Rwanda’s decision to send hundreds of troops to the Central African Republic under a bilateral arrangement is part of President Paul Kagame’s long-term strategy to build and cement strong alliances on the continent.
The country is however up against the interests of France and Russia. Many French companies operate in CAR, particularly in the mining sector. On the other hand, Russia has several agreements with CAR including one that involves “partnerships in mining exploration” a deal that would give Russia access to CAR’s rich deposits of diamonds, gold, and uranium.
“When CAR is finally stable, Rwanda will be remembered for sacrificing its own troops to help a brother country in need. This is going to bode well with anyone who believes in the pan-African spirit,” Charles Kabwete, associate professor of History at the University of Rwanda told The EastAfrican.
“The benefits to Rwanda from this move will come in the form of gaining strong alliances on the continent,” he said.
President Kagame has for long courted French-speaking Africa for alliances while playing a crucial role in the English-speaking Commonwealth bloc. In January 2020, Rwanda announced visa exemptions nationals in the Commonwealth of Nations, the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF), and the African Union.
“You can see a clear pattern in President Kagame’s strategy; sending troops to help another African country, sending peacekeepers, championing free trade and free movement of people on the continent. He wants to be the champion of Pan-Africanism through actions and by indicating that our interests are the same and that we should be united,” Prof Kabwete said.
OIF, a bloc of French speaking countries to which both Rwanda and CAR belong, also took exceptional recognition for Rwanda’s decision to send troops.
“We are very pleased that one of our members lent a hand to another in a very high stake and particular situation where elections are expected to lead to the stability of the Central African Republic,” Louise Mushikiwabo, Secretary-General of OIF and also a former foreign affairs minister of Rwanda, told The EastAfrican.
“Rwandan forces being part of the United Nations Mission in CAR tasked with creating the right security environment was a good thing, as far as our organisation is concerned, and further creating the right conditions through a bilateral arrangement so that the people of CAR can exercise that fundamental right is a subject of satisfaction,” she added.
Elections in CAR went ahead on December 27 but the opposition has already disputed the elections, calling for a repeat poll.
After casting his vote, CAR’s President Faustin-Archange Touadéra — who is seeking re-election — assured voters that the rebels who intended to disrupt the election were not succeeding.
“I thank President Paul Kagame, the Rwandan government, and the Rwandan people for their support in securing this process, which will allow Central Africans to freely choose their leaders,” President Touadera said last Sunday after the election.
On Christmas Day, rebels killed three peacekeepers from Burundi, said the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca), highlighting just how dangerous the country was becoming towards the general election on Sunday.
In some parts of CAR, gunshots by suspected armed groups were heard near voting centres, with the UN noting that the rebels were shooting in the air with the intent to cause panic among the voters.
Russia, which also sent troops, has interests in CAR seeing as the countries signed a series of agreements in October. This, experts say, has led to a so-called “turf war” between France and Russia over the CAR.
“Their support to the CAR could likely come at the cost of giving over vast territories for mining activities,” Prof Kabwete said.
The UN banned the sale or transfer of arms to CAR following the 2013 widespread rebel violence after the overthrow of former president François Bozize.
Despite the arms ban, Russia has UN approval to provide CAR army with training and weapons.
Rwanda has over 6,500 troops and police officers serving as UN Peacekeepers in South Sudan, Sudan, and CAR.