The sources of conflict have also evolved over time, beginning with liberation struggles which led to early post-independence political compromises and the establishment of the first weak post-colonial states. These weak post-colonial states have been challenged by unstable political compromises which lead to multiple coups, or attempts and thwarted coups, leading to undemocratic transition of power. Some African liberation movements coincided with the Cold War and the Soviet Union provided support to liberation movements across the continent, external parties like the United States and other countries stoked the unstable political settlements or used ongoing conflicts as proxy wars. The involvement of external parties maintained the political instability and prolonged post-liberation conflicts. Post-liberation conflicts ended as the balance of forces normalised over time or as the position of belligerents was weakened by the end of the Cold War and reduced interference by external force.
There is a unique element in the conflicts in the DRC and Mozambique in that a second round of conflicts started with the involvement of neighbouring countries, namely Rwanda in the case of the DRC and Rhodesia in the case of Mozambique. This took place for very unique reasons but played out similarly in each case. In both cases, this led to a second round of national conflict and civil war. Although these conflicts ended in ceasefire agreements none of them have been upheld and the violence has continued in sporadic attacks concentrated in specific regions. Critically, apart from the fatalities, these conflicts have left a significant population of internally displaced people and resulted in a severe humanitarian crises. The dire situation caused by these conflicts has been worsened by the prevalence of the Ebola and Corona viruses. As a result, the conflicts have led to a spiral of poverty, food insecurity, displacement and illness which is self-reinforcing and very difficult to resolve while the conflict continues unabated.
Ultimately, the conflicts have evolved into being linked the political economy of development or competition for control over natural resources in each country. In the DRC the conflict is also linked to illicit mining and sale of key minerals such as gold, coltan and copper which are smuggled through neighbouring countries. Meanwhile the objectives of the Mozambique insurgency are also linked to disrupting the development natural gas investments and controlling the Rovuma Basin. Critically, these conflicts and others on the African continent point to a complex relationship between development and conflict. Conflict reverses progress achieved in terms of development through the destruction of physical infrastructure and assets. Lack of development can be directly linked as having influenced the conflicts in the DRC and Mozambique. This occurred when rebel groups from neighbouring countries fled into the eastern provinces of the DRC where the government has limited reach where they met domestic secessionists and other rebel groups disgruntled with the Mobutu and Kabila administrations. In the Mozambique, the ISIL-linked insurgency has taken advantaged disgruntled youth and manipulated the government’s benign neglect of Cabo Delgado to converted some local residents into militia.
Considerations Towards Resolving the Conflicts in SADC
The conflicts in the DRC and Mozambique cannot be resolved without the cooperation of neighbouring countries. In the DRC this is clear due to the involvement of rebel groups from neighbouring countries. The military response to these rebel groups is also likely to raise the risk of rebels disguising themselves as refugees and asylum seekers. However, the evolution of the conflicts and the link to the political economy of development produces a conflict of interest for the DRC’s neighbours because the DRC’s instability may be in their interest in terms of trading of illicit flows of natural resources and finance. This means that the regional solution will require mutually-agreed upon terms of engagement in order align the interests of all parties. The United Nations may also need to reconsider its approach by either establishing a regional mission that covers the Great Lake or having formal cooperation between its missions in the DRC and the Central African Republic in order to enhance its effectiveness throughout the region.
In Mozambique, the government clearly lacks the capacity to decisively respond to the insurgence which means that it will need to the assistance of neighbouring countries. In addition, the existence of large Islamic populations in Tanzania and the Comoros poses a high risk of the insurgents spreading throughout the region. However, the historical involvement of neighbouring countries like Rhodesia (currently Zimbabwe) and South Africa in supporting RENAMO against the FRELIMO government since 1975 has created mistrust between Mozambique and its neighbours. At the same time, neighbouring countries have an interest of seeing their conflict resolved immediately in order to avoid the risk of rebels disguising themselves amongst refugees and asylum seekers. Although SADC countries have agreed to take a regional response to the Mozambican conflict, which is commendable, the slow process of collective decision-making and responding to the conflict may undermine its effectiveness. Furthermore, the mistrust caused by historical involvement of neighbouring countries has made the government of Mozambique hesitant to accepts military assistance.
The humanitarian crisis resulting from these conflicts demands a humanitarian response in addition to the military response. The additional impact of pandemics has deepened the humanitarian crisis given the greater needs. The type of humanitarian response will need to be expanded beyond the typical response to internally displaced individuals and refugees or asylum seekers. The humanitarian response will also need to be accompanied by national economic policy accommodation and infrastructure development. This means that the governments need to accommodate the regions where conflict is concentrated through economic policy to increase public investment and infrastructure development in order to adequately deal with the conflict. The public investment and infrastructure development are crucial in order to ensure that the government has physical access to move military assets, political legitimacy to make lasting political settlements, and redefine the political economy of development in the geographic regions where conflict is concentrated.
The conflicts in the DRC and a recent insurgency in Mozambique remain challenges that threaten the SADC region. The conflicts are unique in that they are either contained within a specific geographic region or have not resulted in outright war at a national level. The source of the conflicts has evolved from liberation struggles which led to early post-independence political compromises and the establishment of the first weak post-colonial states. The weak post-colonial states had limited control over the entire geographic extent of the country or biased towards specific regions where the balance of power was accommodated through federal divisions leading benign neglect in some parts.
Ultimately, the conflicts have evolved into being linked the political economy of development or competition for control over natural resources in each country. Critically, lack of development can be directly linked as having enabled the conflicts in the DRC and Mozambique by either sustaining limited control by the state or disgruntled citizens who have been turned into enemies of the state. Therefore, regional cooperation is the only way to resolve the conflicts due to their regional contagion. In addition, these conflicts demand a humanitarian response in order to ensure that the governments have unlimited access and legitimacy to redefine the political economy of development in the regions where these conflicts are concentrated.
by Siyaduma Biniza
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