Is France using Rwanda’s military to push its agenda in Africa?
But behind this campaign is French maneuvering that benefits an energy giant. On 8 August, Rwandan troops captured the port city of Mocímboa da Praia where, just off the coast, is a huge natural gas concession held by the French energy company TotalEnergies SE and the American energy company ExxonMobil.
These new developments in the region led to the African Development Bank's president Akinwumi Adesina announcing on 27 August that TotalEnergies SE will restart the Cabo Delgado liquefied natural gas project by the end of 2022. The militants disappeared across the border into Tanzania or into their villages in the hinterland.
French proxy in Africa
According to an article written by Vijay Prashad and first published in Globetrotter, there is every likelihood that Rwanda’s military is now the leading French proxy on African soil.
Why did Rwanda intervene in Mozambique in July to defend, essentially, two energy companies? The answer lies in a peculiar set of events that took place in the months before the troops left Rwanda.
The insurgents first made their appearance in Cabo Delgado in October 2017. For three years, the group played a cat-and-mouse game with Mozambique’s army before taking control of Mocímboa da Praia in August last year. At no point did it seem possible for Mozambique’s army to thwart al-Shabaab and allow TotalEnergies SE and ExxonMobil to restart operations in the Rovuma Basin, off the coast of northern Mozambique, where the natural gas field was discovered in February 2010.
It is strongly believed in Mozambique that France’s President Emmanuel Macron suggested the Rwandan army, rather than French forces, be deployed to secure Cabo Delgado. Rwanda’s force — highly trained, well-armed by the Western countries and given impunity to act outside the bounds of international law — has proved its mettle in the interventions carried out in South Sudan and the Central African Republic.
The meeting in Paris
On 18 May, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a summit in Paris, “seeking to boost financing in Africa amid the Covid-19 pandemic”, which was attended by several heads of government, including President Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Mozambique’s President Filipe Nyusi, the president of the AU (Moussa Faki Mahamat), the president of the African Development Bank (Akinwumi Adesina), the president of the West African Development Bank (Serge Ekué) and the managing director of the International Monetary Fund (Kristalina Georgieva). Exit from “financial asphyxiation” was at the top of the agenda, although in private meetings there were discussions about Rwandan intervention in Mozambique.
A week later, Macron left to visit Rwanda and South Africa, spending two days (26 and 27 May) in Kigali.
On 28 May, alongside South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa, Macron talked about Mozambique, saying that France was prepared to “take part in operations on the maritime side” but would otherwise defer to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and to other regional powers. He did not mention Rwanda specifically. Rwanda entered Mozambique in July, followed by SADC forces, which included South African troops. France got what it wanted: its energy giant can now recoup its investment.