Rwanda’s Intervention in Mozambique: A Turning Point in the Fight Against Jihadist Insurgency

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In April 2021, Islamic State jihadists raided the Mozambican town of Palma, shooting dozens of people and forcing a deadlock between insurgents and hundreds of civilians holed up at the Amarula Hotel. The brutal insurgency that started in 2017 had dominated the increasingly desperate Mozambican government. Confronted with its inefficient army, the country first desired help from South African mercenaries, a Southern African regional defence force and the notorious Russian mercenary Wagner Group.

The country’s greatest victory, however, happened when it shifted to an unlikely partner to defeat the jihadists: the Rwandan Defense Force. At the recommendation of Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi in July 2021, Rwanda sent 1,000 of its troops to the embattled Cabo Delgado region. 

Since then, their remit has largely been Palma, home to a $30 billion gas assignment run by the French giant TotalEnergies with Mocímboa da Praia, a pivotal port town through which essential materials for designing the plant are shipped. Local jihadists had earlier ravaged both towns.

This province in Mozambique is of major strategic significance. ExxonMobil is constructing its gas field nearby, which it hopes to produce 31 million tons of LNG annually. 

The Rwandan military’s efforts have demonstrated success. Combating alongside the Mozambican military as well as a Southern African Development Community joint force and a Tanzanian mission, they have all recreated a primary role in reducing a 2,500-strong insurgency, which has carried out tremendous attacks on civilian infrastructure and forced 800,000 people to flee their homes, to approximately 300 men, according to Bloomberg. A fraction of peace and stability has been reformed in many parts of the most war-ravaged villages in the province, including Palma and Mocímboa da Praia.

Rwandan troops, police force and intelligence agents in Mozambique now number 2,800. Despite Rwanda’s small population of 13.5 million, the country is launching a brand as a counterinsurgency specialist on the continent. 

Before deploying to Mozambique, Rwandan troops had achieved victory in stabilizing the Central African Republic (CAR) by operating both within the UN peacekeeping mission in the country and via a bilateral operation demanded by the country’s president, Faustin-Archange Touadéra. In CAR, the Rwandans performed alongside Wagner forces until June 2021, when Rwanda suspended military collaboration over recurring reports of aggression on civilians perpetrated by Wagner. Since then, Rwandan troops have dodged doing joint missions with Wagner soldiers in Africa.

Rwanda’s distancing from the Russian-backed mercenaries happened long before the attempted rebellion by its boss, Yevgeny Prighozin, in Russia in July. At the same time, Kigali’s operations seem to be increasingly favoured by Western powers.

Rwandan army’s professionalism stands out from their Mozambican partners and contributes to their good connections with the local population, according to researchers studying the Cabo Delgado conflict. The Rwandans don’t request bribes or otherwise, blackmail from communities, and their understanding of Swahili and cultural parallels with northern Mozambique residents have developed a strong bond and trust, numerous researchers say.

The Rwandans “are useful, they have good equipment. It’s the contrary of the Mozambican army, whose soldiers are compelled from the suburbs of the main cities and enter the army to have a job. They don’t have a satisfactory salary, are not properly trained, and are not trained to negotiate in this type of situation. Local populations were detected in the crosshairs of the overeager Mozambican army. Local populations do not cooperate with the national army because they don’t trust them. Rwanda’s operation in Mozambique has functioned well. Moreover,  Benin and Rwanda revealed a defence agreement and military support from Rwanda to contain growing insecurity in northern Benin from Sahelian jihadist parties.

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