In the war-torn Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique, the now comforting sight of Rwandan soldiers patrolling the countryside and towns of the region may become a more lasting fixture for the local inhabitants. Ever since their arrival on the 9 July 2021, Rwandan peacekeeping forces have been instrumental in forcing back the violent radical Islamist group Ansar al-Sunna which had sprouted and taken root in the region beginning in October of 2017. On 10 January, 2022, the Chiefs of Staff of the Rwandan and Mozambican militaries signed a formal agreement increasing bilateral security ties.
Despite his nation’s soldiers making great progress, during Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s visit to Mozambique’s capital Pemba on 24 September 2021 he cautioned against an optimistic time frame of withdrawal, saying “the work done so far cannot stop here. We now have another task, which is to continue rebuilding and protecting this country.” Speaking alongside Kagame, Mozambique President Filipe Nyusi gave praise to the Rwandan troops, saying that his own soldiers are “forever indebted to you and we look forward to continuing rebuilding the lives of our citizens for the better”.
While the popular image of Rwanda remains fixed on the horrific events of the 1994 genocide that devastated the nation, in the decades since the tiny African nation has worked to both rebuild itself and boost its regional image through the export of one of its little-known but best commodities: soldiers. Rwanda is the fourth largest contributor of troops to global UN peacekeeping deployments, no small feat for a nation of its size. Simultaneously, in recent years Rwanda has become more active in sending its forces to bolster security in de-stabilized African states such as the Central African Republic. The speed and efficiency of the Rwandan military in Mozambique was highlighted in their spearheading an offensive alongside local forces to re-take the port city of Mocimboa da Praia, stronghold of Ansar al-Sunna, in August of 2021, a mere month after their arrival. This has overall enhanced the image of Rwanda as that of a reliable ally that will bleed for the betterment of Africa. It also speaks volumes when Mozambican locals prefer the presence of foreign Rwandans to their own nation’s soldiers.
That being said, eyebrows have been raised by African neighbors and the international community as to the true intention of the Rwandan presence in Mozambique. Its soldiers arrived in country several weeks before the arrival of a peacekeeping force composed of soldiers from states belonging to the Southern African Development Community, a regional development organization of which Rwanda is not a member. Furthermore, The Mozambican parliament was not told of their arrival until Rwandan boots were on the ground. Suspicions have also arisen over the fact that these foreign troops seem to be particularly interested in protecting the gas fields near the towns of Mocimboa da Praia and Palma, which happen to be the site of a multi-billion-dollar liquified natural gas project run by the French company Total. Regardless of the true rationale for being there, there is no doubt the presence of Rwandan soldiers has been a boon to the residents of northern Mozambique, some of whom are returning to their homes for the first time in years. For them at least, the sight of the Rwandan flag is an encouraging one.
Header image: Rwandan soldiers stand for review during a visit from Chief of Staff Lt Gen Mubarakh Muganga (Rwandan Defence Force Twitter)