Mozambique, the southern African nation with scenic beaches and islands, will focus on issues around security and terrorism as it leads the United Nations Security Council in March. This is the first time Mozambique has been an elected member of the Council, and it occurs as the country battles deadly storms back home.
Pedro Comissário, Mozambique’s permanent representative to the UN, told PassBlue on Feb. 24 that his country will host an open debate on women, peace and security on March 7, led by Foreign Minister Verónica Macamo, after which the country’s president, Filipe Nyusi, will chair another signature debate on “threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts,” on March 28.
The Council’s agenda will also include regular meetings on Afghanistan, Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Syria (chemical weapons) and Sudan. Comissário said that the Council will likely have “more than one meeting”on Ukraine as well, though nothing is scheduled yet. The Council is deciding whether to travel to Congo in March, where one of the UN’s largest peacekeeping missions is operating in violent territory in the east.
Comissário noted that his country’s “liberation” struggle for independence from Portugal couldn’t have been successful without women, so their rights have been “very strong” in his country, and the president’s office has gender parity, he said, although the seven-person team Comissário brought with him to the March 1 briefing with reporters (see video below) included only one woman. Back home, there are reports of police clampdowns on women protesting gender-based violence in the country.
Mozambique, a Portuguese-speaking country, has experienced a rise in terrorism, like several other African nations. Since 2017, its security forces have battled an unyielding Islamic militancy, enduring its worst test since it signed the Rome peace accord to end its civil war in 1992.
“When we signed the Rome peace agreement between the government and Renamo, most of our forces were demobilized,” Comissário said, referring to the guerrilla movement. He said Mozambique has been rebuilding its military capacity since then. To deal with the stern test of another militant group, an arm of the Islamic State, Mozambique turned to the Wagner Group, the Kremlin-backed private army, in 2019. That relationship was short-lived.
Ryan Cummings, a senior associate of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), in Cape Town, South Africa, told PassBlue that the insurgency has spread geographically despite interventions from outside military forces.
“Headway was not just being made against the insurgency,” Cummings said. “If anything, during this period we saw an expansion in operational capabilities and in the geographical scope of the insurgency, even though we had these private military contractors.” Since the SADC forces stepped in — Angola, Botswana, Congo, Lesotho, Malawi, South Africa, Tanzania and Zambia — Cummings said the tide has turned somewhat and the government has become more open with information about the crisis.
Mozambique also suffers severe negative effects of global warming. On Feb. 24, tropical storm Freddy landed in the country at a moderate wind of 95 kilometers an hour (about 60 miles per hour) but weakened the next day. Although it has also been called a cyclone, the storm triggered flooding across central and southern Mozambique (and elsewhere in the region) in the wake of its fall and after it left.
Comissário said that his country has not benefited from the new damage and loss funds promised at 27th session of the UN climate change conference (COP27) held last fall in Egypt, addressing climate disasters like those in Mozambique.
“There have been many promises but very little materialization of those promises,” Comissário said. The country, he added, is “disappointed” with the international community on its delivery of climate commitments. His words ring loudly as several Mozambicans face a food crisis caused by the inundation of the Limpopo River before crop harvesting in March.
No life was lost to the storm, “confirming good progress in anticipatory action and preparedness,” the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (Ocha), said in an update on Feb. 26. Yet the storm has damaged 1,012 schools, 55 health units and 3,489 kilometers of roads in Mozambique. Worse, six main water supply systems and an unknown number of water sources have been destroyed. The loss of potable water for thousands of people is worsening a cholera outbreak that started in neighboring Malawi and was induced by flooding across the region.
“The climate and cholera crises are far above the capacity of humanitarian organizations on the ground,” Ocha said in the update. “Humanitarian supplies and capacity in central and southern Mozambique are extremely limited and the humanitarian response in the conflict-affected provinces in the north is itself struggling with resource shortfalls.” Comissário knows the sting of a climate disaster. His house in Beira, in central Mozambique, was brought down in 2020. Beira was battered by two cyclones, Idai in 2019 and Eloise in 2021.
Each month, PassBlue profiles UN diplomats as their countries assume the Council presidency. To hear more details about the goals of Mozambique in March, listen to PassBlue’s podcast, UN-Scripted, produced by Damilola Banjo and Kelechukwu Ogu, on SoundCloud and Patreon. Also featuring Ryan Cummings, a regional expert on southern Africa.
Below is an excerpt, edited and condensed, from an interview with the ambassador on Feb. 24.
PassBlue: What are your signature events for March? Our agenda is full. We have two signature events: On March 7, an open debate on women, peace and security, to mark the upcoming 25th anniversary of Resolution 1325, approved in 2000. We will have the foreign minister of Mozambique, Verónica Mocambo, who will preside over the session. On the 28th, we will have another very important event, presided over by the president of Mozambique. This event is about countering terrorism and strengthening peace in the UN. Terrorism is a global threat. In Africa, we are progressively witnessing the Africanization of terrorism. You had terrorism in the past in Algeria, in Libya; but you have it now in Nigeria, to some extent, in Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso. Somalia, you have terrorism, Kenya is under attack, you have terrorist actors in Tanzania. And now in Mozambique. So the terrorist threat is spreading all over Africa. This is very dangerous because we have been fighting in Africa for our own peace. So if you add terrorism to the list of our problems, it means that the development of our continent will be further compromised.
PassBlue: We are curious about Mozambique’s position on Russia’s withdrawing its military forces from Ukraine, as strongly worded in the Feb. 23 General Assembly resolution, approved by 141 countries. Mozambique abstained. Why? Let us start with the first resolution, which was adopted a year ago. [March 2, 2022] We read it very carefully, the [recent] resolution, and we analyzed its content. We concluded that our position should be the same for two reasons. One, the Constitution of the Republic of Mozambique says that Mozambique embraces a policy of peace, only resorting to force in case of a legitimate self-defense. This is No. 1. Number 2, our Constitution says in case of conflicts, it is important to resolve them with a negotiated settlement. These two norms guide our foreign policy in dealing with the conflicts around the world. So they are our beacons, these commands from our Constitution. This is what has been guiding our voting pattern from last year to the present. [In a media briefing on March 1, he was asked repeatedly about Mozambique’s abstention on the recent General Assembly resolution, saying that the “principles we defend” in the country’s Constitution and the UN Charter were not “fully reflected” in the document, even though it emphasized the need for a “just and lasting peace” at the very top]
PassBlue: Does your position have historic influence or does it reflect your present foreign policy? We all recognize that we had very good support from Russia and the Soviet Union. The former Soviet Union supported us in our fight against Apartheid; in our fight against colonialism in the region, including Namibia, Angola; in our fight for the liberation of our country. You can’t have democracy under colonialism; there is no such thing as democratic colonialists. So this was the first step that we took to liberate our country, to free our people. So there is reason to express gratitude to all our friends who supported us. But it was not just the former Soviet Union; we had a lot of support from the Nordic countries and other democratic forces around the world. So it would be a reductionist view to say that our present roots are conditioned by our form of friendship. We don’t take decisions based on histories; we take it on how we see conflicts.
Mozambique’s ambassador to the UN: Pedro Comissário, 66
Ambassador to UN since: 2022
Language: English and Portuguese
Education: Master’s degree in international law and constitutional law; additional postgraduate degree in international law and international relations from Columbia University, New York City.
His story, briefly: Comissário is a well-known Mozambican diplomat and international relations expert born in Caia, Sofala Province, Mozambique, on Sept. 18, 1957. He began his career in diplomacy in 1980, when he joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation. He was director of the Central Bureau for the Prevention and Combat Against Drugs from February 2019 to January 2020. Comissário has also held various diplomatic positions in Mozambique, including as ambassador to Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia. Between 2012 and 2018, he was Mozambique’s permanent representative to the UN and the World Trade Organization in Geneva. He served concurrently as permanent representative to the UN Industrial Development Organization, International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and ambassador to Switzerland. From 2006 to 2012, he was ambassador to the Nordic countries, based in Stockholm. He was appointed as the Mozambican ambassador to the UN on Sept. 17, 2022. “I had always wanted to study philosophy, but my father asked if philosophy would feed my family,” he said. “Later, I resolved to study law. However, my father died two years before I completed my law degree at all.”
“I came to New York at age 32 as an ambassador,” he added. “After a while, I went to Portugal, the Nordic countries, Geneva and finally back home. But when we had the Security Council [election], I had to go to New York again and here I am.”
Prime Minister: Adriano Afonso Maleiane
Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation: Verónica Macamo
Type of Government: unitary multiparty republic
Year Mozambique Joined the UN: 1975
Terms in the Security Council: 2023-24
Population (2021): 32.08 million
Per capita CO2 emission figures (in tons): 0.21 (2016); by comparison, US: 13.68 (2020)
We welcome your comments on this article. What are your thoughts on Mozambique's Council presidency plans?
Damilola Banjo is a staff reporter for PassBlue. She has a master’s of science degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a B.A. in communications and language arts from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She has worked as a producer for NPR’s WAFE station in Charlotte, N.C.; for the BBC as an investigative journalist; and as a staff investigative reporter for Sahara Reporters Media.