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Rwanda Army

The Rwanda Army also referred to as Land Forces is one of the two services comprising the RDF. It evolved from the RPA and integrated elements of the EX-FAR. The Rwanda Army is a pivot service to the RDF operational effectiveness. The primary mission of the Army Service is to provide combat-ready, multi-skilled Force to play a leading role in sustaining a credible, joint landward defence capability.

To accomplish its mission, the Rwanda Army is organized into six elements: Combat Units; Combat Support Units; Combat Service Support Units; Special Units and Service Schools. The Army is structured and designed to accomplish operations on its own and in conjunction with the Rwanda Air Force. It also develops and maintains capacity to operate in special environments.

The Army Service is comprised of combat units, Combat Support Arms, Combat Support Services and Army Schools. The Army Service is commanded by the Army Chief of Staff. The Army Service shall provide combat-ready, multi-skilled forces to play a leading role for prompt and sustained defensive and offensive land operations.

When the Belgians withdrew, they left in place a Hutu-dominated government that reigned for thirty years, but which would not have survived for so long without the support of a Hutu-dominated military. Most officers and troops of the first Hutu military had been recruited from the northern part of Rwanda, especially Bushiru, because the colonial regime regarded the Bashiru taller and stronger than Hutu from other regions of the country. The post-colonial Hutu government that came to power during the 1959 revolution systematically eliminated most Tutsi from the national military.

From 1990 to 1993, the Rwandan army, under the direction of the stridently anti-Tutsi Coalition for the Defense of the Republic (CDR), begins to train and arm civilian militias known as the interahamwe (“those who stand together”). President Habyarimana stalled on the establishment of a true multi-party system with power sharing.

On April 6, 1994 the Mystere Falcon carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down by a surface to air missile, igniting a long planned and well coordinated holocaust that ended in the deaths of up to 800,000 Rwandans. Over the next six weeks, Hutu extremists, led by the Rwandan Army and radical Hutu militias, mobilized the majority Hutu population against the Tutsi minority to execute a bloodbath unequalled since the Cambodian killing fields of the 1970s.

In 1995, the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA) assembled all child soldiers below eighteen years. Most of those were either victims of war or made orphans by the genocide in particular, and they were taken to school. The military provided for their welfare, studies, and school requirements, and some have completed their undergraduate studies and are now employed by the government.

The demise of the Mobutu regime began after the 1994 Rwanda genocide when over one million Rwandan Hutu refugees, Hutu militiamen and soldiers from the defeated Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) fled into politically weak eastern Zaire. The ex-FAR used Zaire as a base for raids into Rwanda, which from 1994 was led by Vice President Paul Kagame and dominated by Tutsis from the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF). In response to the raids into Rwanda and to attacks on Tutsis living in Zaire, Rwanda — in league with Congolese rebels it organized and supported — in October 1996 struck to eliminate the Hutu refugee camps.

Their success in destroying the camps demonstrated the weakness of Zaire’s military and the existence of a power vacuum. Rwanda — joined by Uganda and Angola — seized the opportunity to replace Mobutu and create a more friendly regime in Kinshasa. They continued to press the offensive, defeated Mobutu’s forces, and installed Laurent Kabila — the rebels’ nominal leader — in Kinshasa in May 1977.

Although led by an officer seconded from the Rwandan army, the Congolese army proved unable to curtail the Rwandan Hutu rebels’ use of Congo as a de-facto sanctuary as they stepped up insurgent actions within Rwanda. Kabila himself proved too erratic, incompetent and independent for his Ugandan and Rwandan patrons.

The last straw came in July 1998 when Kabila replaced his seconded Rwandan army commander and asked his Rwandan military advisors to leave the country. Rwandan and Ugandan forces then attacked the DRC and almost deposed Kabila by launching a spectacular airlift operation to Congo’s Atlantic Coast and moving on Kinshasa from the west. Days—or hours—before the attack would have toppled Kabila, Angola and Zimbabwe intervened to turn back the drive and save Kabila.

A senior researcher on central Africa in the arms management program, Nelson Alusala, stated in 2005 that, in 1997, the Rwandan government transformed its counterinsurgency strategy into a political and social effort that, within a year, broke the back of an insurgency of former Forces Armées Rwandaise (FAR) operating out of eastern Congo. He argued that a key element which undermined the insurgency in northwest Rwanda was the integration of ex-Forces Armées Rwandaises (EX-FAR) into the Rwandan Army. Insurgents were turned into soldiers; they were given new uniforms, a modest salary, and a stake in the country’s future. Rwanda has now integrated and reintegrated 39,000 EX-FAR and resisters (youngsters recruited to join the rebels in 1997-1998 from the ethnic Hutu population).

It is possible to successfully integrate competing militaries after civil wars. A striking example was the successful integration in Rwanda of roughly 50,000 former enemy soldiers and individuals involved in the genocide into the victorious army. Integration hinged on the ingando process which required personnel to participate in an intensive discussion of the past which seems to have overcome deep divisions. This produced a disciplined patriotic army that punches above its weight — the Israel of Africa. The success of Rwanda was done almost entirely without outside support. The Rwandan army has not only battled Hutu guerilla groups for years both inside and outside of Rwanda, but at one point it almost conquered the capital of the DRC (a tribute to its military prowess independent of the judgment of its political goals).

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