The number of Rwandan soldiers and police fighting terrorism in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province increased from 1 000 in 2021 to 2 500 by the end of 2022. In December last year, they were placed in the province’s southern Ancuabe District, a strategic deployment that protects the multimillion-dollar ruby and graphite industries which had been temporarily halted due to the insurgency.
The heightened security has made areas with abundant natural resources safer – but what about the rest of Cabo Delgado? Are civilians living there better off?
When Rwandan troops were sent to Cabo Delgado’s northern districts for the first time in July 2021, they had a broad mandate to help restore Mozambican state authority. But their focus on protecting natural resources seems more specific than that of the Southern African Development Community Mission in Mozambique (SAMIM), which was deployed at the same time.
Rwandan security forces were assigned to the districts of Palma – home of Africa’s fourth largest natural gas reserve – and Mocímboa da Praia, a hub for liquified natural gas development. SAMIM forces by contrast were sent to districts with no ongoing extractive industries.
Districts in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province
Rwanda’s troops immediately engaged in combat with the insurgents and achieved notable success, ejecting them from their main bases and the towns they occupied. Those fighters expelled by the Rwandans from Palma and Mocímboa da Praia dispersed and settled in the dense forests of the central and western districts of Macomia, Muidumbe and Nangade – areas later assigned to SAMIM forces.
These three districts were the main sites of attacks on civilians and clashes with security forces throughout 2022. In the last quarter of that year, terrorists began making inroads into Cabo Delgado’s relatively safe southern region. Attacks were launched in the districts of Ancuabe, Namuno, Chiúre and even reached the neighbouring province of Nampula.
As part of the incursion into southern Cabo Delgado, Gemrock – one of three ruby mines in the province – was attacked, resulting in the region’s entire operations being temporarily halted. The graphite industry in the Balama district also suspended activities due to fear of attacks on transport lines from the mine to the country’s ports.
The gemstone and graphite industries are vital to Mozambique’s economy. Montepuez Ruby Mining ranks among the country’s biggest taxpayers, and Syrah Resources has an agreement to supply Tesla with raw materials produced in Cabo Delgado.
The southward expansion of attacks threatened the natural resource exploitation in the region, as had happened with gas enterprises in Palma. No foreign troops were present in Cabo Delgado’s southern districts, and Mozambique’s defence and security forces could not contain the growing threat.
Authorities then turned to Rwanda to protect the country’s gemstone and graphite industries. Rwandan President Paul Kagame visited Maputo and sealed an agreement with his counterpart Filipe Nyusi for Rwandan forces’ to deploy in southern Cabo Delgado. Two months later, troops were in place, opening a new position in the Ancuabe district.
Although the legal status of SAMIM’s presence in Cabo Delgado is public knowledge and widely discussed, the terms governing Rwandan forces are veiled in secrecy. The nature of the agreements between the two countries is unknown, as are the powers assigned to Rwanda’s forces. The biggest mystery remains the source of financing for Rwanda’s expanding Cabo Delgado mission. Kagame insists that Rwanda is paying its own way.
Some research has suggested that Rwanda’s goal is to ‘protect the gas exploration, liquefaction and logistics projects in the Rovuma Basin.’ But the opening of a new southern front adds gemstones and graphite to the list of assets Kigali seeks to protect.
From its new position in Ancuabe, Rwanda’s forces are conducting regular patrols along the EN14 highway, covering the Ancuabe, Montepuez and Balama districts. Their presence has improved security in the region. Vehicles that previously needed defence and security force escorts between Pemba and Montepuez are now travelling without protection. Graphite transport along the EN14 has resumed, and the gemstone industry is operating relatively safely.
However, Cabo Delgado’s south appears to be another island of safety for the benefit of Mozambique’s natural resources (rather than its people) – something authorities’ have always prioritised. Terror attacks continue in the central and western districts where gas and mineral reserves are less abundant. There, SAMIM forces are trying to keep the civilian population safe without the help of Rwandan or Mozambican security forces.
Since the insurgency started, Mozambique’s focus has been primarily on protecting Cabo Delgado’s natural resources, with human security relegated to the background. The government now has Rwandan troops as its partner in this quest.
Effective coordination between the Rwandan forces, SAMIM and the Mozambique Defence Force is still lacking. Until that is achieved, safety for the people of Cabo Delgado will remain elusive.
Written by Borges Nhamirre, Consultant, ISS Pretoria