Ramaphosa: ‘Kagame wouldn’t dream of deploying to SADC without consent’

By Carien du Plessis
Posted on Wednesday, 6 October 2021 09:23

African National Congress (ANC) president Cyril Ramaphosa speaks in Pretoria
African National Congress (ANC) president Cyril Ramaphosa speaks during the launch of his party's election manifesto at Church Square in Pretoria, South Africa, September 27, 2021. Picture taken September 27, 2021. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

President Cyril Ramaphosa has said that he speaks to Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi "almost every other day" about regional efforts to quell the insurgency in the northern Cabo Delgado Province. He also told The Africa Report that Rwanda's deployment was done "in full cooperation and partnership".

Ramaphosa, who became chairperson of the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) Organ on Politics, Defence and Security cooperation in August, told The Africa Report that SADC’s forces “are giving as much assistance to Mozambique as we possibly can”.

SADC met to extend its mission

The mandate of SADC’s mission in Mozambique (SAMIM) was extended by another three months on Tuesday 5 October after a summit during which Ramaphosa met with the Organ’s former chair, Botswana’s Mokgweetsi Masisi, the next chairperson, Namibia’s Hage Geingob, as well as Nyusi.

The mission was deployed for three months on 15 July 2021 and due to end on 15 October 2021, but due to Ramaphosa’s busy campaign schedule ahead of South Africa’s local government elections next month, this week’s summit was held 10 days before the end date, insiders said.

Tuesday also marked exactly four years since the first attack on police stations in Cabo Delgado by insurgents.

‘Rwanda wasn’t a betrayal’

Ramaphosa denied that SADC had felt betrayed by Nyusi after the Mozambican president held bilateral discussions with Rwanda to deploy the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) to assist Mozambique’s military weeks before SAMIM had its boots on the ground.

The SAMIM deployment followed lengthy negotiations that started last year, complicated by the fact that governments in the region had seen their budgets reduced due to economic problems in the region and strict Covid-19 lockdowns.

A deadly attack by insurgents in March on the town of Palma, where local and expatriate workers from TotalEnergy’s newly-established liquefied natural gas plant live, made the deployment more urgent. The attack led to a temporary closure of Total’s operations there, with a recent announcement that its planned production date has been moved back from 2024 to 2026 or 2027.

President Kagame was very clear in saying that he would not even dream of deploying soldiers in another region of the continent if that region had not wanted and given its consent.

The start of the insurgency coincided with the establishment of the plant and unhappiness on the side of impoverished locals about the lack of access to jobs, which in turn has fuelled the insurgency.

“SADC had to go through its various processes of setting up a standby force which would come from the various countries that make up SADC,” Ramaphosa said. “The discussions that Presidents Nyusi and [Paul] Kagame [from Rwanda] had, led to the offer being made by Rwanda that they would come and lend assistance. President Kagame was very clear in saying that he would not even dream of deploying soldiers in another region of the continent if that region had not wanted and given its consent.”

Ramaphosa said SADC agreed to the RDF deployment and “it was done in full cooperation and partnership”.

The region, however refused a request for Rwanda to participate in the May summit held ahead of the deployment since the country does not form part of the regional bloc, an official from a SADC country said at the time.

Rwanda government spokesperson Yolande Makolo denies that Rwanda ever made such a request.

Rwanda in recent years had strained relations with some countries in the region. South Africa, for instance, has been accused by Rwanda of providing a refuge for dissidents. South Africa, in turn, has expressed its displeasure with Rwanda’s assassination of its government’s opponents in exile in South Africa.

A former Rwandan army lieutenant, Révocat Karemaningo, was last month gunned down in Maputo where he had been living in exile. He earlier told police he believed there was a plot to kill him. Although activists have expressed concern about this, SADC leaders have not publicly commented.

SADC is a ‘family’

In his closing address to Tuesday’s SADC summit, Ramaphosa made no mention of the RDF intervention, instead emphasising the importance of the regional intervention.

He thanked Nyusi for inviting SADC to Mozambique to “demonstrate its commitment to fostering the unity and the integration of the Southern African Development Community”. Ramaphosa went on to say: “If you want to go fast go alone. If you want to go far, go together. We as a SADC family appreciate that you chose to go far, together with the SADC family, by inviting the SADC family to come to the aid of our sister country Mozambique in its hour of greatest need. For this, we, as SADC, say Mozambique will never walk alone.”

He added that SADC “as a family” would come to the aid of any of its member countries should the need arise.

Ramaphosa earlier told the summit that the next few months would be critical for the regional mission.

A government official who attended the summit said the “R-word” isn’t mentioned at summits, and that discussions with Rwanda were limited to the operational level.

Rwanda’s intervention

Kagame has meanwhile enjoyed a close relationship with Nyusi, and paid a two-day visit to him last month where he joined in Mozambique’s celebration of Armed Forces Day, on 25 September. The two countries also signed a memorandum of understanding for cooperation in trade and investment, emphasising the sectors of mineral resources, energy, and industry and trade.

Kagame said Rwanda would help Mozambique to secure and rebuild the areas destroyed by the armed conflict, but it would leave the training of the Mozambican army to the United States and the European Union Training Mission.

While the RDF’s pro-active PR department has communicated a number of successes by its 1000-strong deployment, it has been reported four casualties in own ranks.

Rhula Weekly, published by risk management company Focus Group, in its most recent newsletter said Rwanda’s deployment could hold unwritten benefits for Kagame. Last month’s visit could point to these being in Mozambique’s mineral industry, similar to its intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Kagame has thus far denied that the RDF is externally funded. There was also speculation that France has indirectly contributed to the mission since the Rwandese deployment coincided with a state visit by President Emmanuel Macron, but the French have denied this.

This does not mean the French aren’t concerned about the insurgency, as TotalEnergy is French-owned. More importantly, the French territory of Mayotte is about 500km off the coast of Cabo Delgado, making it the closest terrorist threat the European power has faced to date outside its own borders.

SAMIM successes

SADC’s 600-strong intervention has also communicated successes, such as the killing of 17 insurgents and the destruction of their base south of Chitama Village. It is reported to have lost one soldier from Botswana and to from Tanzania thus far.

There have also been reports that some military vehicles have hit landmines, and although the damage wasn’t extensive, weekly Afrikaans-language news site, Vryeweekblad, last month reported that this could indicate the insurgents are getting expert advice about tactics. This means the intervention forces might have to pay additional attention to securing their troops.

This article has been updated to include a denial from Rwanda that it requested to join a SADC summit in May. 

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