Forbidden Stories
Rwanda Classified

How Rwanda Leverages Peacekeeping for Influence

As evidence of its interference in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo mounts, Rwanda continues to evade United Nations sanctions due, in part, to the high number of Rwandan soldiers fighting under its banner.

(Visuel : Mélody Da Fonseca)

Key findings
  • Rwanda leverages its role as a significant contributor of peacekeeping forces to shield itself from potential UN sanctions in response to its increasingly well-documented presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).
  • Documents obtained by Forbidden Stories and its partners reveal that a high-ranking Rwandan officer leading an ongoing operation in Mozambique, partly financed by the European Union (EU), directed attacks in the DRC in 2022.
  • Through an investment fund controlled by the ruling party, Rwanda uses the deployment of its troops to pursue economic interests in several countries on the continent.

By Cécile Andrzejewski

May 28, 2024

About ten people, including Forbidden Stories and its partners on project Rwanda Classified, have reviewed “Entrée des militaires de la RDF sur le sol congolais” (“Entry of Rwanda Defense Forces Into Congolese Territory”). The confidential document, dated May, 2022, and produced by the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), details “the entry of RDF troops into the DRC” and their operations, “considered an invasion.”

As a matter of international law and norms, one researcher at the French Institute of International Relations compared the Rwandan military’s presence in the DRC to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But few international sanctions have resulted from the document or from any of the subsequent UN reports on Rwanda’s actions in the DRC. Worse still, a senior Rwandan officer mentioned in the document as having commanded an attack against Congolese forces, Major General Alexis Kagame, is now the head of a joint security task force in Mozambique.

As untoward as Kagame’s ongoing involvement in Rwanda’s international peacekeeping efforts might seem in the context of the nation’s actions in the DRC, the two things are closely linked.

Maj Gen Alex Kagame takes over the Joint Task Force Command in Mozambique, 04 August 2023. (Credit : Ministry of Defence of Rwanda)

“Peacekeeping as leverage”

In addition to its bilateral military cooperation agreements with African states like Mozambique, the Central African Republic and Benin, Rwanda currently contributes the third-largest number of peacekeepers to the United Nations. In January, 2024, nearly 6,000 Rwandan citizens were deployed as Blue Helmets. According to a diplomatic source, Rwanda’s ability to find troops for these missions is helped by its autocratic nature – it is difficult for the public to raise any protest against the human toll.

This allows Rwanda to use “peacekeeping as leverage,” says Phil Clark, a professor of international politics at SOAS University of London.

“[The Rwandans] realized that the international system is really fragmented. They can weaken criticism from [The UN’s Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo] because they know their value is in contributing to peacekeeping. This is what the UN really wants, they need contribution,” he says. “The experts want a whole range of sanctions, but it never happens. They really know the contradiction, they know their value in the UN.” The Rwandan government did not respond to our questions.

Alexis Kagame’s situation illustrates the point clearly. After the MONUSCO document circulated internally, Alexis Kagame’s name appeared in a UN report from December 2022 concerning his involvement with the DRC. According to a diplomatic source, in the spring of 2023, European Union member states attempted to establish a list of Rwandan officers to target with sanctions that included Alexis Kagame’s name. But, a few months later, on June 5, the Major General became commander of a joint task force charged with combating the Islamic State–Mozambique (ISM). He was sent with the Rwandan army to prevent an insurgency in the northeastern Cabo Delgado region, where the French energy company Total has invested nearly €4 billion in a liquefied natural gas project.

This same peacekeeping operation was partly funded by the EU in 2023, to the tune of €20 million. According to a diplomatic source, renewal of the funding is currently being debated within the EU, particularly due to Kagame’s involvement. 

RDF soldiers in Peacekeeping Mission (Credit : Ministry of Defence of Rwanda)

Former Rwandan ambassador to the UN Eugene Gasana is now at odds with his home country. He is familiar with the tactics Rwanda deploys to influence the UN. “The Rwanda peacekeeping program is very, very vital for the regime. It gives them credibility and makes them indispensable,” he says.

Gasana compares peacekeeping missions to “ammunition” for the regime and the peacekeepers to “mercenaries.” When the risk of sanctions looms over Kigali, Gasana says, threatening the withdrawal of peacekeeping forces is the government’s go-to strategy. Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Gasana says, “will always use this card if he has any problem with the UN.” When asked, a UN peacekeeping spokesperson points out that the troops deployed on these missions come from over 120 countries, and that “no single troop contributor can credibly undermine the long-term viability of a peacekeeping operation”.

Protect your stories

Are you a journalist under threat because of your reporting? Secure your information with Forbidden Stories.

Shady use of UN funding

When a country provides troops to UN forces, it receives from the UN US$1,428 per soldier, per month. But there’s no oversight mechanism to verify that soldiers actually receive this money – which is not directly a salary, according to the same UN peacekeeping spokesperson: “Since reimbursement is to compensate for expenses incurred by the Government, the [contributing countries] can choose how they would like to use the funds based on their national processes. They bear a responsibility to compensate personnel they deploy as uniformed peacekeepers in our operations.”

UN thanks Rwanda for its contribution to peacekeeping missions. (Credit: United Nations)

“They send the money to Rwanda, hundreds and hundreds of millions,” says Gasana. “We were [making] a lot of money back in the day. The money was transferred to the government of Rwanda. They sent it to the Finance Ministry [which] gave it to the Defense Ministry, and the Defense Ministry used the money the way they wanted. I don’t think that the soldiers are getting the entire salaries. Not at all.”

When asked, a former soldier, who participated in a peacekeeping mission in Sudan in 2008, and who asked not to be identified for security reasons, confirmed receiving only half of the approximately $1,000 paid by the UN to Rwanda at the time. “The UN is not aware of the payment mechanism of the Rwandan soldiers as it is a national decision”, says a UN peacekeeping spokesperson.

“In 2009, I published an article about soldiers not receiving money they were supposed to get,” says Didas Gasana, former editor-in-chief of the independent Rwandan newspaper Umuseso, who fled Rwanda for his safety. “This story contributed to the state’s anger against us.”

Investment and intimidation

At the same time, Rwanda exerts influence over whatever country its military is engaged with, and reaps the rewards.

“A model is becoming apparent,” says Clark, the University of London professor. “Rwanda first come in on a peacekeeping deal, they spend a year on achieving peace, and then they use that base to get a lot of contracts.”

RDF Chief of defence staff briefs security forces ready to relieve their colleagues in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique. (Credit : Ministry of Defence of Rwanda)

The pan-African weekly magazine Jeune Afrique has reported on the kinds of activity Clark describes, in particular investments made by Crystal Ventures (CVL), a fund owned by Rwanda’s ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). In the Central African Republic, where Kigali provides Blue Helmets and operates under a bilateral agreement, CVL actively invests in infrastructure and mining.

In Mozambique, again according to Jeune Afrique, similar investments have been made in mining and private security.

Support us so that we can continue investigating

We need your help to expose what the enemies of the press try to keep quiet.

The presence of Rwandan troops has also terrorised Rwandan dissidents living in Mozambique. In October 2023, Human Rights Watch documented “two attempted kidnappings of Rwandans that took place in the Maputo area since the arrival of Rwandan troops in Mozambique in July 2021.”

“The presence of Rwandan troops in Mozambique has instilled fear among the community and coincided with an increase in human rights abuses against the refugee community,” the report read. 

Alexis Kagame remains in Mozambique, where, officially, he is dedicated to restoring peace.

See also