“When lives are at stake, nothing matters more than saving them. Protection of civilians must be the central purpose of peacekeeping.” — President Paul Kagame.
The scorching sun of the desert could pound their young innocent bodies with strong persistent radiance of heat. The hot sand, with fast conduction through to the ground-spread canvas could hardly allow any good amount of concentration. Some, studying from below the shade of a tree would be an envy of the rest of the school. The only school buildings to talk of were straw-walled and thatched.
Yet these young souls and bodies, come here five days a week to drink from this spring of knowledge, what they have come to call a school, hopeful to one day use the acquired knowledge to build their country and turn things around. The place is Darfur in Sudan, where the war had ravaged entire livelihoods until the African Union (AU) through African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS), working with forces that include Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) and Rwanda National Police (RNP) intervened to keep peace, to build hope.
And hope indeed they, RDF, have built. And peace has been restored in the Peace Support Operation areas. Beyond keeping away the burning flames of war and living in a very unfortunate state for the people in some Peace Keeping Missions, RDF has built schools, health and general infrastructures, supported the empowerment of women, protection of children, promoted the values of environmental conservation and, on the whole, brand new spectrum of hope.
“During a routine patrol in May 2014, Rwandan Peacekeepers observed pupils at Kapuri Primary School studying under trees and in make-shift classrooms with no sanitation facilities. Returning to the UN mission’s base, they recommended assisting the community with a new school,” explains one of the RDF member who serviced with UNAMIS. This was implemented and Kapuri Primary School constructed by the Peacekeepers with 8 classrooms, 2 staff rooms, water and sanitation facilities.
“Sometimes when some people on ground interact with RDF soldiers, they shed that tear of joy and inspired awe,” explains the RDF officer in Peace Support Operations office.
Today, the youngsters can earn knowledge seated in well constructed class rooms, thanks to RDF efforts in building the structures. Much more has been done.
HOW IT STARTED
Rwanda’s participation in Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) is a legal mandate derived from the responsibility to contribute to the cause of humanity as an active and responsible member state of the UN. This responsibility is further buttressed by the 1994 experience of the failure of International Community to intervene during the genocide against the Tutsi.
Rwanda was the first Troop Contributing Country (TCC) to deploy in Darfur in August 2004. This marked its first participation in PKO with deployment of 155 RDF military personnel under the African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS). The RDF military personnel were one year later joined by the 1st Rwanda National Police contingent of 49 officers in 2005.
Within a period of almost 12 years since its entry into peacekeeping role, Rwanda has so far contributed 48,777 uniformed personnel comprised of 44,883 military personnel and 3,894 civilian police personnel in 14 Peacekeeping (PK) Missions since August 2004. Rwanda’s current contribution to peacekeeping missions is 6,107 peacekeepers comprised of Military and Civilian Police and ranked the 5th largest contributor of peacekeepers worldwide.
The leadership of Rwanda has a very strong resolve to effectively contribute to peacekeeping. “Rwanda’s recent history informs our strong commitment to peace keeping and peace building,” says president Paul Kagame. This determination has made Rwanda rise to the position of the 5th largest contributor of peacekeepers worldwide within a period of 12 years since July 2004.
For the leadership of Rwanda, deployment is not an end in itself as President Kagame explains; “When lives are at stake, nothing matters than saving them. Protection of Civilians must be the central purpose of Peacekeeping.”Training, equipping and promptly getting peacekeeping forces on ground is therefore of essence.
CONTRIBUTION OVER THE YEARS
Rwanda has to date participated in 14 peacekeeping missions: AMISECin Comoros, AMIS, AMISOM, MINUSCA, MINUSMA, MINUSTAHA, MINURCAT, UNIOGBIS, UNAMID, UNISFA, UNMIL, UNMIS, UNMISS and UNOCI.
Rwanda has also contributed senior mission leaders such as Special Representative of the Secretary General, Force Commanders, Deputy Force Commanders and various senior officers at different levels of mission leadership. The Police has also contributed senior mission leaders in the positions of UNAMID Police Chief of staff, UNOCI Police Commissioner and UNMISS Police Commissioner.
CURRENT CONTRIBUTION TO INDIVIDUAL MISSIONS
The current contribution to peacekeeping missions is as follows:
* UNAMID (Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur): 2,511 peacekeepers comprised of; 3x Infantry Battalions with total strength of 2,424 Military Personnel; 31 Military Observers, Staff Officers and Liaison officers and 56 Individual Police Officers (IPOs).
* UNMISS (UN Mission in South Sudan): 2,066 peacekeepers comprised of: 2 x Infantry Battalions with total strength of 1,650 MilitaryPersonnel, 1 x Aviation unit of 165 Military Personnel, 48 Staff Officers, MILOBS and Liaison Officers, 170 members of Formed Police Unit (FPU), 31 Individual Police Officers (IPOs) and 2 Police professional posts.
* UNISFA (UN Interim Security Force in Abyei): Comprised of; 06 Military Observers, Staff Officers, 1 Police professional post.
* AMISOM, Somalia: 01 Staff Officer.
* MINUSCA: 1287 peacekeepers comprised of: 1 x Infantry Battalion (750 Military Personnel), 1 x Level II Hospital (70 Personnel), 33 Military Observers, Staff Officers and Liaison Officer, 420 members of FPU and 14 IPOs.
* MINUSTAH (UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti): 192 peacekeepers comprising of : 160 members of FPU and 32 IPOs.
* UNOCI (UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire): 35 peacekeepers comprised of 34 IPOs and one Police professional post.
In addition to deployment in PK missions under AU/UN, Rwanda is actively involved in building regional capacities for the Eastern Africa Standby Force (EASF), a grouping of 10 Eastern African countries, which recently contributed about 5,000 troops that will constitute a rapid force capable of deploying to war-torn areas within two weeks notice. Rwanda also joined other African Volunteer Nations in the operationalization of the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises (ACIRC). The EASF regional mechanism comprised of 10 Member States also established a capability to carry out preventive action, rapid intervention, peace support operations, and peace enforcement.
Under Rwanda’s Chairmanship, the EASF attained its Full Operation Capability (FOC) in December 2014, a year ahead of the AU’s roadmap. In August 2014, Rwanda hosted the EASF Pledging Conference and pledged forces and equipment to this capability development as follows:
* 1 x Motorized Battalion
* 1 x Level II Hospital
* 1 x Special Operations’ Forces (SOF) Company
* Military Staff Officers and Observers
Rwanda’s Rapid Deployment Capabilitiesto mission areas makes a difference in saving lives as demonstrated below:
In August 2004, Rwanda was the first country to deploy a company of peacekeepers in Darfur under the AMIS, setting the stage for other contingents to subsequently deploy.
Similarly, in January 2014, Rwanda deployed a Mechanized Battalion to the Central African Republic in less than a month after the AU’s request, serving as another example of RDF rapid deployment capability in crisis situations.
Rwanda strongly advocates for the protection of civilians as the central purpose of Peacekeeping. The successful conduct of a Protection of Civilians (POC) Conference in May 2015 is one of the testimonies to the advocacy for POC. “The Kigali Principles on POC” that came out of the conference calls on UN, Troop Contributing Countries and Financial Contributing Countries to do more in POC.
FEMALE OFFICERS IN PEACEKEEPING
Rwandan female officers, just like their male counterparts, have offered invaluable services during their stay in peacekeeping missions. They have been well-known for promoting gender equality in their mission areas, and also training local populations in life skills.
Specifically, a Rwandan peacekeeper, SgtFeliciteMujawamariya, was awarded with a medal of excellence by the UN for her outstanding performance in reform and restructuring as the UN Team Site Commander in Darfur, while another, CIP Antoinette Umuraza, was in 2014 appointed the chairperson of the United Nations Police (UNPOL) Women Network under the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (Minusca).
BEYOND PEACEKEEPING (CIMIC ACTIVITIES)
For the first time in history of peace keeping missions, Rwanda peacekeepers introduced aggressive peacekeeping, used women peacekeepers for protection of vulnerable women and girls in situations of conflict and engaged in activities to foster conflict resolution mechanisms.
Based on post-conflict peace-building experience, Rwandan peacekeepers bring a distinctive approach to peacekeeping informed by the Rwandan home-grown solutions such as: Community work (Umuganda), environmental protection initiatives including teaching local communities to make energy saving stoves (Rondereza), tree planting and cleaning up neighborhoods in Mission Areas. This approach of supporting local communities in mission deployment areas bond peacekeepers with the people they serve, a factor that is crucial in improving responsive and effective Protection of Civilians (POC).
As President Paul Kagame, Commander-In-Chief says, peacekeeping missions need to earn and keep trust, and inspire confidence among the communities they are deployed to protect.
“Rwanda has been on both sides of the equation. Without a relationship of trust between the protector and the protected, peacekeeping loses its meaning and relevance,” he considers.
The leadership of Rwanda is strongly committed to effectively and meaningfully contribute to peacekeeping globally. Prompt deployment of well trained and equipped forces is an issue that is always taken into consideration whenever called upon to contribute peacekeepers for new missions.
Rwanda’s participation in peacekeeping has contributed to mitigation of effects of armed conflicts in all missions through protection of civilians. Our forces are so much committed to the cause of humanity to the extent of paying the ultimate price of death for the noble cause of POC.
Our forces have also demonstrated commitment to the cause of humanity through contribution to social development in all deployment areas through communal work (umuganda) through construction of schools, health facilities, making fuel saving stoves (rondereza) among others.