Rwanda’s missions abroad: Africa’s new police officer

Status: 02.11.2021 5:07 p.m.

Around ten percent of Rwanda’s soldiers are deployed in other parts of Africa. The small country is thus expanding its influence on the continent – despite the criticism of Rwanda’s President Kagame.

By Caroline Hoffmann, ARD Studio Nairobi

Dressed in a military uniform, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame stands in front of his soldiers. At the end of September he visits her on her mission to Mozambique in the south of the continent. “We thank you for liberating the parts of Cabo Delgado that were occupied by insurgents,” says Kagame. “The next mission is to secure these areas so that they can be rebuilt and their people can return.” The troops from Mozambique would show the Rwandan soldiers where and how they could help them.

Caroline Hoffmann
ARD-Studio Nairobi

Since 2017, the insurgents who call themselves “Ansar-al-Sunna” (roughly “defenders of Islamic tradition”) have carried out attacks, killed civilians and terrorized the population in the province of Cabo Delgado in northern Mozambique. In March of this year they overran the city of Palma. Mozambique’s military failed to bring the situation under control. With the help of the Rwandan troops, however, the insurgents were driven out. The success is mainly attributed to the Rwandans.

Paul Kagame (r.) Looked satisfied after a press conference with Mozambique’s head of state Nyusi (4th from right). This is probably also due to the growing influence of his country.


A powerful army with clear goals

Your troops are considered powerful and particularly effective. “The military is very well trained, very resilient and professional,” explains Eric Ndushabandi from the Institute for Research and Dialogue for Peace (IRDP) in Rwanda’s capital Kigali. “They are organized and pursue their goal directly. That is not always the case in Africa.” Rwanda’s military is a component of the country’s foreign policy. Because the small, centrally located African state benefits from its effective operations.

“Rwanda is becoming better known as a country struggling to export its military to the continent,” said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director of Human Rights Watch. “The government has understood that it is in a unique position with one of the most effective armies on the continent. In this way, they can realize the goal of offering African solutions to African problems.”

An approach that is not only welcomed on the continent, but also internationally. Although United Nations operations are funded by many Western countries, they cannot or do not always want to provide troops.

Big defense budget

This is another reason why Rwanda invests a lot of money. According to data from the Stockholm Institute for International Peace Research, the country spent around 1.4 percent of its gross domestic product on its military in 2020. In percentage terms, more than South Africa (1.1 percent) or Nigeria (0.6 percent), the most populous state in Africa that has to fight conflicts and terrorist groups, such as Boko Haram in the north of the country.

Rwanda sent around 1,000 soldiers and police officers to Mozambique as bilateral aid. The country also supports missions by the African Union and the United Nations. In addition to Mozambique, the Rwandan military is also deployed in the Central African Republic and South Sudan.

Also a lesson from history

The experts say that the history of the country is also a motivation. In 1994, more than 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died in the genocide in Rwanda. “Up to a point, Rwanda wants to do the right thing for its neighbors,” Mudge said. It was the same when they began to get involved in the Central African Republic. Genocide threatened there.

But Rwanda has long since ceased to focus only on neighboring countries. The influence that the country is gaining on the continent and internationally through the deployment of its troops is beginning to pay off, according to Mudge: “They use it to advantage in the narrative of the ‘benevolent’ authoritarianism of the Rwandan Patriotic Front – about human rights violations that the government is doing internally – and commits outside the country to some degree of covering up, for example the persecution of Rwandan dissidents in Africa. ”

Diplomats then considered more carefully whether they could afford to point this out to the government and the president, worried that Rwanda was withdrawing troops from missions.

The economic aspects at a glance

The Rwandan scientist Eric Ndushabandi rejects this. He emphasizes the economic benefits that could follow military engagement. “Rwanda also offers expertise in economic issues,” said Ndushabandi. “The banking system, the financial sector, but also the infrastructure, such as the airline RwandAir.” In this way, Rwanda, but also the other states, benefit. The country itself has no access to the sea and few raw materials, unlike many of its neighbors.

In Mozambique it was probably also about the interests of a larger partner. The French energy giant “Total” started a large natural gas project off the coast of the country last year. More than 1.8 trillion cubic meters are to be extracted here. An important project for the French government. Because of the attack on the nearby city of Palma, it is dormant, but should the situation stabilize now after the deployment of the Rwandan troops, they want to return. From the partnership with France, the cooperation with Russia and also with the Chinese, says Ndushabandi, Rwanda will one day benefit Rwanda.

In the city of Pemba, people waved flags and pictures of the Rwandan president at a government-organized event. Using your military in African countries pays off for Rwanda: The small state in Central Africa is gaining influence.

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