Brig. Gen. Frank Rusagara’s book , Resilience of a Nation: A History of the Military in Rwanda, is a first in more than one way. It is the first scholarly work on the history of Rwanda to be written in English by a Rwandan.
Second and more important it ventures into the rather complex terrain of “narrating the nation” or tracing the origin and progress of a nation.
Although the thesis of the book focuses on the role of the military in national building, the reader is not just presented with military campaigns, expeditions, heroic accounts, but is engaged in socio-political discourse that fashions a narrative of a great nation.
Ernest Renan, a nineteenth century scholar whose work on nation and nationalism continues to be inflectional argued that historical events uniquely fuse together the population of a given territory into a nation.
These nations share “a soul”, and memories of “endeavors, sacrifice and devotion”. On the other hand the origins and progress of nations remain hazy as they are preserved in the “stories of national origin, myths of founding fathers, genealogies of heroes, and narrative that seek to name the land and organize space in which they live”.
The author sifts through the historiography of Rwanda to trace the history of Rwanda from around the 10th century AD starting with the mythical Gihanga (creator), the founding father of the nation to the present, but the process of unification starts in earnest during the reign of Ruganzu 1 Bwimba(1312-1345), the founding monarch.
It was during his reign that Rwanda began to “consolidate into a coherent political entity and thrive within a confederation of clanic principalities”, with his capital at Gasabo hill, which in current lore is regarded as the cradle of the nation.
The expanded polity necessitated changes in social structures notably the Military. The military formations which from the time of Gihanga were meant to protect the family or clan and their economic assets shifted allegiance to the lager society.
Equally important in the centralization process and nation formation was the rise of a national religion, which worshiped the God of Rwanda, and the king bestowed divine status.
The religious belief system achieved some form of cohesion as public rituals linked worship, political and military objectives.
Resilience of a Nation introduces a novel and intriguing concept of Ku… aanda, from which the word Rwanda is derived, which implies annexation and integration of neighboring polities or territories through the military.
Through successive reigns from Ruganzu I Bwimba, the military institution underwent radical changes to cope with the Ku…aanda responsibility.
The concept of Ubucengeri or martyrdom, heroism, bravery and honor were some of the doctrines and values inculcated in the military mainly responsible for their success in military campaigns and defense of their sovereignty against strong neighbors like Bunyoro-Kitara, Burundi, Ndorwa, Gisaka.
The bravery and victories of the military were recorded by court poets or Intebe y’abasizi (the author uses these sources and provides excellent translation). Successive monarchs modernized the military which played not only the role of expansion and defense but served as a socializing institution.
In the 16th century during the reign of King Kigeri II Nyamuheshera conquered “furthest lands” that included Masisi and Rucuro in DRC, Bufumbira and as far as Lake Edward in Uganda.
The process of nation building was not only based on military might but also on diplomacy and good governance as the creation of Ubwiru, a traditional monarchical code which among other things regulated the monarch in matters of succession.
The book depicts ubwiru as a constitution with 17articles that prescribed “laws, sacred rituals, and procedures on how to manage the nation” (33).
Rwanda’s encounter with colonialism and Christianity is presented in the book as a rude interruption of national progress.
The introduction of Force Publique manned by Belgian officers and Congolese soldiers marked the demise of the Rwanda Army( Ingabo Z’u Rwanda) and marked the beginning of the decline of monarchical authority.
Colonial and Christian missionary presence in Rwanda are portrayed as agents of divisionism not between the Hutu and Tutsi but even within the ruling elites. The immediate post independence administration continued separatist policies and used the newly formed (hutu-nised) The Garde Nationale not in national interests but as an instrument of repression.
The 1994 genocide is blamed on its sectarian and divisive nature.
The author, a Brigadier General in Rwanda Defense forces (RDF) and currently a Military attaché at the Rwanda Embassy in Britain is at his best in the last chapter which deals with the Rwanda Patriotic Front which stopped the genocide and in which he served as a liberator.
Free of polemics, the chapter takes stock of liberation efforts of Rwandan exiles and compatriots, finds parallels with the pre-colonial military and socio-cultural establishments/ heritage.
Patriotism, self-sacrifice, unity and other virtues are illustrated as the RPF guiding principles which have been bequeathed to Rwanda Defense Forces. With this the book predicts a promising future in “rediscovering Ingabo z’u Rwnda”.