Military diplomacy: How did Rwanda become a country with military influence?

The successive successes of Rwanda in its military diplomacy make the country a reliable African alternative in view of the security turmoil due to armed rebellion and terrorist activities in African countries. The Rwandan military presence in the Central African Republic and Mozambique also provides President Kagame with an opportunity to jostle for the two countries’ resources with competing parties.

All indications confirm that Rwanda, under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, has decided to adopt ambitious strategies and to operate outside of the norm in Africa; In the past months, Kigali has been accused of destabilizing the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo and carrying out illegal activities on the territory of another sovereign state. Prior to that, other differences occurred between the Kagame regime and the regimes of President Cyril Ramaphosa in South Africa and Yoweri Museveni in Uganda.

Recently, Kigali’s military interventions, or what is described as “military diplomacy”, have attracted attention. Despite its small area, estimated at 26,338 square kilometers, and its small population and army personnel, it has managed to promote itself as a reliable military force in regional and continental peacemaking processes by deploying military forces to countries such as the Central African Republic and Mozambique, in addition to to its controversial activities against its neighbors in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Accordingly, this paper will address the characteristics of the Rwandan army after the 1994 genocide, the experiences of Rwandan military diplomacy in the Central African Republic and Mozambique, the proposed plan to deploy a Rwandan military force in Benin, and the attitudes of some Africans towards Kagame’s ambitions.

Rwandan army after the 1994 genocide

Rwanda has been one of the largest suppliers of peacekeeping forces to UN operations in Africa, a status that the administration of President Paul Kagame has achieved through the “Rwanda Defense Forces” that have many unique characteristics, including their origin from an armed refugee group in exile (Uganda). ), being an armed rebel group that fought in its “origin country” (Rwanda), and became the dominant force in post-genocide politics, 1994 (1) .

The RDF has its roots in the Ugandan National Resistance Army; After the end of the Ugandan Civil War (1980-1986), Rwandan refugees who were members of the Uganda National Liberation Army formed the “Rwandan Patriotic Front” (RPF) and its armed branch, the “Rwandan Patriotic Army” with the aim of opposing the then Rwandan government and bringing about change through Their experiences gained while fighting alongside Ugandan rebels in the 1980s.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front in Uganda has included some contemporary officials and personalities, including the current Rwandan President, Paul Kagame. The RPA, the armed branch of the RPF, acquired an ethno-regional identity after the escalation of conflict in Rwanda in the early 1990s; He brought together ethnic Tutsis from Uganda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo with the aim of overthrowing the Hutu-dominated regime and putting an end to the Rwandan genocide in 1994. In the end, Kagame’s “Rwandan Patriotic Front” was able to control Rwanda, lead the transition, and implement programs aimed at Rebuilding the country (2) .

The efforts to restore control, security, peace and reconstruction in Rwanda were followed by a military intervention by Rwandan forces in its neighbour, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to confront the fugitive Hutus and residents who were willing to challenge Kagame’s rule, which they viewed as a Tutsi-only government. Rwandan forces have also been involved in various political confrontations in the DRC, including the overthrow of Congolese President Mobutu Sese Seko and the inauguration of opposition leader Laurent Desire Kabila as the country’s new president. The split between “Kabila” and its supporters – Uganda and Rwanda – prompted the Rwandan army to try to control the Congolese capital, Kinshasa, and the Rwandan regime consolidated its grip on the provinces of North and South Kivu through alliances and financing of various armed groups (3) .

Based on the above, it can be said that the Rwandan army, through its experience in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, strengthened the rule of President Kagame, who in turn saw the need for the social and ideological reintegration of the Rwandan army and its transformation from a Tutsi-dominated army into a national army that brings together all ethnic Rwandans. Therefore, the RPA was renamed the RDF in 2003, and included former Hutu commanders and newly recruited troops alongside the Tutsi forces (4) .

It is worth noting that although the minerals produced in Rwanda include tantalum, tin ore, tungsten, and gold; However, the country’s mineral resources are relatively few compared to most of the African countries that are mineral producers. This means that the Kagame government must find practical ways to finance itself and enhance its image at the regional and global levels as an influential regional actor. Military diplomacy appears to be one of these strategies as the RDF assumed its new role, in 2005, as a tool to achieve Kagame’s agenda; Starting with the successful operation under the auspices of the United Nations, which has earned the Rwandan forces many praises for their skills, the professionalism of their operations, and their discipline that differs from that of other peacekeeping units (5) .

The experience of the Central African Republic

The Central African Republic can be seen as the critical test for the RDF; Kigali has experimented with two successful models of military diplomacy: the first was in 2014 when Rwandan forces participated as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA). As of September 2021, the RDF was the largest contributor of military personnel to the UN mission in the Central African Republic, and since its presence in the country, Rwanda has demonstrated that it is capable of handling complex conflicts and working alongside other international actors such as soldiers of the Russian “Wagner” company. private and others (6) .

Rwanda has strengthened its military presence in the Central African Republic through various military agreements between 2020 (7) and 2021 (8) . In September of this year (2022), Rwanda confirmed the arrival of another contingent of 150 Rwandan soldiers in the Central African Republic. In addition to the Rwandan forces attached to MINUSCA, it is estimated that there are more than 2,000 other Rwandan soldiers in the CAR under military cooperation agreements between the two countries (9) .

on the other hand; The military agreements between the two countries between 2020 and 2021 reveal that Rwanda tested a new approach to military diplomacy represented in carrying out military operations alone, away from any international body or organization. This approach does not conflict with the participation of its forces in multilateral missions; Since these Rwandan forces, which were sent under a bilateral military arrangement with the Central African Republic, will not operate under the tutelage of MINUSCA (10) .

This confirms what sources have indicated that the last division of 150 Rwandan soldiers was deployed at the request of the Afro-Central President, Faustin-Archange Touadera, to protect him and impose calm in the event of an uprising as a result of President Faustin’s plan to review the country’s constitution, a move that the majority of the population opposes. As for the Rwandan government, it says that all its forces are in the Central African Republic with the aim of protecting the country’s institutions and residents of the capital, Bangui, and protecting the Rwandan peacekeepers from being targeted by the rebels (11) .

Confronting armed movements in northern Mozambique

In 2019, the security situation in northern Mozambique witnessed a new shift when a terrorist group called Ansar al-Sunna/Al-Shabab pledged allegiance to the Islamic State; This raised the fears of the governments of southern African countries about the expansion of terrorists linked to the Islamic State and others. In March of the same year, fighters from the group launched an attack on the town of “Palma” located on the northeastern coast of the Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado and close to gas stations, and the attack resulted in dozens of deaths. By April, the terrorists had taken control of four of the five northern provinces (12) . The French company “Total” was forced to announce the suspension of its work at the gas project sites until the area became safe (13) .

The successes of the Rwandan forces in the Central African Republic and the positive results of the bilateral military agreements between the two countries, especially in terms of imposing stability in the areas under the control of the rebel groups; All of which prompted Mozambican President Philip Nyusi to request Rwandan President Kagame’s help in fighting the terrorist group. In July 2021, the RDF sent about 1,000 soldiers and police officers to northern Mozambique (14) . Within weeks of arriving, the RDF had made more progress than the Mozambican army and foreign mercenaries had been in the country for four years; The Rwandans liberated the areas that were controlled by the terrorists and restored the main infrastructure (15) .

The achievements of the Rwandan forces were praised by Mozambicans, especially the local population, who were able to return to their homes and areas abandoned due to terrorist attacks. Interviews with residents of “Mosimboa” in northern Mozambique showed that they are satisfied with the presence of the Rwandan forces, as these Rwandan forces behave more professionally and ethically than the Mozambican National Army, whose soldiers have been accused of looting and raising tensions among the residents of the region.

In addition to the above, the Rwandan military participation in Mozambique has become an example of the “African solutions to African problems” model, and it has become the talk of African analysts who called on other African countries fighting rebellion movements to inter-cooperation and regional and continental alliance, instead of relying on aid from Western countries and forces From former colonialists such as France, whose military presence faces popular opposition in several African countries, including Mozambique.

If the success achieved by the Rwandan forces in terms of the restoration of “Mosimbua da Praia” Mozambique means an important victory for the Kagame regime and his forces and the polishing of its image among its people inside Rwanda and in front of its critics abroad; The balance imposed by the Rwandan forces in northern Mozambique and their progress in it meant that the huge gas project of the French company “Total” could be resumed; A government map in Mozambique revealed that the Rwandan army would preserve the towns of Mosimboa da Praia and Palma, which are vital to the gas project. However, the Rwandan military presence is beginning to raise new questions, such as: When will Rwandan forces leave northern Mozambique? (16)

The Republic of Benin and asked for Rwanda’s help to fight terrorism

The Republic of Benin was one of the most stable countries in West Africa, but for months it was among the countries of the West African coast of the Gulf of Guinea threatened by terrorists advancing from neighboring countries such as Niger and Burkina Faso; In December 2021, terrorists attacked for the first time the Pendjari National Park, located in the northwestern corner of the country and extending on the territory of Burkina Faso and Niger (17) . The Beninese government was forced to establish a military base in the north of the country in order to enhance the security of goods and people. Nevertheless, the attacks continued with the storming of the police stations of “Monsi” and “Dasari” and other localities in the north, which caused great losses (18) . 

Among the steps Benin has taken to address the situation are initiatives to cooperate with regional organizations and to ally with neighbors in the fight against terrorism and criminal activities. And in July (2022), France pledged to provide military equipment to Benin to support efforts to combat terrorism, yet the Beninese people are not yet convinced that government attempts and steps will contribute to improving the security situation (19) .

On the other hand, the success of the intra-African cooperation model and the achievements made by the Rwandan forces in the Central African Republic and Mozambique led the Rwandan forces to consider an effective African alternative, and gave the Kagame regime opportunities to advance in other countries and expand in areas that most African countries do not dare to engage in . As a result, in September (2022), Benin military officials resorted to the Rwandan Defense Forces to enhance defense cooperation between the two countries, and talks are underway with them on providing logistical support and military expertise in fighting rebels and terrorists (20) .

The Africa Intelligence report revealed that, according to these talks, Rwanda may send about 700 soldiers to Benin, and that the first group of Rwandan forces, about 350 Rwandan soldiers, may arrive in the country in October if agreements are reached this month ( September 2022) with a possible increase (21) .

Kagami’s ambitions in front of critics

It is notable that the Rwandan military success in Mozambique put President Kagame in a position envied by his peers in the East African region; He was able to prove that he is tactically and militarily superior to his neighbors in the Great Lakes region, and that he is more ambitious than his former colleague and brother-in-arms, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, who recently fought a fierce dispute (22) that led to the closure of their countries’ borders before various mediations to end it, Indicators of competition between the two leaders are still present (23) .

But Kagame’s ambitions also run counter to the administrations of some African leaders, national laws, and the interests of other African nations. For example: Kagame is doing his best to eliminate his Rwandan opponents and critics outside Rwanda, where he has been accused of various kidnappings and plotting assassinations in countries such as Mozambique, South Africa, Uganda and Kenya (24) .

In fact, Rwanda’s relationship with South Africa worsened more than a decade ago due to Kigali’s position that Pretoria harbors Rwandan dissidents opposed to Kagame. Pretoria accused Kigali of being behind the assassination of “Patrick Karigea”, a former colonel and spy chief for Rwandan President Kagame. In 2014, former South African President Jacob Zuma expelled Rwandan diplomats in the case of the attempted assassination of former Rwandan army chief, General Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa, in Johannesburg in 2010, and Kagame’s government responded by expelling six South African envoys from Kigali.

In addition to the above, Kagame’s bold steps may contribute to his retirement by some countries and their leaders, and this is evident from the widespread reactions after reports revealed in 2021 that the phone of South African President “Cyril Ramaphosa” was among the list of phones that Kigali intends to target using an Israeli spyware program. made (25) ; This infuriated South African officials who openly expressed their dissatisfaction, and South Africans who showed their anger toward Rwanda.

It is noted with regard to northern Mozambique that Kagame sent his forces at a time when the Southern African Development Community was determining the nature of its interventions in Mozambique and dealing with the terrorist group’s crisis and how to contain it. Some have interpreted Rwanda’s military intervention outside of any regional and international frameworks as an outright challenge to the southern and eastern African countries that are members of the East African Community and the Southern African Development Community.

The success of the Rwandan military operations also appears as an attempt to undermine the influence of countries such as South Africa in the Southern Africa region and Tanzania in East Africa, especially since Kagame has been seeking for years to get closer to Mozambique and consolidate its relations with it after it became a destination for the Rwandan opposition. This means that military involvement in Mozambique enables Kigali to eliminate those it views as a potential threat both within Mozambique and in neighboring countries.

Despite the slogan “African solutions to African problems” gained by the participation of the Rwandan military forces; However, the nature of these participations and the locations and timing of the operations made some question whether the Rwandan presence was for the benefit of these two countries or for the benefit of other international parties.

However, President Kagame denied the criticism leveled against him and whether the operations of the Rwandan forces were financed by a third party, stressing that all these efforts come from his country without anyone’s sponsorship (26) . Accordingly, the lessons that Kigali learned from its conflict, war and repercussions may be among the motives for the Rwandan military intervention, or because of Kigali’s fears of the spread of terrorist movements into its territory, especially through its neighbor, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, in which the “Alliance of Democratic Forces” movement loyal to the “Islamic State” is active. and crossed Mozambique, which borders Tanzania.


Based on the above, it can be said that Rwanda’s successive successes in its military diplomacy put the country as an alternative solution that can be relied upon in African countries that suffer from security turmoil due to armed rebellion and terrorist activities, and that the Rwandan military presence in the Central African Republic and Mozambique may provide President Kagame with a possibility of jostling over The resources of the two states with other active parties when the opportunity arises.

Considering most African opinions, it seems that Rwanda’s military presence in the Central African Republic and Mozambique is preferable to the presence of non-African forces, whatever Rwanda’s motives are and as long as their presence provides a solution to the security crisis. There is a possibility that the Rwandan forces will continue to spread to other areas that need their service, even if it is also possible that new African players will emerge to compete with the Rwandan forces; Which may worsen intra-African relations and create clashes between these players.

About the author


Hakim Aladi Najmuddin

Nigerian researcher specializing in educational issues and interested in African affairs.REFERENCE

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SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a bachelor's degree in political science and international relations as well as a Master's degree in international security studies, alongside a passion for web development. During my studies, I gained a strong understanding of key political concepts, theories in international relations, security and strategic studies, as well as the tools and research methods used in these fields.

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