The myth of the consent-seeking peacekeeper: a case for Rwanda in the MINUSCA

Let’s be honest, making peace is not that easy. It is like making a cake: you need a sizable dose of good will, compromises and a pinch of common sense. Rwanda has learned this lesson on its own skin, becoming a model of revenge and commitment not only for the international community, but also at the regional level. But why is Rwanda pushed to intervene directly in conflict-affected contexts to keep the peace? The case of the Central African Republic (now CAR) exemplifies this for two main reasons: a) given its endemic instability and the poor performance of the state in terms of internal security, it has become a crossing point for rebels willing to fuel conflicts in the region (also through the trafficking of small arms and light weapons); b) the failure of the peace operations by the regional organizations (i.e., MISCA and MICOPAX) has generated a revisionist attitude towards an all-African management of the conflict, overshadowing the so-called great Western powers (France, in particular) and shedding light on Rwanda’s both international leverage and regional endorsement.

Facing post-genocide Rwanda’s foreign policy

More than twenty years after the event, the horror of the 1994 genocide is present everywhere in Rwanda. Instrumentalized as a basis for private arguments and public policies, the individual and collective raison d’etre of the nation and its people is built around mass genocide. Although there tends to be a clear difference between Rwanda before and after the genocide, where the age of pre-genocide was perceived as a period of discrimination and ethnocentrism, while post-genocide Rwanda was branded as a miracle, a period of “rebirth” and reconciliation. Nonetheless, this diametrically opposed reading appears to be a reflection of profoundly different leadership, in which Juvénal Habyarimana, the former President, is presented as an unscrupulous and corrupt ethno-political entrepreneur, while Paul Kagame is the ascetic, principled and selfless leader. The latter, in fact, exercises a policy of seduction, cleverly blaming its Western allies and international financial organizations. This seduction is based on the good use of the history of the Tutsi genocide, considered as a “strategic resource” in the mobilization of internal forces, and therefore in the development of Rwandan domestic politics, but also its foreign policy.

This is part of a post-genocide reconstruction process, which paradoxically associates the break with the history of genocide, on the one hand, and, on the other, a reconstruction that draws new rules of the game from this same history. It is good to remember that Kagame, a former military leader, presents himself as a “hero”, a strong man who put an end to the genocide and led, and then completed, the post-genocide reconstruction process, from which he draws his political legitimacy, both internally and externally. Therefore, using the historical juncture to restructure its foreign policy and establish new rules of public engagement, through a process of “social amnesia”, Kagame has placed border security at the center of its agenda, that is, making the state a stronghold and protect the regime from any opposition.

Given the fact that in recent years Kigali has been undertaking economic growth and development in terms of infrastructures and experimentation with new technologies, albeit at the expense of some democratic principles, it is evident that Kagame is oriented towards regional leadership, with the intention of establish itself as an influential power. And it is precisely through a renewal of the image of Rwanda that Kagame has attempted to export and transplant the Rwandan model to the African continent through the chairmanship of the African Union, from 2018 to 2019, and a greater commitment in terms of active diplomatic participation in the processes of peace and military contingents for maintaining stability in conflict-prone African countries, such as the CAR and Mozambique, more recently.

MINUSCA’s SSR setback

In a context dominated by volatile, determined leadership and poor institutionalization, combined with uncoordinated regional and international support, the CAR has experienced slowdowns in the structuring of key security bodies, particularly due to the lack of a common vision of national security, and where there is a problematic relationship between the state and society in general in terms of the social contract. The need for a security sector reform (SSR) has emerged as a topic of political discussion only relatively recently in the Central African Republic, after General François Bozizé’s March 2003 coup made reform of security institutions an urgent priority. The structural deficiencies suffered by the regional and sub-regional-led peace operations in the CAR, especially in terms of a lack of a well-defined chain of command and “repeated financial delays”, led the United Nations to take the reins of the peacekeeping mission following the coup d’état by the leader of the rebel group Séléka Michel Djotodia in 2013.

The succession from MISCA, the mission led by the African Union, to MISCA, led by the United Nations, has in fact given the opportunity to clearly address the issue of the reconstruction of the security apparatus. However, MINUSCA’s authorization mandate, resolution 2149 (2014), focused on the initial priority tasks but not on the longer-term strategic objectives, such as SSR, which would then be included in subsequent mandates. Unfortunately, this prompted the categorization of SSR as an “additional task” to be undertaken wherever possible and did not directly link it to the initial overriding task of demobilizing and reintegrating armed groups. However, each progressive mandate brought the SSR closer to the core of MINUSCA’s goals.

At the same time, however, MINUSCA’s role is still essentially advisory and the feasibility and impact of any SSR initiative in the country will ultimately depend on sustained national leadership and inclusive ownership of the peace process. Nonetheless, at the request of the government, the United Nations, the EU and the World Bank have jointly undertaken a peace-building and recovery assessment for the Central African Republic, which the government has adopted as the National Recovery and Peacebuilding Plan 2017-2021 (RCPCA) in October 2016. Heuristically, the RCPCA consists of two (plus one) interconnected pillars, intended to a) support peace, security and reconciliation; b) renew the social contract between the state and the population.

It is significant that the authorities of the CAR have agreed to provide a political hat to the RCPCA, in the form of the Framework of Mutual Engagement (CEM-RCA). The CEM-RCA was signed on November 17, 2016 in Brussels by the current President of CAR Faustin-Archange Touadéra and Jan Eliasson, then Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations, on behalf of the Secretary-General and the wider international community. Indeed, through this mechanism, the commitment of the bilateral and multilateral partners to support the implementation of the national SSR program in CAR is renewed and affirms that the main objective of the reform of the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) and of the internal security services is that of establishing national defense and security services that are “professionalized, non-political, ethnically representative and balanced at the regional level”.

Additionally, MINUSCA has played a critical supporting and facilitating role in establishing the Strategic Committee on National Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Reconciliation, which is the highest decision-making and coordinating body for these areas of high politics. Chaired by President Touadéra, the Committee includes the Prime Minister; the ministers of defense, of the interior, as well as the Chief of staff of the FACA. Interestingly, the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) and senior officials from MINUSCA, the AU, the EU, ECCAS−including Rwanda−France, the United States and the World Bank also participate. in fact, it was in 2016 that the Committee approved a National Security Strategy (NSP), which was then adopted by the Central African Council of Ministers in 2017, which also provided for the establishment of a Higher Council for National Security, an inclusive body in charge of coordinating and overseeing the implementation of the NSP.

In line with its mandate to provide strategic and technical advice on SSR, MINUSCA supported the committee and outlined a national SSR strategy, valid until 2022. Specifically, the strategy focuses on three key areas: a) capacity-building of the security sector; b) providing and strengthening the security for civilians and restoring state authority; and c) promoting good governance and the rule of law. It represents CAR’s first true national SSR strategy and remains one of the main documents approved by the presidency. Support for its implementation by MINUSCA is likely to remain on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council.

Five years after the launch of the NSP, the army seems to have fallen into politicization again, especially in the aftermath of the 2020 general elections. The number of new recruits has largely exceeded the threshold established by the strategy and controls over the background of the new troops do not take place any longer. As a matter of fact, in 2020, the UN Group of Experts on the CAR reported that several hundred soldiers of the Mbaka-Mandja ethnic group, the same community as President Touadéra, were irregularly integrated into the Presidential Guard Corps, designating the beginning of an informal recruitment process, hindering agreements made at international level.

Again, as Enrica Picco recalls, between October and December 2021, about 3,500 new soldiers entered the ranks of the FACA, without going through the ordinary recruitment procedure. In March 2022, the government again announced the recruitment of 1,311 additional soldiers outside the normal process. On the other hand, the size and official composition of the FACA have not been precisely disclosed. However, international and independent national sources estimate the military to be between 14,000 and 15,000 troops, divided into fourteen territorial infantry battalions, instead of the nine outlined by the NSP, a problem that regional partners themselves face daily in terms of achieving harmonization of practices.

Rwanda as security provider in CAR

Considering Kagame’s Rwandan ongoing commitment to peacekeeping operations and the fact that the Rwandan army, the RDF, has been in high demand to join the UN forces since the end of the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda became a major troop contributor to the United Nations, reaching fifth place in the world in 2013 with 4,686 troops deployed as of June 30, 2013. In particular, it has been present in the CAR consistently since 2007 during the MINURCAT peacekeeping mission up to the 977 troops deployed in 2017 during the MINUSCA mission.

The realization of this commitment has obviously generated expectations on the part of the actors involved over the years, where for the CAR of Touadéra it represents an opportunity to assimilate the Rwandan security model, in turn shaped by international donors (first and foremost, U.S and UK). Touadéra, in fact, would see in the RDF the ideal type of well-equipped, balanced in composition, well-trained and effective on the ground forces, aspects lacking in the FACA. Not only that, but Touadéra aspires to expand its network of allies, and Kagame would be the ideal partner, especially in terms of providing legitimacy to the ongoing peace process and compliance with the terms of the agreements deriving from the guarantees, especially from an economic point of view, as a safeguarding third-party.

In turn, Rwanda, in order to improving its own modernization process, intends to reposition itself in the African chessboard, polarizing Central African public opinion through the narrative of a likely Western inaction, in particular French, if there were any mass atrocities involving the civilians. This will seem plausible, given that Rwanda does not want a new genocide to be repeated in its dooryard.

This “soft power” maneuver, in effect, allows Kagame to rehabilitate the name of his establishment in the Central African Republic, where since 1997, due to the influx of refugees caused by the civil war, grudges were held against the Rwandan government, but also to promote its interests in exchange for strategic opportunities, such as economic benefits net of economic sanctions imposed in recent years and internal security, effectively creating a cooperative win-win structure. The dispatch of 400 infantry battalion soldiers in May 2018 marks, in fact, Rwandan’s rise from an interventionist point of view.

On October 15, 2019, when the two countries sign five agreements, one of which on military cooperation, the operational line for the deployment of the 750 Rwandan units in Central African territory on December 21, 2020, six days before the general elections in the CAR, is almost outlined, supporting on the one hand the international forces of the MINUSCA mission, although this “Protection Force” was not bound by the rules of engagement of the United Nations, and on the other hand supporting the FACA in terms of performative optimization. However, securing the Central African elections by the Rwandan contingent will become a key element in generating broad support in the CAR.

More recently, on the occasion of Touadéra’s official visit to Rwanda, at the presidential office in Urugwiro Village, on 5 June 2021, four new agreements were signed on various subjects, such as the extraction of minerals and the strengthening of the national strategy of the SSR. But although there has been minimal progress only in terms of disarming some armed groups in the CAR, the FACA, and broadly speaking the internal security apparatus, still remain disjointed and inefficient.

Conclusions

The possibility of future security cooperation undergoing structural reforms is highly unlikely, unless there is a clear intention on the part of new players to create partnerships that are more profitable for both sides in the long run. The fact is that this multi-vector diplomacy strategy adopted by Rwanda in the CAR in recent years reflects the desire to safeguard Kigali’s key geo-strategic interests as well as ensure a base of support for future initiatives within regional fora (such as the Economic Community of States of Central Africa or the International Conference of the Great Lakes). Therefore, a realignment of Rwandan priorities in the security field in the CAR is necessary, a) to help to improve the reorganization of the FACAs through the development of a code of conduct and the identification of basic needs in terms of conflict prevention and resolution; b) to work on the composition of the FACAs themselves; c) to secure the most exposed areas to fighting with rebel groups, allocating soldiers more efficiently.

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Written by Paolo Caruso

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