June 2024

Quick Bite

From Cobalt in Guinea, through Uranium in Niger, to Cobalt in the DRC, these minerals are increasingly at risk of being signed up at concessionary rates, used as payment for security, or simply taken by the security providers.

Military Diplomacy in Africa: Same Same or a Cause for Alarm?


Military Diplomacy in Africa: Same Same or a Cause for Alarm? 

Rwanda occupies just over 0.08% of Africa’s total land mass, harbors 0.9% of the continent’s population, and operates an economy that is 0.45% of Africa’s total GDP. Yet, Rwanda is the 4th largest contributor of troops to the UN’s peacekeeping mission globally, the largest contributor from Africa, and, more recently, the fastest-rising provider of bilateral security in Africa. Combined with Russia and its affiliated Wagner Group, both countries’ military footprints are fast spreading across the continent. The rapid rise raises questions about each country’s intentions, the economic deals that accompany these deployments, and the potential impact of these unilateral interventions on regional security arrangements and the influence of regional players. This note addresses the above points. 

Military Diplomacy in Africa: The New Players 

Military diplomacy, the furtherance of foreign policy objectives through the deployment of military capabilities, is hardly new. Not even in Africa. It encompasses a broad range of activities, including training exchanges, naval port calls, joint exercises, deployments for peacekeeping, and covert support for an ally in wartime. All of these have happened in Africa, especially at the height of the Cold War as the US and the USSR battled for influence across the continent. Recently, with the consolidation of power among African and international players, the playbook is being deployed again. 

While several players are active across the continent, as evidenced by the number of bases in Djibouti, two key players are fast gaining attention; Russia and Rwanda. One is a successor to the defunct USSR which was a key player in the cold war. The other is a small African country that endured one of the continents’s worst genocides but has risen to the status of key regional military player albeit with a much smaller economic base. Between them, they have deployed police, military, and alleged private military contractors to more than a dozen African countries in the past three years. Russia’s Wagner Group and Rwanda’s military independently intervened in Mozambique and the Central African Republic in the country’s fight against Islamic extremists. Individually, Russia has provided overt and covert support to Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Guinea, and the RSF in Sudan among others; four of the aforementioned deepened their cooperation following successful coups against previous administrations. On its part, Rwanda has signed new security arrangements with the Benin Republic in West Africa, unilaterally intervened, albeit covertly, in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo where it allegedly backs anti-government rebels, and continues to deepen talks on security arrangements with other countries. But to what end? 

Source: CSIS

Key Motivations for the New Military Diplomacy 

The underlying motivations for the aforementioned interventions vary, ranging from geopolitical to economic and domestic signaling. On its part, Russia’s intervention is part of a series of actions taken to shore up its international alliances in the face of Western pressure over its activities in Ukraine and to join the global geopolitical struggle for influence as Russia seeks to carve out its spheres of influence. Lacking China’s balance sheet and America’s economic and soft power, the path of military support and follow-on deals with African countries has provided a viable opening to Russia as it seeks to assert its position as a global power. 

For Rwanda, the motivations are more economic and local. With a relatively small land mass, few resource endowments, and an economy heavily dependent on aid (over 40% of the government budget), the successful interventions in multilateral and unilateral operations aim to demonstrate its capabilities as a security provider across the continent. Following its impressive show in Mozambique, it signed deals with the Benin Republic to protect its northern borders from the scourge of Sahelian terror. Other talks are ongoing. However, the playbook in Mozambique was more than a security-for-pay arrangement. As part of the deal, Rwanda’s secretive investment fund, Crystal Ventures, has secured lucrative mining rights and access to other assets, including contracts in Mozambique’s LNG sector. Details remain secretive. A slightly different scenario is playing out in the DRC where the country’s government has accused Rwanda of supporting the M23 rebels in exchange for access to key minerals, including Tantalum,  Cobalt, and other strategic minerals from the country’s mineral-rich East Kivu. The simmering tensions threaten to devolve into all-out war as each country threatens regime change against the other. 

As demonstrated in the Rwanda case, the deals are hardly clean-cut. The terms of Russia’s deals with the aforementioned countries remain secretive, and include a range of exchanges, including weapons, loans, potential mineral rights, intelligence and military assets, and more. As both countries replicate their formula across the continent, other countries are keenly watching, including potentially new imitators, potential coup plotters, rebel groups, and more. Should we be worried? 

Potential Short and Long-term Impacts 

The recent successes of Russia and Rwanda call for a pause on the part of regional bodies and players. Until now, the main multilateral defense players on the continent included regional forces such as ECOMOG and SADC forces and the larger AU Standing Force. This security arrangement faces increasing threats. Niger successfully braved the threat of military intervention by ECOWAS, partly thanks to some assurance or expectation of Russian or Wagner’s support in addition to ECOWAS’ vacillation. In DRC, the M23 rebels have successfully withstood the pressure from East African forces, recently replaced by SADC forces. If the allegation of covert Rwandan support for the rebel group even in the face of a South African-led force is true, their continued operational freedom might be the clearest testament yet of the gradual erosion of these hitherto strong security arrangements. In the near term, if ongoing developments continue, Africa’s regional forces, including AU’s forces, might be reduced to mere spectators as key unilateral players decide the outcome of conflicts on the continent. It could be especially acute if these players become major backers of the myriad non-state actors on the continent. 

Beyond the threat to regional powers and regional influence, the covert economic deals that accompany these interventions could deny African countries a second opportunity to harness the benefit of strategic minerals. As the demand for clean energy and the electric transition gains steam, demand for key minerals dubbed the green metals, is expected to increase. However, the clandestine deals signed by governments and/or rebel groups with security providers could deny the host countries and their people valuable resources for development. From Cobalt in Guinea, through Uranium in Niger, to Cobalt in the DRC, these minerals are increasingly at risk of being signed up at concessionary rates, used as payment for security, or simply taken by the security providers. These fuzzy security deals and the threats they pose to supply chains in other powerful countries such as China and the US might force them into the fray. These could be in the form of counter offers for security and/or attempts at regime change to regain some control over the strategic minerals. Just as in the days of the Cold War, the continent might be forced into new decades of proxy wars and blurry security arrangements, with attendant economic and humanitarian consequences. 


The rise of unilateral interventions by local and international players in the face of lukewarm reactions from regional and continental forces and countries raises concerns over the prospect of economic progress, regional security, and human development in the coming years. This is in addition to the potential environmental and health impact of secretive mining activities that do not fall under clear regulatory regimes. Admittedly, Rwanda’s interventions in Mozambique helped stem the tide of terrorism. Its support for rebel groups and Russia’s increasing support for coup plotters could have the opposite impact. As the situation evolves, investors, especially those interested in the mineral and energy sector, would do well to understand the aforementioned dynamics. Our team is well-versed in happenings across the continent and could help you navigate the challenges. Contact us today at research@kwakol.com 

Crystal Ball

The first US presidential debate for the election season underscored the potential for a change in the occupant of the White House. Combined with massive gains for far-right parties in Europe, we might be entering into periods of isolationism, ultra-nationalism, and free reins for other players like Russia on the international scene. We are closely monitoring the developments. 

Get ahead of the global markets with rich insights.

See where the opportunities are before they happen.

subscribe now