The Cabo Delgado province in northern Mozambique is a brutal victim of insurgency. Last month, the world witnessed a catastrophic attack on one of Mozambique’s town of Palma. The death toll remains unknown and a heightened international attention to the crisis swamped the global media headlines.
In its recent report detailing the atrocities committed by insurgents in Cabo Delgado, Amnesty International called on the African Union (AU) to help put an end to the human rights abuses. It asked the AU’s Peace and Security Council (PSC) to urgently “assist the government of Mozambique and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to put a stop to the continued violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.” Similar calls were made in Africa and around the world.
Unfortunately, Mozambique’s poor response and SADC’s known slow engagement in regional crises are a sad reflection on the situation not to mention the AU’s catastrophic failure to act in Mozambique. Therefore, the crisis in Mozambique is an outcry for an urgent African rapid response solution.
While a brief history of African solutions to African problems is not reassuring, this time there seems to be good news. Rwandan troops, a contingent of 1 000, have already established a speedy presence in the troubled province and claimed to have taken the main stronghold of the insurgents after killing more than 30 of them.
If so, the intervention is a lightening achievement for soldiers of a country three times smaller than the Cabo Delgado province of 82 000km2. They have achieved what the army of the legitimate government of Mozambique has failed to accomplish in three years and perhaps what Mozambique’s closest neighbour South Africa, belatedly sending 2 500 troops, should have done.
The presence of Rwanda’s military deployment in Mozambique alters the security architecture in southern Africa, even temporarily. It reshapes the landscape of contemporary international and security relations on the African continent.
The decision to bypass the SADC military forces and opt for Rwanda surely signals the evolving patterns of an African agency in conflict resolution. It also sends a signal about the urgency of action to deal with crises by African nations themselves. Rwanda is also setting an example of a rapid response approach in conflict resolutions in Africa – a rare example.
So far, President Paul Kagame and his soldiers must be commended for their rapid success in dealing with the insurgency in Cabo Delgado. Rightly so, as over the past two decades, Rwandan soldiers have built a reputation of brutal efficiency in East and Central Africa conflicts.
They are now exporting their military savvy into Mozambique to quell the insurgency. However, a successful military solution alone in Mozambique may not be enough. A brief history of military interventions has taught the world a tough lesson – that it must be combined with suitable economic and social solutions.
There are downsides to the involvement of Rwandan troops in Mozambique. Their contested presence is currently fueling tensions between the ruling party and the opposition parties, Renamo in particular.
In addition, there are concerned about war crimes and human rights abuses towards civilian populations by Rwandan and government soldiers. Military sources revealed that the troops deployed will conduct operations in all districts of Cabo Delgado.
The government has appealed to the local population to collaborate with foreign troops. But the lack of support from opposition parties – which generally have significant support in the affected districts – could damage relations between Rwandan soldiers and locals and lead to the failure of the mission.
Despite the early success of Rwandan military involvement in Cabo Delgado, all is not as kosher as it might look. There are downsides. President Kagame’s warmongering reputation, extractive mineral ventures, his extreme securitisation approach to conflict resolutions and his recently disclosed role in the use of Pegasus spyware, by the Israeli security company NSO Group, call for caution about his ultimate military motives into Mozambique.
Besides, Freedom House has listed Rwanda as one of the world’s most prominent culprits of ‘transnational repression’. The efficient intelligence gathering is a specialty of president Kagame, a formerly trained intelligence operative.
As such, it is logical to deduce his strong inclination to use his close relations with Israel and the Pegasus spyware to monitor his citizens and opponents at home and abroad. Abroad, Kagame’s chain of embassies and high commissions have tracked down, destabilised and killed journalists, human rights activists, Rwandan opposition leaders and dissidents in Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, Australia, Canada, US, UK and Europe.
If Rwanda is a client of the NSO Group, as the Pegasus project suggests, it presents a frightening picture of what a government determined to hunt down “enemies of the state” could do with cyber weapons.
Will Rwanda also use the Pegasus spyware to defeat the insurgents in Mozambique?
* Charles Matseke is a PhD Candidate in International Relations and Researcher at the Centre for Africa-China Studies, University of Johannesburg
** Koffi M Kouakou is an Africa Analyst and Senior Research Fellow at The Centre of Africa China, University of Johannesburg