August 20, 2019

What Is Behind Kagame’s Southern Africa Diplomatic Offensive?

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SADC The Home: President Kagame has met for talks with, for this year alone, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa, Zambia’s Edgar Lungu, Botswana’s Dr Mokgweetsi Masisi and Angola’s João Lourenço

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has 16 members and President Paul Kagame has visited 9 of them since January this year. The leader of the 10th member was in Rwanda for a state visit – which means Kagame has met 10 leaders of this grouping.

Kagame arrived in Namibia this Monday, August 19, for a three-day state visit, on the latest leg of a diplomatic charm offensive covering the Southern Africa region.

In March Kagame was in Angola, South Africa, Tanzania and DR Congo. For June, the President was in Botswana and Madagascar.

In July, Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa was in Rwanda for official visit. This August, Kagame travelled to Zambia, Mozambique and now Namibia.

For each of these visits, bilateral agreements have been signed on various issues including air services.

Even if President Kagame has not travelled to Mauritius and Seychelles this year, the two countries maintain very good relations with Rwanda. Kagame has been there, and the leaders of those countries are regular guests in Kigali.

In April this year, the Indian Ocean Islands of Comoros handed over Nsabimana Callixte alias Major Sankara, who was a key commander and spokesman of a FLN rebels. He is currently in Rwanda facing different charges including terrorism.

As the situation stands currently, the only Southern Africa countries where Rwanda has not undertaken direct engagement is Lesotho, Malawi and Eshwatini. However, President Kagame maintains close relations with the establishments governing those countries.

Then why is Kagame lately so focused on Southern Africa?

Olivier Nduhungirehe, the State Minister in Charge of East African Affairs, and currently defacto Foreign Affairs Minister, gave some hint this week.

He Tweeted: “Arrived in [Namibia] for a two-day State visit by [ with President Kagame]. This follows many other presidential visits to [and] from #SADC countries since last year (Zambia, Mozambique, SA, Botswana, Angola, Madagascar, Zimbabwe). It shows how strong relations with the region are”.

But there is more to the story, based on analysis from a team of observers and international relations experts The Chronicles contacted:

DR Congo

The first reason is mending fences and establishing collaborative relations.

Angola, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Botswana were in late 1990s and 2000s fiercely opposed to Rwanda’s presence in DR Congo. Angola and Zimbabwe deployed troops to Congo in August 1998 to support the government of President Laurent Kabila, father of the most recent Congolese leader Joseph Kabila.

At the time, a fierce rebellion against Laurent Kabila had erupted in which Rwanda was accused of backing the rebels. In November 2008, Angola again sent its troops to help the son President Joseph Kabila fight rebel troops of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP) led by General Laurent Nkunda.

It is the SADC community that pushed for the deployment of the UN’s first battalion called the Force Intervention Brigade in the eastern Congo under UN’s Chapter IV mandate. It had Tanzanian, Malawian and South African troops.

SADC joined its forces to battle what was deemed an extension of the East Africa dominance regime on Southern Africa.

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, has been trying to join SADC as a strategy to find “new” friends to boost its anti-Rwanda policy and leverage its weakening hand in the East African Community member states that want him to make peace with his political opponents.

For President Kagame’s operation SADC, say observers, he needs a region that is not hostile. This is, in part, more so due to the current fallout with Uganda, which brings us to the next reason.

Rwanda National Congress (RNC) and its “P5”

Since 2010, South Africa has been home to the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) dissidents led by ex-army chief Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa. Until recently, reports have indicated the RNC has been slowly extending its tentacles closer to Rwanda’s borders.

Captured FLN rebel commander Nsabimana Callixte alias Major Sankara, in court proceedings revealed that, as an RNC member, he operated from South Africa, Malawi, Lesotho and other regional neighbours. Sankara and others were the mobilising force for RNC.

The current Rwanda fight with Uganda has been out in the open for everyone to see. President Kagame has openly accused Uganda of providing money, recruits and safe passage for RNC’s “P5” armed group to man its bases in DR Congo’s South Kivu province.

A December 31, 2018 UN Group of Expert Report revealed that there is an extensive rebel recruitment network that extends from South Africa, to Burundi and Uganda, among other places and specifically said “P5” rebel group was under the leadership of Gen. Kayumba Nyamwasa.

The recruits that RNC gets are alleged to be from the Nakivale refugee settlement in South western Uganda, and from Rwandan refugee camps in Southern Africa countries.

This brings us to the problem of Rwandan Refugees and asylum seekers.

Rwandan Refugees and asylum seekers

The nature of Rwandan refugees and asylum seekers in the Southern Africa region was detailed in a special project “25 Years After Liberation: No “Refugees”, But 244,786 Rwandan “Asylum Seekers”.

READ: 25 Years After Liberation: No “Refugees”, But 244,786 Rwandan “Asylum Seekers

There are thousands of Rwandan refugees in Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia, and nearly all SADC countries. The areas they live in, in these countries have turned from “refugee camps” to “refugee settlements”─such as Meheba Refugee Settlement in Zambia.

It is these refugees that have kept the Rwandan FDLR militia in Congo alive for all these years, and are now being mobilised by RNC to join its ranks, according to some report.

President Kagame and his security chiefs know they cannot sleep unless they have a friendly SADC region.


This Wednesday and Thursday, President Kagame and Museveni will be in Luanda, Angola, for a Second Summit as their Angolan counterpart seeks a mediated solution to their public fallout.

The first such summit was held on July 12, hosted by Angolan President João Lourenço. The four leaders agreed that the host and DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi would be the joint mediators of the conflict.

Despite the level of mistrust and animosity that burst out from behind the scene into the public arena since late 2017, this is a conflict he needs resolved and if not, at least have strong friends in SADC.

Another, perhaps a side benefit from Kagame’s SADC travels, is the national carrier RwandAir. It is positioning itself to fly south as a way of expanding its reach and profitability. Already, several air services agreements have been signed.

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