The moment Yussuf Abdallah met the Rwandan soldiers, he knew the match was going on.
The 18-year-old Islamic insurgent in northern Mozambique was part of a group known to the locals Shabaab. It has loose ties with Isis and has terrorized the northern province of Cabo Delgado over the past four years, displacing more than 800,000 and killing more than 3,000.
But then troops from a country barely arrived a fraction of the size of Mozambique and within a few weeks cleared most of the area.
“We were overwhelmed by their numbers, they were also extremely fierce,” Abdallah, now a prisoner of the Mozambican state in the coastal city of Mocímboa de Praia, said until August a stronghold of an uprising. “We could not contain the confrontation, they have better weapons, we could not do anything.”
Rwanda’s 1,000 men’s brigade of soldiers and police have within weeks achieved what Mozambique and other forces could not do in years. The turnaround in Cabo Delgado illustrates Kigali’s willingness under President Paul Kagame to go beyond its borders and act as a police officer in regional disputes.
Rwandan’s efforts have not only restored calm and security – but also families who escaped the terror could return home – but it will also help revive the development of billions of foreign host rich, who have the potential to save the economy. of $ 14 billion in Mozambique. In April this year, Total, the French energy giant, declared force majeure over the largest investment in Africa after an attack in the area.
The intervention by Kagame, a former rebel commander whose forces ended a 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people were killed, reflects Kigali’s military prowess and willingness to act.
About 10 percent of Rwanda’s 30,000 troops are on missions elsewhere in Africa and it’s the willingness to take part in these operations that has given us a good reputation worldwide. It has a lot to do with African solutions to African problems, ”said Col. Ronald Rwivanga of Rwanda’s army said.
But Rwanda does not share a border with Mozambique and did not face an immediate danger of an uprising that threatened French trade interests. There is also unrest over the motives of a country that is facing increasing international criticism due to alleged persecution of political enemies.
“It’s about the responsibility to protect,” said a senior Rwandan military officer in Cabo Delgado. He added: “It is also about the projection of Rwanda’s power.”
‘A Strong Public Relations Exercise’
In late September, Kagame arrived in northern Mozambique in military fatigue to inspect his troops.
He denies speculation that the Rwandan deployment is linked to French interests, despite a promise made by French President Emmanuel Macron in late May of € 500 million in development aid during a visit to Kigali.
On the same trip, Macron allowed French responsibility in the genocide, a step designed to draw a line under two decades of galster. A French official has also denied funding Rwanda’s counter-insurgency efforts.
“The operations themselves have been largely successful, but it also shows what we can do, even within our limited resources,” Kagame told reporters in the regional capital Pemba. The president of Mozambique, Filipe Nyusi, added that there was “no triangulation” by any third country.
But the Rwandans “wanted to come. They told us’ we have the experience, we have the capacity and you do not have to pay anything ‘,’ said a senior official in Mozambique. “For them, it’s also a strong link.” According to the locals, their presence was more effective than a regional force deployed by the neighbors of Mozambique, including South Africa.
‘The Rwandans are better than us’
In the four-week fighting, the Rwandans say they have killed more than 100 insurgents and suffered only four casualties.
‘Unfortunately I have to say the Rwandans are better than us. Fortunately, they came and things got better, “admitted a Mozambican corporal, while holding a rusty AK-47 rifle, with a magazine strapped to a magazine.
In stark contrast, Rwandan soldiers have shiny new equipment and brand-new uniforms, their professionalism, discipline and military prowess that some observers call ‘Israel of Africa’ – a nod to the Jewish state’s military status and the two countries’ shared history of the suffering of genocide.
Rwanda is small, relatively stable and has a population of only 13m. Still, according to data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute compiled by the World Bank, its military expenditure as a percentage of gross domestic product is higher than that of Nigeria, Africa’s largest population Boko Haram veg, and Ethiopia, the second most populous country on the mainland amid a cruel civil war.
As part of the UN missions, Rwanda has peacekeeping forces in South Sudan and the Central African Republic. It also sent about 1,500 troops and police to Bangui last year under a bilateral agreement, similar to the agreement with Mozambique, which means less red tape, but also that Kigali has control over its troops.
Louisa Lombard, a Yale anthropologist who researches Rwanda’s peacekeeping forces, said their reputation was based on the fact that they were one of the most disciplined and least corrupt of all African missions. Unlike others, there were no allegations of sexual mischief.
“We feel more persecuted”
Rwanda’s willingness to get involved must be seen through the prism of its own history, analysts say.
Aggée Shyaka Mugabe, director of the Center for Conflict Management at the University of Rwanda, believes that the deployment of Rwandan troops may be about “promoting the national image”, but it is rooted in the 1994 genocide in which about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus died when peacekeepers pulled out. “Rwanda knows the cost of the lack of assistance to people experiencing violence better than many,” he said.
But for human rights and exile groups, the deployment of Rwandan troops to Mozambique can only be deduced from allegations made by the Kagame government – praised for the transformation of the nation into a thriving economy after the genocide – silence opponents abroad and abroad.
A Rwandan court was sentenced last month Paul Rusesabagina, a critic of Kagame who inspired a Hollywood film about the genocide, up to 25 years in prison for ‘terrorism’. Officials say he had a fair trial and deny targeting critics.
A Rwandan ex-army officer was killed in Maputo earlier last month and Cleophas Habiyaremye, president of the Association of Rwandan Refugees in Mozambique, said: “We feel more persecuted since the troops arrived in Mozambique, but we are not afraid of troops. no, we are afraid of politicians. ”
“Because of its terrible past, Rwanda has played an active role in tackling conflict and is one of the largest contributors to peacekeeping operations,” said Lewis Mudge, director of Central Africa at Human Rights Watch.
‘However, it must not exempt the government from being held accountable for its own record of human rights violations – past and present – or can serve as a means of exerting pressure on Rwandan refugee and diaspora communities.
‘As long as the Rwandan stays, it will work out’
Important for Mozambique may be Rwandan’s efforts to begin the return of Total and the restart of the $ 20 billion gas project. The company will “return”, Nyusi told the Financial Times in Pemba, “if everything is calm; we are working on it.”
However, Total warned at the end of September that even if it started next year, the development on the Afungi Peninsula could only produce its first LNG in 2026, delaying a project intended to change Mozambique’s economy. Kagame said the troops would stay as long as needed, but not forever.
“As long as the Rwandan forces stay long, it will be fine,” said a care contractor at Total’s camp on the Afungi Peninsula. If they move out tomorrow, there will be problems. ”
Whatever their motives for being in Mozambique, the locals clearly welcomed them.
After eight months hiding in the bushes, farmer Amina Abdullah returned to her home in Quelimane shortly after the Rwandan took control last month. The Islamists took over the area, beheaded her brother and took her daughter with them.
‘We thank the Rwandans for coming, they have a very good job – very good job, ”she said, adding that she did not know if her daughter was alive. “Maybe the Rwandan can find her now and bring her back.”
Additional reporting by Joseph Cotterill in Johannesburg and Tom Wilson in London