Rwanda Defence Force


The Rwanda Defence Force (RDF, Kinyarwanda: Ingabo z'u Rwanda, French: Forces rwandaises de défense, Swahili: Nguvu ya Ulinzi ya Watu wa Rwanda) is the national army of Rwanda. The country's armed forces were originally known as the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR), but following the Rwandan Civil War of 1990–1994 and the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, the victorious Rwandan Patriotic Front (Inkotanyi) created a new organization and named it Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA). Later, it was renamed to its current name.

Rwanda Defence Force
Kinyarwanda: Ingabo z'u Rwanda
French: Forces rwandaises de défense
Swahili: Nguvu ya Ulinzi ya Watu wa Rwanda
Rwanda Defense Force emblem.png
Current form1994
Service branchesRwandan Army
Rwandan Air Force
HeadquartersPost Box 23, Kigali[1]
WebsiteOfficial website
Commander-in-ChiefPaul Kagame
Minister of DefenceMajor General Albert Murasira
Chief of Defence StaffGeneral Jean Bosco Kazura
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
Kibeho Massacre
First Congo War
Second Congo War
Six-Day War (2000)
Dongo conflict
2009 Eastern Congo offensive
Insurgency in Cabo Delgado
RanksMilitary ranks of Rwanda

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

The Rwanda Defence Force’s mission as provided in the Constitution of Rwanda is:

  • to defend the territorial integrity and the national sovereignty of the Republic;
  • to collaborate with other security organs in safe-guarding public order and enforcement of law;
  • to participate in humanitarian activities in case of disasters;
  • to contribute to the development of the country;
  • to participate in international peace-keeping missions, humanitarian assistance and training.

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.

There is an ongoing, low-level insurgency from Rwandan rebels based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, mainly the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (or FDLR).

The RDF is regularly deployed in peacekeeping missions in Africa. Rwanda is now one of the largest contributors of personnel on UN missions.

Historical outline 1960–1994Edit

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

While Rwanda was a Belgian colony administered as a part of Ruanda-Urundi, its security was provided by the Force Publique, the colonial army of the Belgian Congo. As the Congo was due to achieve independence in 1960 and withdraw its forces, the Belgian Special Resident decided to create an indigenous army to provide for Rwanda's security. On 19 May 1960 he ordered the recruitment of a 650-strong military force to become the Garde Territoriale. The force was later renamed the Garde Nationale.[5] 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.[6]

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 and 1,300 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]

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.[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.

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,[13] since Col. Gatsinzi opposed the genocide.[14] 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.

Operations post-1994Edit

Kibeho Massacre, 1995Edit

A massacre of internally displaced persons involving Rwandan Patriotic Army elements, at Kibeho in southern Rwanda during April 1995. See main article Kibeho Massacre.

First Congo War, 1996 to 1997Edit

See main article First Congo War.

Second Congo War, 1998 to 2003Edit

See main article Second Congo War.

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.[15] 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."[16] 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.

Ongoing InsurgencyEdit

There is an ongoing, low-level insurgency from Rwandan rebels based in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; mainly the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (or FDLR)[17] During early 2009 the RDF operated in eastern DRC against FDLR rebels in joint operations with the armed forces of the DRC. The initial 2009 deployment was code-named Operation Umoja Wetu. The RDF re-entered the DRC in 2009 to assist the DRC in putting down the Dongo Rebellion. These operations inside the DRC did not prevent cross-border attacks within Rwanda during late 2012, August 2013, December 2018 and December 2019.

There has also been a small number of attacks in southern Rwanda from Burundi-based rebels. These attacks are usually blamed on the National Forces of Liberation (Forces nationales de libération), or FNL.[18][19] The FNL is the armed wing of an externally-based opposition party: the Rwandan Movement for Democratic Change, or MRCD, which was formed by Paul Rusesabagina and Callixte Nsabimana.[20] Rusesabagina is considered by some to be a hero of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide and his actions are portrayed in the Hollywood film 'Hotel Rwanda'. Rusesabagina and Nsabimana were kidnapped and flown to Kigali, where they were arrested, in September 2020. Their trial continues.[21] Incursions into southern Rwanda by armed members of the FNL occurred in 2018 and 2019 [22] [23] and, more recently, on 27 June 2020 [24] and 23 May 2021.[25]

The Rwanda National Congress is another opposition group reported by the Kigali Government as carrying out attacks in Rwanda.[26][27] These include blame for grenade attacks in Rwanda between 2010 and 2014 that killed at least 17 people and injured over 400 others.[28]

Peace Support OperationsEdit

The RDF has deployed forces on a number of UN and AU endorsed peace support operations in Africa. Rwanda is now one of the largest contributors of personnel on UN missions. Deployments include:

African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) Units were deployed on year-long tours of duty between August 2004 and December 2007. The peak commitment was four battalions.

United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) In the first ever deployment of Rwandan personnel on a United Nations mission, a small contingent of 254 personnel was deployed for year-long tours between November 2005[29] and September 2010.

African Union/ United Nations Hybrid Mission to Darfur (UNAMID) This UN mission superseded the AU mission in the Darfur region of Sudan. Infantry battalions have been deployed, for year-long tours, between January 2008 and mid-2020. Starting with a peak deployed strength of four battalions, the numbers had declined by mid-2020 to two battalions.

United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) In April 2012 a Rwandan contingent was deployed to this UN mission in the newly independent country of South Sudan. The deployment was continuing in mid-2020, by when an aviation unit, two infantry battalions and a Regional Protection Force battalion were deployed.

AU-led International Support Mission to the CAR (MISCA) This African Union mission to the troubled Central African Republic was joined, between January and September 2014, by a Rwandan mechanised battalion.[30][31]

United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) This UN mission superseded the AU-led mission in the Central African Republic. Rwanda provides a protection battalion in the capital of Bangui, a level two hospital in the town of Bria and, from September 2017, a battle group comprising a mechanised infantry battalion. During August 2021 the Rwandan was expanded again, when a third Rwandan infantry battalion was deployed to the CAR.[32]

Mozambique On 9 July 2021 a 1000-strong joint Rwandan Military-Police force started deploying to northern Mozambique to assist the national security forces in combating Islamic extremists.[33] [34][35] The force was soon in action and within the month was reported to have overrun a terrorist base and inflicted casualties.[36][37] The Rwandan deployment to Mozambique under a bilateral agreement pre-empted a long-planned Southern African Development Council (SADC) military operation.[38]


Forces Armées RwandaisesEdit

No. Portrait Name
Term of office Ref.
Took office Left office Time in office
Chief of Staff of the Rwandan Army
1 Major general
Déogratias Nsabimana
April 1992 6 April 1994 † 2 years
2 Colonel
Marcel Gatsinzi
(born 1948)
7 April 1994 17 April 1994 10 days [39]
3 Major general
Augustin Bizimungu
(born 1952)
17 April 1994 July 1994 2 months [40][41]

Rwandan Patriotic Army/Rwanda Defense ForceEdit

No. Portrait Name
Term of office Ref.
Took office Left office Time in office
Chief of Defence Staff
1 Major general
Sam Kanyemera
1998 [42]
2   Lieutenant general
Faustin Kayumba Nyamwasa
(born 1962)
1998 2002 3–4 years
3   General
James Kabarebe
(born 1959)
October 2002 10 April 2010 7 years, 6 months
4 Lieutenant general
Charles Kayonga
(born 1962)
April 2010 June 2013 3 years, 2 months
5   General
Patrick Nyamvumba
(born 1967)
22 June 2013 4 November 2019 6 years, 4 months [43]
6   General
Jean Bosco Kazura
4 November 2019 Incumbent 2 years, 6 months [44]



Training EstablishmentsEdit

Major training centres include:[45][46][47][48]

  • RDF Command and Staff College, Nyakinama (Musanze District, Northern Province)
  • Rwanda Military Academy, Gako (Bugesera District, Eastern Province)
  • School of Infantry (Combat Training Centre), Gabiro
  • Nasho Training School

Land ForcesEdit

The RDF providing a guard of honour.

Several sources, including Gérard Prunier, document U.S. aid to the RPA before the First Congo War.[49] 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.[50]

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.[51] During the First Congo War the brigade headquarters remained inside Rwanda but directed operations inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo.[52]

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 (Mechanised) Division, based at Butare, covers the southwest region.[53][54][55]
  • Artillery Division[56]

Brigades reported include:

  • Republican Guard Brigade, Kigali[57]
  • Special Forces Brigade[58]
  • Engineering Brigade[59]
  • 201 Brigade, Kibungo[60][61]
  • 204 Brigade, Gasabo District, Kigali[62]
  • 211 Brigade, Gisenyi[60][63]
  • 301 Brigade, Butare[60]
  • 305 Brigade, Gitatama[60][63]
  • 307 Brigade[64]
  • 402 Brigade, Kigali[60]
  • 408 Brigade, Rusizi District[60][65]
  • 411 Brigade
  • 501 Brigade
  • 503 Brigade
  • 511 Brigade, Gicumbe District

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.[66]

Rwandan soldiers carrying equipment at Kigali International Airport

Air ForceEdit

Former roundel of Rwanda
Rwanda Defense Force MEDEVAC skills, January, 2011 - Flickr - US Army Africa (6)
Rwanda Defense Force MEDEVAC skills, January, 2011 - Flickr - US Army Africa

After achieving independence in 1962, the air arm (Force aérienne rwandaise) was formed with Belgian help.[67] By 1972 the first modern equipment started to arrive in the form of seven Alouette IIIs. Other deliveries included Aérospatiale Gazelle, Britten-Norman Islanders, Nord Noratlas, SOCATA Guerrier armed light planes and Eurocopter AS350 Écureuil. 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.[68]

During December 2012 an aviation unit of three helicopters was sent to the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).[69] The Rwandan Aviation Unit was subsequently increased to six helicopters - reportedly Mi-17.[70]


Type Manufacturer Origin Class Role In service[68] Photo
Mi-24 Mil   Soviet Union Helicopter Attack 5  
Mi-8/17 Mil   Soviet Union Helicopter Transport 12  
SA.342 Gazelle Aerospatiale   France Helicopter Utility 4  


Army equipmentEdit

Make Type Origin Photo Quantity[71]
T-54/55 Tank   Soviet Union   34[72]
Ratel IFV Infantry fighting vehicle   South Africa   35[72]
BMP-1 Infantry fighting vehicle   Soviet Union   ?[72]
RG-31 Nyala Infantry fighting vehicle   South Africa   36[72]
WZ-551 Armoured personnel carrier   China   20[72]
Panhard M3 Armoured personnel carrier   France   16
BTR-60 Armoured personnel carrier   Soviet Union   ?[72]
Véhicule Blindé Léger Armoured car   France   16[72]
Panhard AML Armoured car   France   12
RM-70 Multiple rocket launcher   Czechoslovakia   5[72]
LAR-160 Multiple rocket launcher   Israel   5[72]
122 mm howitzer 2A18 (D-30) Artillery   Soviet Union   6[72]
105mm M101 Artillery   United States   ?[72]
122 mm howitzer SH3 Artillery   China   ?[73]
152mm D-1 Artillery   Soviet Union   29[72]

Small armsEdit

Name Type Origin Photo Caliber.
FN FAL[74] Battle rifle   Belgium   7.62x51mm NATO
AK-47[75] Assault rifle   Soviet Union   7.62x39mm
AKM[76] Assault rifle   Soviet Union   7.62x39mm
Vektor R5[77][78] Assault rifle   South Africa   5.56×45mm NATO
IWI Tavor[79] Assault rifle   Israel   5.56×45mm NATO
Type 56 assault rifle[80] Assault rifle   China 7.62x39mm
Zastava M76[81] Sniper rifle   Yugoslavia   7.92×57mm Mauser
M2 Browning[74] Heavy machine gun   United States   .50 BMG (12.7×99mm NATO)
DShK[82] Heavy machine gun   Soviet Union 12.7×108mm
Vektor SS-77[83] General purpose machine gun   South Africa   7.62×51mm NATO
PKM General purpose machine gun   Soviet Union   7.62×54mmR
IMI Uzi[74] Submachine gun   Israel   9mm Parabellum
Browning Hi-Power[74] Semi-automatic weapon   Belgium   7.65×21mm Parabellum
RPG-7 Rocket launcher   Soviet Union  


Marching styleEdit

The military parade of the RDF during the Liberation Day celebrations in 2014.
Members of the Rwanda Defense Force move into formation after arriving in Bangui, Central African Republic (CAR), Jan. 16, 2014 140116-A-ZZ999-007

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, by communist countries, as well as by 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. Mandarin parade commands are used, such as "Look to the Right!" to which the soldiers respond with "One! Two!", which is done similarly in the PLA honor guard[84][85] Prior to this, only the rebels utilized the goosestep during the Civil War, as they received military training in the neighboring country of Uganda, which uses the goosestep.[86]

RDF BandEdit

The RDF Band.

The Rwanda Defence Forces Army Band is the military band of the RDF. The RDF Band was founded in 1992 during the Rwandan Civil War and gave its first performance on 8 March 1992. After the war, it was re-established with 46 members. Although it represents the defence forces, it falls under the command of the Land Forces.[87][88]


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  • Cooper, Tom, Africa@War Volume 14: Great Lakes Conflagration, The Second Congo War, 1998-2003, Helion & Co Ltd, England, 2013.
  • Dallaire, Lt. Gen. Romeo, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda, Random House of Canada Ltd, Toronto, 2003.
  • Des Forges, Alison, 'Leave None to Tell the Story,' Human Rights Watch, March 1999, ISBN 1-56432-171-1
  • 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.
  • IISS (2016). The Military Balance 2016. Routledge. ISBN 978-1857438352.
  • Lemarchand, René (1970). Rwanda and Burundi. New York: Praeger Publishers. OCLC 254366212.
  • Nyrop, Richard F., Brenneman, Lyle E., Hibbs, Roy V., James, Charlene A., MacKnight, Susan & McDonald, Gordon C., Army Area Handbook for Rwanda, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1969. Research and writing completed April 1, 1969.
  • Orth, Rick (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.
  • Prunier, Gerard, From Genocide to Continental War: The "Congolese" Conflict and the Crisis of Contemporary Africa, C. Hurst & Co, 2009. ISBN 978-1-85065-523-7

Further readingEdit

  • Patrick Lefèvre, Jean-Noël Lefèvre, Les militaires belges et le Rwanda 1916-2006, Racine, 2006
  • Richard Muhirwa, Rwandese Patriotic Army Logistics Unit (G4) Assessment and Recommendations for Change, Master's thesis, Naval Postgraduate School Monterey CA, 2000
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  • Rusagara, Frank K. (2009). Resilience of a Nation: A History of the Military in Rwanda. Kigali: Fountain Publishers. ISBN 9789970190010.

External linksEdit

  • Ministry of Defence, Republic of Rwanda