The foreign commentary on Rwandan army’s deployment in Mozambique has been anti-revolutionary. I have written before about Rwanda’s disruption of the African narrative. At the time, I was referring to the ‘sleeve sponsorship’ deal with English football club, Arsenal.
I argued that it was a good thing that football fans worldwide, who were accustomed to ‘Unicef’ messaging on the jersey of Spanish club Barcelona, inferring an intrinsic call to ‘save the African child’, would finally be entertained to a different image of our continent; one of beauty, one of business and of hope.
As if to make my point, NGOs and journalists criticized the deal in rather familiar terms: ‘poor African country living on Western aid, funds rich Western club’. To this too I responded that contrary to popular belief, Africa does not live off aid; that that too was one of the many fallacies told of our vibrant motherland, by overseas media and charities. Overall, foreign aid represents two percent of Africa’s GDP; that’s right: only 2%!
This means 98% of our livelihood is internally generated. In the case of Rwanda, for the exercise 2017-2018 – the year of the Arsenal deal – the national budget was funded to the tune of 84%. In other words the country received foreign assistance for only 16%.
The figures above represent the mathematical reality, but, of course, no one was going to let facts get in the way of a beautiful miserable African story, and all stuck with “poor country living off aid wastes money on western club.”
In the same year, Rwanda Development Board (RDB) – the business promotion agency and author of the Arsenal deal, reported a dramatic jump in tourism gains (8% growth – with 5% coming from England alone). With an annual turnover of around €430 million, this meant that the three year deal was recouped in the first year.
In spite of the apparent marketing coup, followed by a highly successful yield, only a few newspapers finally acknowledged their mistake and the genius in the investment, which RDB extended, two years later, to French side Paris-Saint-Germain for even further impact.
This brings me to the reporting and commentary around the Rwandan Army and Police deployed in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. Like the fallacy: “poor continent living off aid”, media and NGOs have a template with which to describe the Rwandan Army; It goes: “violent army invades poor Democratic Republic of Congo, kills people, loots minerals”.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Why? Because the core of the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) and the Rwanda National Police (RNP) emerge from the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), a rebel movement that was founded on a clear set of values, only thirty years ago.
In his book ‘Shake Hands with the Devil’, Canadian General Romeo Dallaire who, as the head of the diminished United Nations peacekeeping force in Rwanda during the war and the genocide thereafter, was in daily contact with the RPA, describes a highly disciplined rebel movement with a principled general. Elsewhere in the book, he recalls that RPF soldiers who were involved in retaliatory killings would be sentenced to death by their superiors and executed by firing squad, to set an example for other troops. Soldiers call that set of values which regulated their behavior and warfare: “the RDF Doctrine.”
Several images capture Paul Kagame, the first commander of the RPA and certainly a co-author of the RDF Doctrine, preaching his troops about it. One for instance, filmed on 28th December 1993, is a classic: In it, the general is addressing the 600 Spartan-like RPA contingent about to be deployed at the heart of the enemy’s stronghold in the capital city, Kigali. They were going to guard RPF politicians invited to form an interim government joining both warring parties as stipulated in the Arusha peace accords concluded months earlier – the joint government never saw the light of day…: ‘This Army of ours, he begins, shall be the catalyst of change… If you are saying that you are fighting tribalism, racism, but in the end your action show tribalism, then there is no difference between you and those you are waging war against. Or if you say that those you are fighting are thieves, if you are a thief too, then what is the difference? Huh? He proceeds, ‘this army of ours will be the pillar for social transformation.
Another video, a few months later, in the wake of the genocide whilst heaps of bodies of innocent Tutsi were still stuck by the roadsides across the country, he appears towards the end (24’:13”), calmly explaining to an American journalist that the justice system, just as the rest of the country will be rebuilt by patience and precludes all ideas of retaliation.
And another one, more recently, on 20 December 2012, as the RPF celebrated its silver (25 years) jubilee. In it he reminds, “Turacyari babandi”: “We are still the same. Those who can go into trenches, to fight for the truth, for the rights and for our dignity. We are still those who can’t be curtailed by falsehood.”
Thirty years later, the message is constant! Even the signature ‘perambulating’ with a microphone held by two hands, preaching “the doctrine” is still en vogue. We all know it, while he sits President Kagame reads boring political speeches. Then once ‘all protocols have been observed’, he stands, picks up a wireless mike, then, like a Rwandan Intore ‘urimo gutamba’ (gliding in dance), he starts to perambulate. At that very instant we better focus, for ‘the Doctrine’ is about to be dispensed.
Indeed the Rwandan Army was conceived as the bedrock upon which Rwanda’s transformation shall be founded. This is not new for Rwanda, it is widely acknowledged that major innovations, such as the Internet were created by the American army. Accordingly, a disruptive portal for government service delivery named ‘Irembo’ was partly created by Ngali, a holding of Rwanda’s ministry of defence dedicated to innovate in greenfield. Irembo has eradicated petty corruption and red tape in the public sector, since one applies and pays for virtually all administrative fines and paperwork through the portal, without having to interface with an agent. Even traffic tickets are paid on Irembo.
That said, the most transformational role of the RDF is its excellence in ensuring peace and security for Rwandans first, but also for Africans and beyond. They do it, while observing the Doctrine, which I will elaborate on in another story, destined for Rwandan youth: “Indangamirwa”.
The doctrine however, is also the source of Rwandan Army’s victories. From a fledgling, ill-equipped “maquisards” movement of the 90s which took on a full-fledged government army backed by foreign powers and won, to an incipient, newly merged national army that took on a regional coalition and toppled the biggest African dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, to a high-tech, modern force deployed across the continent in United Nations and African Union missions, the RDF has come of age!
None of these victorious missions have been fairly reported on, be it about the RPA before or the RDF after it. In Rwanda, although the RPA stopped the genocide, reports were written with made up war crimes, at times, double genocide allegations. Of their expedition in Zaire where they returned millions of displaced Rwandans being held hostage by genocide perpetrators, other almost identical allegations were made. What both reports have in common are their authors and the key informants they quote. Foreign experts who thrive on African dystopia, interviewing genocide perpetrators and all who were ever defeated by the Rwandan Army to frame very familiar and comfortable stories of Africa’s rogue armies – the ones we love to hate.
Untold, are testimonies by genocide survivors saved from hideouts in pits and house sealing, or those of Rwandan refugees whom, after the genocide against the Tutsi, had fled to DRC fearing RPA’s retaliation, but were saved instead by the later, from the infamous marshlands, ‘Tingitingi’ in the middle of Maniema Province.
Here is a testimony by Senator Marie Rose Mureshyankwano, saved from Tingitingi and here, a very pleasant chat with Jah Bone D – The lion, a Genocide survivor. Here also, scenes of euphoric crowds in Cabo Delgado, shouting Rwanda Oyee, RDF Oyee, before returning to their homesteads where peace had been restored by Rwandan army and guarded by Rwanda Police, and here finally; the people of Bangui, Central African Republic signing ‘Rwanda’ for bringing back peace to their capital city. These Africans owe their lives to the Rwandan army and can testify of its doctrine, but their stories have not been done justice by foreign reporters.
The straw that broke the camel’s back was Central African Republic. When Rwandan troops were deployed to CAR, its Capital city Bangui had been cut off its supply routes with Chad and Cameroon by the Anti-Balaka rebels and was quickly descending into a human tragedy.
In the meantime, trucks of humanitarian supply were stuck at the Cameroonian border with CAR, unable to traverse the dangerous, rebels-controlled zone. Foreign forces that were the first to be deployed in CAR had been utterly useless, keen to protect themselves and their big media crews which reported daily on the dangerous nature of ground operations and the looming human disaster.
As soon as they arrived in CAR, Rwandans organized an operation to open up the so-called Bangui-Beloko route and escorted the vital supply from Cameroon up to Bangui. They fought their way to the cameroonian border, escorted the supply caravan back, fighting off the rebels again while protecting the merchandise. No single civilian or peacekeeper was killed, the operation was a spectacular success.
But when they reached 30 kilometers from the capital city, Bangui, the overall commander of the UN contingent in CAR radioed the Rwandans and ordered them to stop advancing and spend the night there. Being the last to deploy in CAR, the Rwandan contingent didn’t have the Commander or Deputy Commander positions; they obeyed the order. In the wee hours of the next day, huge contingents of the other two armies came to meet them, 30 kilometers out and preceded them in entering Bangui as saviors.
A freelance reporter who had accompanied the RDF to and fro the perilous journey, told me how he was shocked at the eloquence of the head of the UN mission trying to take credit on the microphone of his country’s national television.
When people reported what truly happened, French television “France 24” published this:
That’s right! A picture of a Rwanda soldier with the title “UN blue helmets accused of sexual crimes”. For the record, the said accusations were levelled against the French contingent long before Rwandans were deployed in CAR.
That’s when Rwanda and CAR decided to enter into a bilateral agreement and have a Rwandan contingent deployed outside of UN or AU mandate and were chosen among all the peacekeeping forces in CAR to provide protection to the previous interim President Mme Catherine Samba Panza, his successor Mr. Austin-Archange Touadéra and other VIPs. Even Pope Francis was guarded by RDF while visiting CAR!
In principle, the Rwandan army doesn’t believe in ‘PR’, in fact the doctrine prescribes humility. Something to the effects of: ‘no cheap popularity’ or ‘no bragging’. But we civilians challenged them this time. We told them that the Rwandan army does exciting Pan-African things, that Rwandan army is inherently humanitarian, but that the opposite is reported. We reminded them of the African proverb, that “until the lions learns how to write, the story of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter”.
We reminded them of Kigeli Rwabugili’s ‘Ingangurarugo’, Ruganzu Ndoli’s ‘Ibisumizi’: great Rwandan Kings and their famous armies. We explained that we know of these valiant armies that conquered the East and Central Africa, thanks to ‘Abavuga amacumu’ (Those who tell the tales of battle). The purpose of these war oracles, is to record the ‘geste of battle’, an epic metrical romance, at times, told in poems written in assonant rhymes about legendary historical deeds. Their mission too is to ensure that records of war are kept to draw learning, correct past mistakes and inspire future generations, in fact when I was informed that I will be deployed to Cabo Delgado with ‘Izamarere’ – the current Rwandan Army, I spent the night reading tales of Rwandan ‘Abavuga amacumu’.
800.000 internally displaced persons are being repatriated to their homes in Cabo Delgado after three years on the run from terrorists, but that did not stop foreign reporters from distorting such a romantic revolution. Playing ‘seven degrees of separation’ they concluded that the Rwandan army in Mozambique was simply a proxy of the French government. The minister of defense of South Africa remarked on national television that Rwanda’s deployment was ‘unfortunate’. Others reported, without an ounce of evidence that operations were being funded by French oil company Total.
Two points need to be made on this: One. Rwanda has the resources to carry out four or five more operations of the size of Mozambique, after all, the 1000 troops deployed only represent 2% of the combined 33.000 men and women of the active Rwandan army and 15.000 police rank and file.
Although, President Kagame in a recent press-conference clarified that the operations in Cabo Delgado were being fully funded by the Rwandan government and challenged anyone to bring proof to the contrary, speculations persist.
In reality, the equipment used: trucks, tanks, speed boats, weapons and the uniforms, were all brought in from Rwanda. Soldiers travel to Mozambique by Rwandair. But the counter-revolutionaries, the ‘boers’, are missing the point; it is its doctrine, not its material equipment that makes the Rwandan Army strong. The Rwandan Army has beaten more equipped, richer armies before, while it has restored peace where stronger, richer armies failed. Equipment or none thereof, the constant in the RDF remains the doctrine.
The Rwandan army is disrupting a framed narrative. In “Muntu”, a thesis based on Father Alexis Kagame’s writings, Jahnheinz, explains that: “If we are convinced the other fellow can’t sing, we have only to call his song a ‘hellish row’ in order to justify our claim. Simply by applying a certain vocabulary one can easily turn gods into idols, faces into grimaces, votive images into fetishes, discussions into palavers and distort the real object and matter of facts through bigotry and prejudice.”
Foreign media is doing just that, distorting the geste of a revolutionary army, with counter-revolutionary narratives. This is not new to us, let’s recall the reporting around the uMkhonto-We-Sizwe, the military wing of the African National Congress during the Apartheid. It was disparaged by the very same media in action today, and it’s leaders, Nelson Mandela and his comrades branded as terrorists.
Indeed it has never been conceived that an African country can outlay its limited resources to rescue a sister country without the patronage of Western powers, nor has it sunk in, that the Rwandan Army is in Mozambique, not to protect foreign interests, but to save the people of Cabo Delgado.
Like the incident in CAR, everyone is working hard to give the credit to an imaginary foreign power. But since the serial disruptor of wrapped African narratives has entered the stage, that is bound to change and it will; with the help of Abavuga Amacumu, the African revolution led by Izamarere is finally being televised – and tweeted…
A small anecdote in ending, a colleague recalls seeing a Rwandan general saluting the Secretary General of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF).
- General, he asked, how come you as a soldier would salute a civilian?
- You see, I am a Rwandan cadre. The army is merely where I was deployed to serve, otherwise I am first and foremost a cadre and although the Army is apolitical, he remains my senior in the cadreship; the General explained.