Watching the emerging crisis in Mozambique has triggered many fond memories from 2007 when I deployed to the country with the UK’s Joint Force Headquarters on a 3 week exercise as their Portuguese interpreter.
Our epic journey began at RAF Brize Norton and took in a refuelling stop at Ascension Island. As dozens of troops disembarked from the aircraft our thoughts turned to buying drinks and other snacks from the airport shop, only to find that it was closed. How could they not know we were due to land?! The irony was too much to bare.
We soon headed further south, eventually landing at Johannesburg International Airport. The journey didn’t stop there though, and after the inevitable wait, we transferred to our final mode of transport and flew the final leg of the trip to Maputo International Airport in a C130 transport aircraft, a ‘Fat Albert’. It had taken us in the region of 17 hours and we were ready for a good night’s sleep. However we still had a couple of hours drive to go and then needed to pitch our tents. At least our arrival had given me my first taste of speaking Portuguese outside Europe.
During the inevitable exercise downtime, I was asked to reach out to the local population, to make some connections with those living close to our exercise location. We were in rural Mozambique but the nearest town, Moamba, was impressively large; they even had a railway line and every day the Maputo to Johannesburg ‘express’ would stop at its tiny station.
Armed with my camera, I discovered that each morning the station transformed into a hive of activity, a colourful and vibrant place, drawing people in from within the town and, I expect, from the surrounding areas as well.
Along with my colleagues, we also reached out into the local community. The people we met were friendly, engaging and pleased to see us. The school seemed very happy with the distraction of a couple of Brits delivering some basic supplies and talking to the teachers and the pupils. I guess kids the world over will do anything to get out of a lesson.
Unfortunately the country has many of the ingredients to become susceptible to the influence of extremists; poverty, inequality and little organic capacity to counter the growing threat of terrorism.
The shocking events in the last few weeks should serve as a reminder of what happens when we collectively take our eyes off the ball when dealing with extremist groups across the globe. The growing influence of the ISIS aligned insurgents in northern Mozambique requires a coordinated response. And although history has proved that no one country has all the answers, the need for a broad coalition of governments who are willing to provide support and share expertise, must be accelerated.
This is not a conflict to be delegated to private military companies funded by the oil and gas industry. The stakes are too high for Mozambique and the region; we must act now.