Military Cooperation Between France and Africa: Balancing Interests Amid Regional Tensions

On May 16, 2024, a Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) delegation led by Brigadier General Patrick Karuretwa concluded the 2nd Joint Military Commission meeting with the French Armed Forces General Staff in Paris. The two sides reviewed the status of defense cooperation and signed a new roadmap to guide bilateral cooperation until 2025.

Earlier, on June 8, 2023, a delegation from the French Armed Forces (FAF), led by Brigadier General Fabien Kuzniak, Head of Southern Bilateral Cooperation Department, visited Rwanda. The delegation evaluated the status of bilateral cooperation between the RDF and FAF, and explored opportunities to enhance the partnership. They held consultations with RDF counterparts, led by Brigadier General Patrick Karuretwa, and paid a courtesy call to Lieutenant General Mubarakh Muganga, Chief of Defense Staff (CDS).

During his visit to Paris at the end of April 2024, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) President Félix-Antoine Tshisekedi Tshilombo visited the École de Guerre de Paris, where he met with French Minister of Armed Forces Sébastien Lecornu. This visit aimed to strengthen military cooperation between France and the DRC. France and the DRC have long maintained military cooperation, including the training of FARDC (Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo) officers by the French army, support for the École de Guerre de Kinshasa, and the Collège des Hautes Études de Stratégie et de Défense (CHESD).

In the Great Lakes region of Africa, intense conflict continues in North Kivu province, where Congolese government forces are battling the M23 rebel group supported by Rwandan troops. During Tshisekedi’s visit to Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron condemned any support for M23 and called for Rwanda to withdraw its troops from Congolese territory.

Observers of the Great Lakes region note that France is attempting to balance its relationships with both sides. Apart from Congo’s economic significance, Western countries are concerned about the DRC aligning with Russia and China, which could destabilize the region further. The Congolese government has criticized Eastern countries for refusing to sanction Rwanda, which they accuse of supporting M23.

Rwandan troops are also present in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, fighting islamist terrorist groups . The French company Total has invested heavily in gas extraction in the region, and Rwandan forces are protecting French investments estimated at billions of euros.

The Rwandan government, under President Paul Kagame, has faced criticism for its alleged support of the M23 rebels, exacerbating tensions in the region. France’s diplomatic approach appears to be a balancing act, maintaining relations with both Rwanda and the DRC despite their ongoing conflict. This delicate maneuvering reflects broader geopolitical concerns, including economic interests and the strategic alignment of African nations with global powers like Russia and China.

While Rwanda’s military engagement in Mozambique ostensibly aims to combat terrorism, it also serves to protect significant French investments. This dual role raises questions about the true motivations behind Rwanda’s military interventions and the extent of French influence in the region.