The retaking of a key Mozambican port this week by a force involving troops from Rwanda may signal a turning point in the battle against a four-year Islamist militant insurgency.
It also upended regional geopolitics.
Mozambique is a member of the Southern African Development Community, yet President Filipe Nyusi dragged his feet in inviting troops from some of his nation’s staunchest traditional allies, such as Zimbabwe and South Africa. It meanwhile let in Rwanda, and by the time SADC’s troops arrived, the port of Mocimboa da Praia had been recaptured.
“It speaks to a lack of congruity in SADC,” said Douglas Mason, an associate at Eunomix, a political risk consultancy. Rwanda’s deployment is “quite unparalleled.”
South Africa is Mozambique’s biggest trade partner and Zimbabwe has a long military history with it. In the 1970s, Mozambique harbored the liberation army of former Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe, whose troops in the 1980s and 1990s helped quell a rebellion by Mozambican rebel group Renamo.
But this time Mozambique’s ruling Frelimo party only reluctantly accepted their help even as the Islamists brought TotalEnergies’ $20 billion gas project to a halt and beheaded locals.
A multi-nation force would bring scrutiny to the affected region, Cabo Delgado, which is riven with ruling party patronage. Rwanda is less likely to look too closely, Mason said. “It’s no accident that Rwanda got there first,” he said.
It’s unclear what Rwanda gains from its deployment.
Still, Cassien Ntamuhanga, a fugitive accused of plotting against the government in Kigali who had applied for asylum in Mozambique was taken into custody on May 23. Ntamuhanga’s whereabouts are not publicly known since then. Human Rights Watch cited unidentified people saying he was seized on Inhaca Island by uniformed Mozambican security service agents.
While there are other Rwandan fugitives in Mozambique, neither government has commented on whether there will be cooperation on returning them to the east African country.