Game changers: Innocent Kabandana and Pascal Muhizi, Rwandan officers who overcome jihadists

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Game Changers

By Mehdi Ba
Posted on Monday, 27 December 2021 10:31

“African armies: why are they so bad?” A few years ago, after noting increasing conflicts and the inability of the armed forces to rectify them, we dared to ask this deliberately provocative question, causing something of a scandal on the continent. But asking a question does not prevent us from qualifying the answer, nor even from recognising encouraging victories when they do occur.

This is part 6 of an 8-part series

In September of 2021, the good news came from northern Mozambique, where jihadist groups have been trying to extend their hold for nearly three years. Thanks to the support of the Rwandan army, Maputo has managed to recapture several towns previously occupied by Ansar al-Sunna, an affiliation of the Islamic State. These victories were achieved by Brigadier General Pascal Muhizi and his superior, Major General Innocent Kabandana, who were in charge of the Rwandan intervention in Mozambique and the coordination with the Mozambican army.

Of course, from Rwanda’s perspective, their names are of little importance.

The Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF, in power) is not in the habit of celebrating individuals, regardless of their rank or function, especially when the fight is collective. Even so, Muhizi and Kabandana embody the determination and efficacy of the Rwandan army in the field.

Pascal Muhizi © Stéphanie Scholz/Colagène

Mozambique, Central African Republic…

A few weeks earlier, on 9 July, the Rwandan government had announced the deployment of a contingent of 1,000 soldiers to the province of Cabo Delgado to support Mozambique and its army, which has been plagued by terrorist activities carried out by the Shebab Islamist movement since 2017.

Thanks to bilateral agreements made between the two countries, and ignoring the tension it could cause within the Southern African Development Community (SADC), of which Rwanda is not a member, Kigali decided to come to the aid of Filipe Nyusi.

A few months earlier, in January 2021, it was in the Central African Republic that the Rwandan military (present in the country both as peacekeepers and as part of bilateral cooperation) played a decisive role in repelling the offensive of armed groups united within the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC), which were attempting to blockade the capital, Bangui, and overthrow the regime of President Faustin-Archange Touadéra.

Peacekeeping missions

To properly understand these interventions, one must go back to 1994, to the time of the genocide perpetrated against the Tutsis, when the international community turned a blind eye to the extermination of a million civilians.

The Rwandan authorities, devastated by this failure to come to the aid of a people in danger, have since developed a doctrine based on the “responsibility to protect”, a norm of international public law set out in a 178-article document adopted by the UN member states in 2005.

Innocent Kabandana © Stéphanie Scholz/Colagène

This commitment was further formalised in 2020 through the “Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians”, an 18-point charter signed by 46 states from all continents. Among other priorities, it outlines the need to “undertake military intervention against armed adversaries with a clear intention to harm civilians”.

In June 2020, according to the Boutros-Ghali Observatory, Rwanda was the third largest contributor to peacekeeping missions, behind Ethiopia and Bangladesh, with 6,321 uniformed personnel mobilised – not counting bilateral interventions, such as in Mozambique or the Central African Republic. With peacekeepers deployed in South Sudan, Darfur, the Central African Republic and as far away as Haiti, Rwanda has the highest number of peacekeepers per capita in the world.

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