On the surface, Rwanda is not an obvious security provider, having endured one of the worst genocide in recent history just three decades ago. However, in recent years, the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) has emerged as one of the most capable militaries in Africa with a wide operational footprint across the continent. Rwandan forces have engaged rebels in the Central African Republic (CAR), conducted counterinsurgency operations against Jihadists in Mozambique, and if speculation is accurate, may soon be deployed to Benin, also.
These deployments are part of President Paul Kagame’s energetic strategy of military diplomacy which has positioned Rwanda to become one of Africa’s most active security providers. By adopting such a strategy, Kagame is able to build stronger ties with regional and international actors, increase Rwandan diplomatic influence, and secure lucrative economic partnerships for Rwandan companies.
The RDF consists of only about 33,000 regular soldiers but they are kept active with various peacekeeping and security provision tasks. In fact, Rwanda is the fourth largest contributor to UN peacekeeping missions in the world, with between 4,500 and 6,000 Rwandan soldiers donning blue helmets.
Rwandan personnel currently operate in CAR both as a part of the UN peacekeeping mission (MINUSCA) and as a result of a bilateral agreement between the Central African and Rwandan governments. Rwanda contributes the most personnel to the UN mission, with about 2,148 military personnel and 690 police officers. At the Central African government’s request, Rwanda sent additional troops in 2020 to provide security against rebels ahead of the presidential elections.
Rwanda likewise maintains an important military presence in Mozambique, which has struggled with a jihadist insurgency since 2017 posed by Ansar al-Sunna, mostly in the Cabo Delgado province. The RDF dispatched 1,000 troops in July 2021 at the request of Mozambican President Felipe Nyusi. Since then, they have reportedly thinned out the 2,500 strong insurgency to just 300 fighters and retaken key areas such as Mocímboa da Praia during joint missions with the Mozambican army as well as troops from the South African Development Community (SADC) taskforce and Tanzanian forces.
Now, the RDF looks set to expand its area of operations to Benin, which has faced incursions on its northern borders by jihadists from Niger and Burkino Faso. The Rwandan military’s future role in Benin remains unclear, although following a meeting with Kagame in April this year, Beninese President Patrice Talon said that the RDF could assist with ‘supervision, coaching, training, joint deployment.’