Open main menu

Rwanda Defence Force

  (Redirected from Rwandan Armed Forces)

The Rwanda Defence Force (RDF, Kinyarwanda: Ingabo z'u Rwanda; French: Forces rwandaises de défense) is the national army of Rwanda. The country's armed forces were originally known as the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), but following the victory of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (Inkotanyi) in the country's civil war in 1994, it was renamed to the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), and later to its current name.

Rwanda Defence Force
Ingabo z'u Rwanda
Forces rwandaises de défense
Nguvu ya Ulinzi ya Watu wa Rwanda
Rwanda Defense Force emblem.png
Current form1994
Service branchesRwanda Land Forces Emblem.png Land Forces
Rwanda Air Forces Emblem.png Air Force
Reserve Force
HeadquartersPost Box 23, Kigali[1]
Commander-in-ChiefPresident Paul Kagame
Minister of DefenceMajor General Albert Murasira
Chief of Defence StaffGeneral Patrick Nyamvumba
Available for
military service
2,625,917 males, age 16–49[3] (2010 est.),
2,608,110 females, age 16–49[3] (2010 est.)
Fit for
military service
1,685,066 males, age 16–49[3] (2010 est.),
1,749,580 females, age 16–49[3] (2010 est.)
Reaching military
age annually
(2010 est.)
Active personnel33,000[2]
Budget$91 million (2015)[2]
Percent of GDP1.1% (2015)[2]
Related articles
HistoryMilitary history of Rwanda
Rwandan Civil War
First Congo War
Second Congo War
Six-Day War (2000)
Dongo conflict
2009 Eastern Congo offensive

The RDF comprises:[4]

  • High Command Council of the RDF
  • General Staff of the RDF
  • Rwanda Land Force
  • Rwanda Air Force
  • Individual units
  • Army Band of the RDF

In November 2002 Emmanuel Habyarimana was removed[by whom?] from his post as Minister of Defence, an action which government spokesperson Joseph Bideri attributed to his "extreme pro-Hutu" views.[5] Marcel Gatsinzi became Minister of Defence (in office 2002-2010) in succession to Habyarimana.

After it conquered the country in July 1994 in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide of April to July 1994, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) decided to split into a political division (which retained the RPF name) and a military division, which would serve as the official army of the Rwandan state.

Defence spending continues to represent an important share of the national budget, largely due to continuing security problems along Rwanda's frontiers with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, and lingering concerns about Uganda's intentions towards its former ally. The Rwandan government launched an ambitious plan to demobilize thousands of soldiers, resulting in a standing military of 33,000 and another 2,000-strong paramilitary force - a decrease from 70,000 in just a decade.

During the First and Second Congo Wars of 1996-2003, the RPF committed wide-scale human-rights violations and crimes against humanity in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the United Nations Mapping Report.[6]

Historical outline 1962–1994Edit

Hutu militants
Rwandan genocide (1994)
Rwandan Armed Forces
Refugee crisis
RDR (1995–1996)
1st and 2nd Congo War
ALiR (1996–2001)
FDLR (2000–present)

The U.S. Army's Area Handbook for Rwanda, compiled in 1968-9, describes the security forces of Rwanda in 1969 as the 2,500 strong National Guard and the National Police, about 1,200 strong.[7] The National Guard had been established two years before independence and had gained experience by repelling small Tutsi invasions in 1963 and 1964. It was under the direction of the Minister of Defence, Juvénal Habyarimana, who also held the function of Chief of Staff of the National Guard in mid-1969. At that time it was composed of a headquarters, an intervention group (effectively an infantry battalion), five other rifle companies, and five independent rifle platoons.

The Forces armées rwandaises (FAR) was the national army of Rwanda until July 1994, when the government collapsed in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and the war with the Rwandan Patriotic Front/(Inkotanyi). The FAR was estimated at 7,000 strong, including approximately 1,200 members of the Gendarmerie. Elite troops included the Presidential Guard, estimated at between 1,000-1,300 troops, as well as the Paracommando and Reconnaissance units.[8] These two units were of battalion strength by 1994, and then counted a total of 800 troops.[9]

In response to the RPF invasion of 1990, the 5,000-man FAR rapidly expanded, with French training assistance (as many as 1,100 French troops were in Rwanda at a time[10]), to some 30,000 by 1992.[11]

The Arusha Accords, signed on August 4, 1993, laid out a detailed plan for the integration of the Rwandan Government and Rwandan Patriotic Front military forces.[12] The Rwandan government was to provide 60% of the troops for the new integrated army, but would have to share command positions with the RPF down to the level of battalion. The new army was to consist of no more than 19,000 soldiers and 6,000 Gendarmerie.[13] However radical elements within the Rwandan government were implacably opposed to implementation of the Accords and, instead, began the planning that would lay the foundations for the genocide.

The Reconnaissance Battalion's commander, François-Xavier Nzuwonemeye, and his subordinates played a key role during the genocide. Together with the Reconnaissance Battalion, the Paracommando Battalion under Major Aloys Ntabakuze and the Presidential Guard under Major Protais Mpiranya became the three most significant genocidare units.

Col. Marcel Gatsinzi was briefly named chief of staff of the Rwandan army from April 6 to April 16, 1994, but was replaced by Augustin Bizimungu, who was also promoted to major general on 18 April,[14] since Col. Gatsinzi opposed the genocide.[15] Bizimungu was only briefly chief of staff before fleeing the country. Many soldiers of the FAR have since been implicated by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the genocide, including its leader during the genocide, Col. Théoneste Bagosora, who was chief of the cabinet (private office) of the Ministry of Defence prior to the genocide.

Many elements of the former Rwandan regime, including soldiers of the FAR, fled to eastern Zaire after the RPF victory, where they formed the Rassemblement Démocratique pour le Rwanda (RDR), which later became the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), which is still active in eastern Congo's North Kivu Province.


Forces Armées RwandaisesEdit

The Forces Armées Rwandaises (FAR) was composed of the Gendarmerie Nationale (6,000 personnel in 1994) and the Rwandan Army (30,000 troops in 1994).[16]

President and Commander-in-Chief

Minister of Defence

Chief of Staff of the Rwandan Army

Chief of Staff of the Gendarmerie Nationale

Rwandan Patriotic Army/Rwanda Defense ForceEdit

President and Commander-in-Chief

  • Pasteur Bizimungu, 19 July 1994 to 23 March 2000, although Paul Kagame the Minister of Defence was also Commander-in-Chief. (Placed under house arrest 19 April 2002; sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for attempting to form a militia, inciting violence, and embezzlement 7 June 2004; appeal denied 17 February 2006; pardoned and released from prison 6 April 2007).
  • Paul Kagame, 22 April 2000 to present.

Minister of Defence

Chief of Defence Staff

Land ForcesEdit

A number of sources, including Gérard Prunier, document U.S. aid to the RPA before the First Congo War.[22] The officially admitted part of the training was Joint Combined Exchange Training. Prunier strongly implies the United States supplied communications equipment, vehicles, boots, and medicines to the RPA before the war began and after it broke out, delivered second-hand Warsaw Pact weapons and ammunition either directly to Goma or by airdrop along the AFDL front lines. He reports that after the war's outbreak, the U.S. Air Force had switched from using C-141 Starlifters and C-5 Galaxys to deliver the non-lethal aid to Kigali Airport and Entebbe Airport, to airdrops by C-130 Hercules aircraft.[23]

From July 1994 until December 1997 the RPA had six brigades, as designated in the Arusha Accords: 402nd in Kigali and Kigali Rurale Prefecture; 201st in Kibungo, Umatura, and Byumba Prefectures; 301st in Butare, Gikongoro, and Cyangugu Prefectures; 305th in Gitatama and Kibuye Prefectures; and 211th in Gisenyi and Ruhengeri Prefectures. The brigade boundaries mirrored the political administrative boundaries, which often complicated military operations.[24] During the First Congo War the brigade headquarters remained inside Rwanda but directed operations inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[25]

Jane's World Armies said in July 2009 that 'the RDF is deployed to protect the country's borders and defend against external aggression. There are four divisions, each deploying three brigades:

  • 1 Division, based at Kigali, covers the central and east region;
  • 2 Division, based at Byumba, covers the north and east region;
  • 3 Division, based at Gisenyi, covers the northwest region; and
  • 4 Division, based at Butare, covers the southwest region.'[26]

The Cyangugu Military Camp has been reported to house the 31st Brigade [301 Brigade?] of the 4th Division.[27]

Brigades mentioned in press reports include:

  • Special Forces Brigade (Brig. Innocent Kabanda)
  • Artillery Brigade
  • 201 Brigade (Col. Alex Ngoga Kayumba)
  • 204 Brigade, Gasabo District, Kigali
  • 211 Brigade (Col. Jomba Gakumba)
  • 301 Brigade
  • 305 Brigade (Col. Paul Nyemazi)
  • 307 Brigade
  • 402 Brigade
  • 408 Brigade, Rusizi District (Brig. Vincent Gatame)
  • 411 Brigade
  • 501 Brigade
  • 503 Brigade
  • 511 Brigade, Gicumbe District

Gen. Patrick Nyamvumba has been Chief of Defence Staff since June 2013.

Many soldiers from the former Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), the national army under the previous regime, have been incorporated into the RDF since 1994. This process began soon after the genocide in January 1995, when several former FAR officers were given senior positions in the new armed forces: Col. (later Gen.) Marcel Gatsinzi became the Deputy Chief of Staff of the RPA, Col. Balthazar Ndengeyinka became commander of the 305th Brigade, Lt. Col. Laurent Munyakazi took command of the 99th Battalion, and Lt. Col. (later Brig. Gen.) Emmanuel Habyarimana became an RPA Member of Parliament and Director of Training in the Ministry of Defence. Gen. Gatsinzi later became Director of Security and then Minister of Defence in 2002.[28]

Rwandan soldiers carrying equipment at Kigali International Airport

Circa 2000 during the Second Congo War, the Rwanda Patriotic Army unofficially admitted to having 4,000 to 8,000 troops deployed in the Congo, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit, but this was believed to be a substantial understatement.[29] The International Crisis Group estimated that the RPA has between 17,000 and 25,000 troops deployed in the Congo. In April 2001, a United Nations report on the exploitation of the Congo, said the RPA had a minimum of 25,000 troops in the Congo, an estimate the report attributes to "military specialists with a great deal of experience in the region."[30] During the deployment on DRC, Rwandan forces fought the so-called "Six-Day War" against Ugandan forces over the city of Kisangani, leaving at least 1,000 dead.

On 17 September 2002 the first Rwandan soldiers were withdrawn from the eastern DRC. On 5 October Rwanda announced the completion of its withdrawal; MONUC confirmed the departure of over 20,000 Rwandan soldiers.

The RDF reentered the DRC twice in 2009; to partake in a joint offensive against the FDLR, and to assist the DRC in putting down the Dongo Rebellion. Both deployments were militarily successful.

Air forceEdit

Roundel of Rwanda

After achieving independence in 1962, the air arm (Force aérienne rwandaise) was formed with Belgian help.[31] By 1972 the first modern equipment started to arrive in the form of seven Alouette IIIs. Other deliveries included SA 342L Gazelles, Britten-Norman Islanders, Nord Noratlas, SOCATA Guerrier armed light planes and AS 350B Ecureuils. After fighting began between the RPA and the government in 1990 most aircraft were shot down, destroyed on the ground or crashed. Few survived.

Flight International's World Air Forces 2017 states the Rwandan Air Force has twelve Mil Mi-8/17 helicopters, five Mil Mi-24 and four Aerospatiale Gazelle SA.342.

During December 2012 an aviation unit of three helicopters was sent to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).[32] The Rwandan Aviation Unit was subsequently increased to six helicopters - reportedly Mi-17.[33]


Type Manufacturer Origin Class Role In service[34] Photo
Mi-24 Mil   Helicopter Attack 5  
Mi-8/17 Mil   Helicopter Transport 12  
SA.342 Gazelle Aerospatiale   Helicopter Utility 4  



Marching styleEdit

The military parade of the RDF during the Liberation Day celebrations in 2014.

Despite not being a former British colony, Rwanda has generally used British foot drill during official parades and functions. Since 2019 however, the RDF adopted the Chinese variant of the goosestep, which is today mostly used by countries in Central and Eastern Europe, communist countries, as well as countries with a large Prussian/German influence (Russia, China and Chile all being examples of each). It was first displayed in April during the military parade in honor of the Rwandan Genocide's silver jubilee on Liberation Day, in which over 1,500 RDF soldiers and policemen trained by six members of the Beijing Garrison Honor Guard Battalion of the People's Liberation Army's Central Theater Command marched while using the goosestep. It the introduction of the goosestep also saw to use of Mandarin parade commands such as "Look to the Right!" to which the soldiers respond with "One! Two!", which is done similarly in the PLA honor guard[46][47][48] Prior to this, only the rebels who during the Civil War utilized the goosestep as they received military training in the neighboring country of Uganda, which uses the goosestep.[49]

RDF BandEdit

The RDF Band.

The Rwanda Defence Forces Army Band is the ceremonial military band of the RDF. The RDF Band was founded in 1992 during the Rwandan Civil War and had its first performance on March 8, 1992 when it only had 16 members. After the war, it was reestablished with 46 members. In 2002, Lieutenant Colonel Lemeul Kayumba was appointed commanding officer of the band. Under his leadership, the band introduced intensive training and relationships with foreign military music programs. Although it represents the defence forces, it falls under the command of the Land Forces. It is currently led by Commanding Officer Lieutenant Leonard Ndayambaje.[50][51]

The RDF Band is made up of 4 ensembles:

  • Workshop
  • Harmony
  • Ceremonial
  • Jazz


  1. ^ "World Defence Almanac". Military Technology. Bonn, Germany: Monch Publishing Group. XXXII (1). 2008. ISSN 0722-3226.
  2. ^ a b c IISS 2016, p. 462.
  3. ^ "CIA World Factbook". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  4. ^ Rwandan Ministry of Defence, Law Establishing Rwanda Defence Forces, LAW N° 19/2002 of 17/05/2002, J.O. n° 13 of 01/07/2002
  5. ^ "Rwanda ex-minister defects". BBC News. 2003-04-01. Retrieved 2015-10-15. [General Habyarimana] was defence minister from 2000 until November last year, when Rwandan spokesman Joseph Bideri said he was sacked for his "extreme pro-Hutu" views.
  6. ^ "OHCHR | DRC: Mapping human rights violations 1993-2003". Retrieved Sep 6, 2019.
  7. ^ Richard F,. Nyrop, 'Area Handbook for Rwanda,' DA 550-84, research completed April 1, 1969, p.184-185
  8. ^ Des Forges, 1999, p.43
  9. ^ Des Forges, 1999, p.194
  10. ^ Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis, p.163, cited in Des Forges, 1999, p.118
  11. ^ Alison Des Forges, 'Leave None to Tell the Story,' Human Rights Watch, March 1999, ISBN 1-56432-171-1, p.60
  12. ^ See Arusha Accords, hosted at University of Ulster, pages 49-71
  13. ^ Des Forges, 1999, p.124-125
  14. ^ Guichaoua, André (2015). From War to Genocide: Criminal Politics in Rwanda, 1990–1994. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 251. ISBN 9780299298203.
  15. ^ Des Forges, 1999, p. 264
  16. ^ "The Prosecutor v. Théoneste Bagosora et al., Case No. ICTR-98-41-T, Judgement and Sentence" (PDF). International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. 18 December 2008. pp. 32–34.
  17. ^ "The Prosecutor v. Ndindiliyimana et al., Case No. ICTR-00-56-T, Judgement and Sentence" (PDF). International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. 17 May 2011. paras. 84–86.
  18. ^ Guichaoua, André (2015). From War to Genocide: Criminal Politics in Rwanda, 1990–1994. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 279. ISBN 9780299298203.
  19. ^ "Rwanda Cabinet reshuffle". Oct 19, 2018. Retrieved Sep 6, 2019.
  20. ^ "Major General Murasira takes charge as the new Defence Minister". Retrieved Sep 6, 2019.
  21. ^ "Leaders". Retrieved Sep 6, 2019.
  22. ^ Gerard Prunier, From Genocide to Continental War, 2009, p.126-127 and "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2009-10-22. Retrieved 2009-11-17.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  23. ^ Gerard Prunier, From Genocide to Continental War: The "Congolese" Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa, C. Hurst & Co, 2009, ISBN 978-1-85065-523-7, p.127, citing author's direct personal observation and several interviews with journalists, both local and foreign, in Kigali and Kampala, 1995 and 1996, for the Kigali/Entebbe report, and interviews with DGSE officers, Paris, May 1997, and UPDF officers, Kampala, November 1997 for the C-130 airdrop report.
  24. ^ Rick Orth (former United States Army attache in Rwanda), Rwanda's Hutu Extremist genocidal Insurgency: An Eyewitness Perspective, Small Wars & Insurgencies, Volume 12, Number 1, Spring 2001, pp. 76-109 (34), note 67, page 108
  25. ^ Orth, 2001, note 67, page 108
  26. ^ Jane's World Armies: Rwanda, Role and Deployment,' July 2009
  27. ^ "Honoré Ngbanda Nzambo" (PDF). Retrieved Sep 6, 2019.
  28. ^ Orth 2001
  29. ^ "The Rwandan patriotic Army and Military Commercialism in Eastern Congo" (PDF). Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  30. ^ United Nations Security Council, Report of the Panel of Experts on the Illegal Exploitation of Natural Resources and Other Forms of Wealth of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, S/2001/357, 12 April 2001
  31. ^ World Aircraft Information Files Brightstar Publishing London File 338 sheet 4
  32. ^ 'Rwanda deploys Aviation Units in UN Mission in South Sudan', RDF website, 27 December 2012, viewed 13 February 2013.
  33. ^ 'Female Rwandese pilots deployed with UNMISS', RDF website reprinted from UNMISS News Issue 4, 16 April 2015, viewed 20 April 2015.
  34. ^ "World Air Forces 2017". Flightglobal: 14. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  35. ^ "Rwanda Rwandan army land ground forces military equipment armoured vehicle pictures information desc - Army Recognition". Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  36. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l IISS 2016, p. 463.
  37. ^ Binnie, Jeremy (14 November 2017). "Rwandan SH3 self-propelled howitzer spotted". IHS Jane's 360. Archived from the original on 14 November 2017. Retrieved 14 November 2017.
  38. ^ a b c d Jones, Richard D. Jane's Infantry Weapons 2009/2010. Jane's Information Group; 35th edition (January 27, 2009). ISBN 978-0-7106-2869-5.
  39. ^ "Rwanda Rwandan Army ranks land ground forces combat uniforms military equipment rwandais grades unif – Army Recognition – Army Recognition". Retrieved 29 December 2013.
  40. ^ "Rifle R4 – Assault Rifle / Carbine – History, Specs and Pictures – Military, Security and Civilian Guns and Equipment". 23 May 2012. Retrieved 1 October 2012.
  41. ^ "تقرير إعلامي موجز: عيارات نارية في أيدي متمردي جمهورية الكونغو الديمقراطية مصدرها اليونان والصين وروسيا والولايات المتحدة | منظمة العفو الدولية". Dec 6, 2018. Retrieved Sep 6, 2019.
  42. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-06-29. Retrieved 2016-07-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  43. ^ Rwanda Archived 2013-01-17 at the Wayback Machine
  44. ^ Albert Gonzalez Farran (2014-02-10). "WFP food distribution". UNAMID. Retrieved 2017-06-04.
  45. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-07-28. Retrieved 2014-07-20.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  46. ^ "Rwandan troops trained by Chinese mark 25th anniversary of liberation". South China Morning Post. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  47. ^ "Rwandan troops trained by China mark genocide anniversary". Inkstone. Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  48. ^ "Chinese guards of honor help Rwandan troops complete military parade marking liberation anniversary - China Military". Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  49. ^ Parker, Allison (2002). Hidden in Plain View: Refugees Living Without Protection in Nairobi and Kampala. New York, NY: Human Rights Watch. p. 89. ISBN 9781564322814. The RPF had very close ties with the Ugandan government as many of its leaders came from the exiled Tutsi community in Uganda and had become an important force within Museveni's rebel force ... As a result, many members of the elite in Rwanda look back on a period of military training in Uganda, and retain close links with the Ugandan military.
  50. ^ " - This website is for sale! - rwfacts Resources and Information". Retrieved 2019-10-24.
  51. ^ Kidz, Cool Classic (Feb 4, 2011). "The Rwandan Defence Force Army Band receive training from the SA Army Band Cape Town". SA Army Band Cape Town. Retrieved Sep 6, 2019.


  • IISS (2016). The Military Balance 2016. Routledge. ISBN 978-1857438352.
  • Alison Des Forges, 'Leave None to Tell the Story,' Human Rights Watch, March 1999, ISBN 1-56432-171-1
  • Richard F. Nyrop, Lyle E. Brenneman, Roy V. Hibbs, Charlene A. James, Susan MacKnight, Gordon C. McDonald; Army Area Handbook for Rwanda, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969. Research and writing completed April 1, 1969.
  • Rick Orth (former United States Army attache in Rwanda), Rwanda's Hutu Extremist genocidal Insurgency: An Eyewitness Perspective, Small Wars & Insurgencies, Volume 12, Number 1, Spring 2001
  • Gérard Prunier, From Genocide to Continental War: The "Congolese" Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa, C. Hurst & Co, 2009, ISBN 978-1-85065-523-7
  • Dallaire, Lt. Gen. Romeo, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Random House of Canada Ltd, Toronto, 2003.
  • Fontanellaz, Adrien & Cooper, Tom, Africa@War Volume 24: The Rwandan Patriotic Front 1990–1994, Helion & Co Ltd, England, and Thirty Degrees South Publishers Pty Ltd, Johannesburg, 2015.

Further readingEdit

External linksEdit