Rwandan Defence Forces

Rwandan Defence Forces
Rwanda Defence Forces
Forces Rwandaises de Défense
Founded 1962
Current form 1994
Service branches Army, Air Force, Reserve Force
Headquarters Post Box 23, Kigali
President of Rwanda Paul Kagame
Minister of Defence James Kabarebe
Chief of Defense Staff Charles Kayonga
Available for
military service
2,004,750 males, age 16–49[1] (2005 est.),
1,990,935 females, age 16–49[1] (2005 est.)
Fit for
military service
1,103,823 males, age 16–49[1] (2005 est.),
1,096,644 females, age 16–49[1] (2005 est.)
Percent of GDP 13.3% (2006 est.)

The Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF, in French Forces Rwandaises de Défense) is the national army of Rwanda. Largely composed of former Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) fighters, it comprises (a) The High Command Council of the Rwanda Defence Forces; (b) the General Staff of the Rwanda Defence Forces; (c) the Rwanda Land Force; (d) the Rwanda Air Force; and (e) specialised units.[2] In November 2002 Emmanuel Habyarimana was removed from his post as Minister of Defence, which government spokesperson Joseph Bideri attributed to his "extreme pro-Hutu" views.[3] Habyarimana was replaced by Marcel Gatsinzi.

After the successful conquest of the country in 1994 in the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front decided to split the RPF into a political division (which retained the RPF name) and a military division, which was to serve as the official army of the Rwandan state in two distinct and independent institutions.

Many soldiers from the former Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), the national army under the previous regime (see next section), 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 high positions in the new armed forces: Colonel Marcel Gatsinzi became the Deputy Chief of Staff of the RPA, Colonel Balthazar Ndengeyinka became commander of the 305th Brigade, LTC Laurent Munyakazi took command of the 99th battalion, and LTC Emmanuel Habyarimana became an RPA member of parliament and the director for training in the Ministry of Defence. Gatsinzi later became Director of Security and then Ministry of Defence in 2002.[4]

Defense spending continues to represent an important share of the national budget, largely due to continuing security problems along the frontiers with the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Burundi, and lingering concerns about Uganda's intentions towards its former ally. The government has launched an ambitious plan to demobilize thousands of soldiers.

Four serving army officers of the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF) were indicted in June 2008 for crimes committed during the 1994 genocide.[5]


Rwandan Armed Forces ~1960-1994

Hutu militants
Rwandan Genocide (1994)
Rwandan Armed Forces
Refugee crisis
RDR (1995–1996)
1st and 2nd Congo War
ALiR (1996–2001)
FDLR (2000–present)
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The U.S. Army's Area Handbook for Rwanda, compiled in 1968-69, describes the security forces of Rwanda in 1969 as the 2,500 plus strong National Guard and the National police, about 1,200 strong.[6] 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 Rwandan Armed Forces or Forces Armées Rwandaises was the national army of Rwanda until July 1994, when the Hutu-dominated government collapsed in the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide and the invasion by Paul Kagame's Rwandan Patriotic Front. Alison Des Forges and Human Rights Watch describe the army under President, former General, Juvénal Habyarimana, as some 7,000 strong, including about 1,200 of whom were part of the Gendarmerie. Elite troops included the Presidential Guard, estimated at between 1000 - 1300 troops, as well as the Paracommando and Reconnaissance units.[7] These two units were of battalion strength by 1994, and then counted a total of 800 troops.[8]

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[9]), to some 30,000 by 1992.[10] A significant number of the new soldiers opposed the negotiations with the RPF (the process that would lead to the Arusha Accords), not just because they did not wish to give up the fight, but because the dreaded demobilisation, and potential return to menial labour that they thought they 'had left behind' by their new military careers.

The Arusha Accords, signed on August 4, 1993, laid out a very detailed plan for the integration of the Rwandan Government and Rwandan Patriotic Front military forces.[11] 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.[12] 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.

Colonel Marcel Gatsinzi was briefly named chief of staff of the armed forces from April 6 to April 16, 1994, but was replaced by Augustin Bizimungu, quickly promoted to major general, as Gatsinzi opposed the genocide.[13] 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, Colonel Théoneste Bagosora, who was chief of the cabinet (private office) of the Ministry of Defence prior to the genocide. Other top leaders in the FAR were implicated in the assassination of the President, Juvénal Habyarimana, which sparked the genocide.

Many elements of the former Rwandan régime, including soldiers formerly of the FAR, fled to eastern Zaire after the RPF victory, where they formed the RDR army, which still has a descendant force in today's Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda, active primarily in North Kivu.

Land Forces

A number of sources, including Gerard Prunier, document U.S. aid to the RPA before the First Congo War.[14] 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 United States 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.[15]

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.[16] During the First Congo War the brigade headquarters remained inside Rwanda but directed operations inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[17]

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.'[18]

The Cyangungu Military Camp (alternative spelling seems to be Cyangugu) has been reported to house the 31st Brigade of the 4th Division of the Rwandan Defence Forces.[19]

Lieutenant General Charles Kayonga is the Chief of defense Staff of the Rwandese Defence Forces.[20]


Small arms reported in service include the Soviet AK-47, AKM, the South African R4 rifle, the German Heckler & Koch G3, the Belgain FN FAL, the Soviet RPK machine gun and DShK machine gun, the Soviet RPG-7, and three types of mortar: French 81mm mortar and 120mm mortar, and Soviet 82mm mortar.

Tanks and IFVs

Armoured Personnel Carriers

Armored Cars

Surface to air missiles

Artillery and Multiple Rocket Launchers

Air Force

After achieving independence in 1962, the air arm (Force Aerienne Rwandaise) was formed with Belgian help.[21] By 1972 the first modern equiment 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.

Aircraft reported to be currently in service are listed below.

Aircraft Origin Type Versions In service[22] Notes
Aérospatiale SA 365 Dauphin  France utility helicopter SA 365CS 1
Aérospatiale SA 355 Ecureuil  France utility helicopter SA 355F 1
Mil Mi-24 Hind  Soviet Union attack helicopter 2
Mil Mi-8 Hip  Soviet Union transport helicopter 3
SA-342 Gazelle
attack helicopter


SA-316B Alouette-III
utility helicopter



  1. ^ CIA World Factbook
  2. ^ 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
  3. ^ "Rwanda ex-minister defects". BBC News. 2003-04-01. Retrieved 2008-02-07. 
  4. ^ Orth 2001
  5. ^
  6. ^ Richard F,. Nyrop, 'Area Handbook for Rwanda,' DA 550-84, research completed April 1, 1969, p.184-185
  7. ^ Des Forges, 1999, p.43
  8. ^ Des Forges, 1999, p.194
  9. ^ Prunier, The Rwanda Crisis, p.163, cited in Des Forges, 1999, p.118
  10. ^ Alison Des Forges, 'Leave None to Tell the Story,' Human Rights Watch, March 1999, ISBN 1-56432-171-1, p.60
  11. ^ See Arusha Accords, hosted at University of Ulster, pages 49-71
  12. ^ Des Forges, 1999, p.124-125
  13. ^ Des Forges, 1999, p.264
  14. ^ Gerard Prunier, From Genocide to Continental War, 2009, p.126-127 and [1]
  15. ^ 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.
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ Orth, 2001, note 67, page 108
  18. ^ Jane's World Armies: Rwanda, Role and Deployment,' July 2009
  19. ^ Honoré Ngbanda Nzambo[dead link]
  20. ^ and "World Defence Almanac". Military Technology (Bonn, Germany: Monch Publishing Group) XXXII (1): 326–327. 2008. ISSN 0722-3226. 
  21. ^ World Aircraft Information Files Brightstar Publishing London File 338 sheet 4
  22. ^ "World Military Aircraft Inventory", Aerospace Source Book 2007, Aviation Week & Space Technology, January 15, 2007.


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