July 9, 2021

Rwanda Sees Another Darfur Moment In Mozambique

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Rwanda soldier and police board plane of national carrier RwandAir enroute to Mozambique

The Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) announced nearly a month ago that it would send a standby force to Mozambique “to combat terrorism”. However, while the bloc is still discussing the matter, Rwanda this Friday sent 1000 soldiers and police in a surprise deployment.

Until today, there was no sign Rwanda was preparing for Mozambique where a Islamic State-linked insurgency threatens stability in the northern province of Cabo Delgado. It began in October 2017. More than 2,800 people have been killed and thousands forced out of their homes and villages.

Seemingly powerless, Mozambican President Filipe Jacinto Nyusi made an impromptu visit to Kigali at end of April. Contrary to usual protocol, there was no media coverage of the visit. It was days later that Mozambican state TV released footage. In Rwanda, photos were then released following The Chronicles reporting.

It emerged that the Mozambican leader Nyusi was asking for help; he wanted Rwandan troops to be deployed there.

At the beginning of June, The Chronicles detailed how SADC leaders were not in agreement with Rwandan troops going to their region, unless they were under SADC command.

ALSO READ: SADC Opposes Deployment of Rwandan Troops in Mozambique

The arrival of heavily armed Rwandan troops in Mozambique brings back memories of another bloody conflict; the Darfur region of the former Sudan, which has since split into South Sudan and Sudan. While the UN and African Union debated what to do as the conflict spiraled out of control, Rwanda quickly put its boots on the ground in August 2004.

The mayhem in Darfur had exploded in February 2003, where black African rebels rose up to fight back at rampaging government-backed Arab militia called the Janjaweed. In a few months, thousands have been killed, more than 3m displaced and at least 2.2m in need of urgent humanitarian assistance.

International efforts managed to convince the Sudanese government of then President Omar El Bashir to agree to a ceasefire between the warrying sides. In addition, around early 2004, the African Union sent in unarmed military observers to monitor the truce, but the killings by the Arab militia continued.

Diplomats flew to New York at the UN and Addis Ababa at the AU in attempt to work out what needed to be done. The meetings never seemed to end. Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame meanwhile was publicly condemning the killing of civilians while the world watched, making connections with UN troops that withdrew from Rwanda in April 1994 as the genocide against the Tutsi unfolded.  

Talk of foreign military presence on Sudanese soil rattled President Bashir. Coupled with an indifferent international order, decisions were just impossible to take. An idea of sending armed troops to protect the military observers gained traction especially at the AU’s annual summit of leaders in February 2004.

Details are hard to come by, but some corroborated information suggests that behind the scenes and in public forums, Rwanda was pushing African leaders to give the troops a formal mandate to use force to stop attacks on civilians. When a decision was taken to deploy armed troops, Rwanda was quick.

Between June 16-23, 2004, a three-man Rwandan team led by then Lt. Col. Charles Karamba, director of the Research and Development at RDF, arrived in Darfur to explore the possibility of deploying a protection force. Today, Karamba is a Major General and Rwanda’s envoy to Tanzania.

Karamba is quoted from the time as saying; “Rwanda was asked to provide a company, approximately 100 soldiers or more.”

He added: “Our government responded positively to a call as a member of the African Union and as a member state we have the obligation to fulfill the request of the AU Peace and Security Council.”

Two months later on Sunday August 15, some 141 Rwandan troops were airlifted to the huge Sudanese region, on a mandate to protect the nearly 80 unarmed military observers monitoring a four-month cease-fire. 

The Rwandans were part of a 305-member African Union protection force Sudan was pressured to allow into Darfur. The other troops were to come from Nigeria. But the Nigerians only became serious with preparations after the Rwandans had arrived.

Sudan was furious. Responding to comments by President Kagame at the time that his troops would use force if necessary to protect civilians in danger, Sudan’s Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail made clear that such action would not be acceptable.

“The government reservations are not against the African Union troops, but on their being transformed into fully fledged forces, carrying weapons to confront the rebel elements. This will complicate things further,” Ismail was quoted as saying by the state-run Sudan Media Center that very day the Rwandans arrived.

Over the following years, several Rwandan soldiers were killed in ambushes or direct battle with the Sudanese Arab militia that repeatedly attacked refugee camps which were often manned by Rwandan forces.

Years later, Kigali has been championing the so called ‘Responsibility To Protect’ (R2P), a thinking that force must be deployed at short notice by the UN or individual countries to protect civilians in danger.  

Following the atrocities committed in the 1990s in the Balkans and the genocide in Rwanda, which the international community failed to prevent, and the NATO military intervention in Kosovo, which was criticized by many as a violation of the prohibition of the use of force, the international community engaged in a serious debate after Darfur on how to react to gross and systematic violations of human rights.  

Currently, one of the world’s largest contributors of peacekeepers, Rwanda was the first to deployed peacekeepers in CAR in 2014 as the country slid into chaos. They have since been given the additional role of protecting the country’s president. The troops were last year bolstered with special forces that pushed back a rebel advance.

Rwandan peacekeepers march at UNAMID’s headquarters in El Fasher during the 2012 commemoration of the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. Observed annually on 29 May, the Day offers a chance to pay tribute to the contributions of uniformed and civilian personnel to the work of the Organization and to honour peacekeepers who have lost their lives while serving under the UN flag. (UN Photo)

Seventeen years later after Darfur, the Islamists were committing shocking killings in Mozambique. SADC has yet to agree on the specifics about its troop deployment. It plans to mobilise a standby force of at least 3,000 troops.  

In addition, a leaked report from the SADC Double Troika Plus Angola Technical Assessment Mission in May, proposed a deployment of nearly 150 special forces, who will “conduct targeted operations” and secure the coast of the Mozambican channel.

However, SADC’s 16-member state have yet to conclude on how many troops exactly would be involved, when they would be deployed or what their role would be. At the moment also, it remains unclear which SADC members will send their troops.

Meanwhile, Rwanda said today in its statement announcing its deployment:

The Government of Rwanda, at the request of the Government of Mozambique, will today start the deployment of a 1,000-person contingent of the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) and the Rwanda National Police (RNP) to Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique, which is currently affected by terrorism and insecurity.

The Joint Force will work closely with Mozambique Armed Defence Forces (FADM) and forces from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in designated sectors of responsibility.

The Rwandan contingent will support efforts to restore Mozambican state authority by conducting combat and security operations, as well as stabilisation and security-sector reform (SSR).

This deployment is based on the good bilateral relations between the Republic of Rwanda and the Republic of Mozambique, following the signing of several agreements between the two countries in 2018, and is grounded in Rwanda’s commitment to the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine and the 2015 Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians.

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