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The bargains of Rwanda’s military diplomacy

By Laure Broulard

Posted today at 5:30 p.m., updated at 8:22 p.m.

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You might think you’re in a school room if the students hadn’t put their military berets next to their notebooks. The red, green or blue hats are adorned with the lion and the eagle, emblems of the Rwandan Defense Forces (RDF). The atmosphere is studious on this February morning at the Rwanda Peace Academy, an establishment located at the foot of the Virunga volcanic chain, which separates Rwanda from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Uganda. Today’s training focuses on the institutional framework of peacekeeping operations: terminology, rules of engagement, different UN mandates… Everything goes. In the “class”, the students are between 30 and 40 years old. They are captains or lieutenants of the Rwandan army. Almost all of them have already carried out a peacekeeping mission in Darfur (within the Minuad in western Sudan, established in 2007), in South Sudan (Minuss, created in 2011) or in the Central African Republic (Minusca, since 2014) – the main theaters of conflict in which Rwandan blue helmets have been deployed.

In the “land of a thousand hills”, ruled with an iron fist by President Paul Kagame, in power since March 24, 2000, these service records are nothing extraordinary. The majority of his army’s approximately 30,000 men have served under the United Nations banner at one time or another in their careers. “Peacekeeping has entered the DNA of the Rwandan Defense Forces”confirms the director of the academy and retired colonel Jill Rutaremara, also a long-time member of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF, in power). Since its participation in Darfur in the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) between 2004 and 2007, Rwanda has become a major contributor of blue helmets. With 5,280 men in uniform deployed as of January 31, 2022, it currently represents the fourth contingent, behind Bangladesh, Nepal and India. It is also the country that provides the largest number of troops in the world per capita. This State of 12.5 million souls, with an area not exceeding that of Brittany, has thus deployed nearly 41,000 peacekeepers between 2010 and 2020.

Metamorphosis

Under the impetus of Mr. Kagame, this military diplomacy has recently taken a new turn. To develop its influence far from its borders, Kigali no longer hesitates to send its soldiers within the framework of bilateral agreements with other African countries. In December 2020, hundreds of RDF men thus landed in Bangui, on the eve of the Central African presidential and legislative elections. While their compatriots blue helmets were responsible, within the Minusca, to secure this ballot under high tension, these soldiers applied themselves to protect the regime of Faustin-Archange Touadéra, at the request of the latter. The president was finally re-elected in the first round, with 53% of the vote. In July 2021, the contours of the intervention of a thousand Rwandan soldiers and police dispatched to Mozambique were further widened. At the request, this time, of President Filipe Nyusi, they were called to the rescue to fight the insurrection of Chabab, a jihadist group claiming to be Islamic State, in the north of the country.

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