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Mozambique: Rwandan troops celebrate first success, South Africa forces arrive

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Thursday, 29 July 2021 08:45

Rwandan military troops depart for Mozambique, at the Kigali International Airport in Kigali
Rwandan military troops depart for Mozambique. At the Kigali International Airport in Kigali, Rwanda July 10, 2021. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana

Battle-hardened Rwandan soldiers have claimed their first victories over insurgents in northern Mozambique. Meanwhile South Africa is beginning to deploy its troops to its neighbour to enforce SADC's operation to stamp out the Islamist insurgency in the north.

The Rwandan Joint Force that was deployed to Mozambique is already celebrating its first successes against insurgents, while the first soldiers from the long-awaited Southern African Development Community (SADC) have only started trickling in.

There is also some uncertainty within SADC member countries as well as within its secretariat about how their forces will operate alongside the Rwandan troops, who were sent after a bilateral agreement with Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi.

The deployment of the SADC troops – who could comprise up to 3000 members – took months to negotiate. It was initially complicated when Nyusi maintained that Mozambique could solve its own problems, but he later relented and accepted assistance.

Rwandan successes

Rwandan Defence Force spokesperson Colonel Ronald Rwivanga has confirmed that the Rwanda Joint Force, consisting of 700 members from its military and 300 police officers working with the Mozambique Armed Defence Forces (FADM), this week regained Awasse.

Awasse is a junction about 40km west of Mocimboa da Praia town and was under insurgent control for a year. During the five-day offensive, which ended on 26 July, assailants were killed and a number of weapons seized, together with a laptop and ‘important documents’.

“Approximately 20 insurgents have been killed in exchanges during ambushes and other engagements,” says Rwivanga, but the total number of deaths cannot as yet be independently verified.

Rwivanga told The Africa Report that Rwanda’s mandate is “to restore state authority through conducting combat operations, security operations, stability operations and security sector reform”. There is no timeframe for the deployment, which started on 9 July, but he said the troops would leave “as soon as we complete the mission of restoring authority and stabilising Cabo Delgado”. He declined to say what the costs were but, despite rumours that France was helping foot the bill, maintained that “we are [funding] ourselves fully”.

Rwanda’s defence force is well-trained, experienced and the third amongst countries deploying troops to UN peacekeeping operations. AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat welcomed the deployment of Rwandan soldiers to Mozambique as ‘an act of African solidarity’.

South Africa gets ready

South Africa, which is still staggering after deploying most of its army to help quell violent uprisings two weeks before, formally gazetted the deployment of its troops as part of the SADC contingent on 27 July. A small advance mission already arrived in Mozambique last week.

A total of 1495 members of the South Africa National Defence Force are set to go to Cabo Delgado to help ‘combat the acts of terrorism and violent extremists’ for a period of three months, starting 15 July, and at a cost of R984m ($67m).

Botswana earlier in the week sent 296 troops, with President Mokgweetsi Masisi remarking that they should brace themselves for an unconventional war.  “I am alive to the fact that you will be facing a deceptive enemy which is likely to use asymmetric warfare, unconventional and underhand war tactics against yourself and the population you will be protecting,” he said.

Masisi, who is also chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, mentioned that his contingent will also work with “countries that have bilateral agreements” with Mozambique. This signalled a positive acknowledgement of Rwanda’s presence despite an earlier ambivalence amongst SADC member states. South Africa and Rwanda, for example, have only recently started mending relations after disagreements about the assassination of a Rwandan dissident on South African soil.

It is at this point not clear which other countries in the region will be sending deployments to Mozambique.

President’s reassurances

Nyusi on Sunday reassured Mozambicans about the foreign military interventions, saying that member countries at the SADC extraordinary summit on 23 June authorised Mozambique to also strike bilateral agreements for military assistance. The Rwandan issue was discussed behind closed doors and was not mentioned in the summit communiqué.

“In the framework of the exercise of our sovereignty, we requested support from Rwanda for its experience and immediate availability in a situation where, with each passing day, more innocent Mozambicans die and many families live [in] pain,” Nyusi said.

Nyusi said Rwanda’s support mission “is part of the principle of solidarity for a noble and common cause, and for that reason, it is priceless.”

He reassured citizens that there was nothing to fear from the involvement of the SADC and Rwandan contingents because Mozambicans “will be at the forefront and strategic direction of the operations as they are better acquainted with the terrain, context and are the most interested in restoring stability in Mozambique, and, by extension, in the region and continent.”

Voices of caution

Opposition members of parliament and civil society have expressed caution about accepting Rwanda’s assistance, with the Centre for Democracy and Development saying in its newsletter: “The question that arises is whether the president of the republic has power to request and/or authorise the entry of foreign forces for military operations without consulting/informing other sovereign agencies, like parliament.”

Craig Moffat from Good Governance Africa said the major issue of concern was who would be in charge of coordinating the support missions. “You have to be very detailed in your scenario planning. If it is not clear, then your offensive or defence may be wrong,” he said.

He also said Rwandan troops may have won some support from the locals after the recent victories, which could mean that the SADC contingents could have to work harder to do the same.

Some of these issues are likely to come up when SADC heads of state gather for the annual summit next month.

According to Mozambican government figures, the conflict in the northern part of the country, which has been simmering since 2017, has killed 2,000 people and displaced 826,000.

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