Rwanda has been engaged in different counter terrorism operations in Africa, whether through UN and AU sanctioned peacekeeping missions or through bilateral agreements with different governments. Pan African Review met with the RDF Spokesperson, Colonel Ronald Rwivanga, to inquire on the rationale behind these interventions.
PAR: The RDF is currently deployed in different parts of Africa, are you exporting security?
We are not exporting security. We are simply exercising values and principles; namely the Responsibility To Protect (R2P) and the Kigali Principles. These two are complementary and primarily focus on the protection of civilians at risk of loss of life. It is the RDF philosophy; one that is derived from our history; a history of fighting genocide perpetrators and protecting civilians.
PAR: Why is Rwanda in Mozambique?
Rwanda is in Mozambique because it was requested by the Mozambican government to support them fight IS-linked terrorists locally known as Alshabab and Ansar Al Sunnah. They had ravaged the northern province of Cabo Delgado, killing close to 3000 persons and displacing over 800,000. Also, the threat of Islamic extremism and terrorism in the region is an issue of international concern. So, we intervened because it is the right thing to do. When it comes to protecting civilians threatened by violence, our response has always been swift. It is also part of Rwanda’s commitment to the Kigali principles of 2015. The principles primarily focus on immediate response to situations that warrant the protection of civilians at risk. This can be through multilateral arrangements via the UN or the AU or through bilateral engagements as between Rwanda and the Central African Republic or between Rwanda and Mozambique
PAR: Fighting terrorism successfully involves winning hearts and minds. How is the RDF doing on this front?
Winning hearts and minds should start with solving the problems that led to the insurgency in the first place. Therefore, in order to successfully defeat an insurgency, one must solve the underlying socio-economic problems in the society. These include unemployment and poverty, lack of security of person and property, and lack of infrastructure. In sum, it entails protecting communities from these problems. The re-establishment of security immediately allows the public to start engaging in development-related activities. This will bring them close to those whom they credit with the new developments, and that is the military. When we offer free medical services; build schools and hospitals; clean the streets and neighbourhoods, we not only win the hearts and minds of the population in the affected areas. We silence the extremist insurgents who will then have nothing better to offer to the community.
PAR: Let’s turn to Central Africa. The RDF deployed in the Central African Republic when the rebels were within a short distance of the capital city, Bangui. After the deployment, the rebels were repulsed. Now we hardly hear about any serious insecurity threatening the country. What did the RDF do there?
As you may recall, the Government of CAR asked Rwanda to deploy a security force with an offensive posture. We carried out joint offensive operations targeting the rebellious factions and forces that threatened to capture the capital city.
We succeeded in halting the forces opposed to peace, ensured peaceful presidential elections, and protected the UN peacekeepers who were under threat of attack.
We created a conducive environment for multilateral support systems to operate effectively, including UN peacekeeping activities.
PAR: How do you balance the geo-strategic interests of major powers like Russia and France in a country that has been historically dominated by outsiders?
We focus on our mission. We do not concern ourselves with the foreign relations of the host nation, just as we do not concern ourselves with internal political matters.
PAR: In both Mozambique and CAR, these are big territories that must be difficult for small contingents to control. How does the RDF manage to intervene and impose order in such large territories?
While it is true that interventions in large spaces need large forces to capture and secure them effectively, operational efficiency and effectiveness are also important.
Special-skilled forces can effectively operate in large areas with the support of host nation forces and allies in the operations theatre. Of key importance are vigilance, close cooperation and continuous engagement of the insurgents and terrorists to deny them breathing space.
PAR: International human rights organizations have made alarmist noises wherever Rwanda intervenes. They warn about the possibility of human rights violations. So far, they have been unable to point to anything tangible to justify their attitude, whether in Mozambique or CAR. Are you surprised by their behaviour?
It is surprising that anyone could be hostile towards a noble cause such as the protection of civilians at risk, especially when it is well-known that thousands of innocent lives would have perished at the hands of insurgents by the time intervention takes place. The terrorists had halted all economic activities in the areas of Palma and Mocimboa da Praia in Cabo Delgado. They had destroyed state institutions, public buildings and burnt down homes. This called for action to prevent further suffering and destruction.
PAR: Most military interventions fail or succeed based on the presence or absence of an exit plan, what can you tell us about this?
An exit strategy is about leaving the theatre in a better posture to deal with the threat. Moving forward, we are now continuing with the next phase which is stabilization and security sector reforms. This is very important in the post-conflict situation. Rwanda and Mozambique have signed an agreement to expand the spheres of cooperation in both military and police affairs as far as capacity building is concerned.