Twenty-seven years ago this month, the life of this country hung on a thread. Not literally, not practically, not virtually, not apparently, not with any nearness qualification.
It really, truly hung on a thin, stretched-to-snapping thread.
However, improbabilities of all improbabilities, a rescue mission had only just been put in motion, even as the thread stretched to its limit.
Unknown to the rest of the country whose government of the time after October 1,1990, thought it’d given short shrift to what it called a “tiny invading force,” there was a new commander on the ground, just arrived from the USA.
The ground itself, if it could be called that, was a thin strip of sparse forest and savannah land in the north, bordering Uganda, which could barely conceal anybody. But that enough-invisibility was a blessing to the tiny group: the “short shrift” left survivors.
Badly bruised, yes, but holding up.
Meanwhile, Commander Paul Kagame, the new commander, was busy. He was hard at work, seeking out those in the difficult position of being in command of these scattered, bewildered, wounded, frightened, hungry and thirsty girls and boys, so as to together regroup them all.
The positive point on their side: the ‘new entrants’ all knew one another, having clandestinely organised themselves into a ‘total-unity’ pressure front, The Rwanda Patriotic Front, to agitate for the reclamation of Rwandans’ identity and its attendant rights.
These Rwandans included those turned stateless as well as those who ‘enjoyed’ the right of citizenship but lived as second class citizens, all together a potential pool of back-up support.
The practically intractable problem: the ‘new comers’ were ranged against the full machinery of a government that had entrenched itself so deeply into the belief, having instilled it into its selected citizenry too, that some citizens were foreigners come to encroach on their land.
It’s this government that the “entrants” hoped to bend to reason, through persuasion of any sort.
However, on top of being intransigent, the Rwandan government had the powerful backing of a super power, with the clout to galvanise all African Francophone countries to collectively crash this “insignificant invader” at a moment’s notice.
And later when the government was ‘jabbed’ into noticing that the tiny “invading group” was still around (remember the sneak attack on a celebrating government army at Gatuna border post?), that’s exactly what happened.
The jam-packed avalanche of Francophone influence and power was loosed upon the “tiny force”, ready to send it into total oblivion.
How the “tiny force” survived and finally prevailed over this avalanche, I can only rely on conjecture and titbits from those who were in the thick of it.
What I know is that for the RPF/A, what was paramount was identifying the true enemy of Rwandans’ unity and making sure this is clear to all. No Rwandan was enemy to a Rwandan. The enemy was the leadership/its drivers that had sawn division and was sworn to maintaining this status quo of a dog’s life.
Ability to make Rwandans internalise this fact was the biggest weapon if the war was to be won. But having a clear objective is one thing; clearing a path to reach the ground where to spread that message is a totally different other.
Which meant a face-off with the aforementioned “jam-packed avalanche”.
Using everything to advantage and never forgetting the element of surprise? Reconnaissance operations to locate enemy’s position? Attacking when least expected?
Sniping outings that confused the enemy? Infiltrations? Ambushes? Besieging enemy to cut off all supplies, attacking from all sides, then leaving a vent for enemy’s escape, so as not face a ‘wounded buffalo’? Giving trenches hiding corners for a ‘dimba hasi’ bomb not to blow you to smithereens?
All the above, I am sure, are in every book on war, which means any fighter worth their small pistol can apply them.
So, how did the outmanned and out-resourced RPA apply them to confound the world by beating a super power and its pack of lackeys hands down?
Whatever the case, we must hand it to the brilliant mind that co-ordinated such an against-all-odds war to turn a ragtag band of poorly armed fighters into a formidable force.
For if the scattering of that “tiny invading force” had been terminal, the Genocide against the Tutsi would have been the ‘logical’ consequence – “logical” because it had always been on the minds of its architects. This would have drawn in all RPF/A supporters who’d been left behind, only to come meet their end by the same sword.
And because this genocide would have been hastily done, especially without the excuse of a plane crash, many in the country would have resisted it or hid the hunted victims.
Again, the ‘logical’ consequence of that would have been the slaughter of those against it.
All of which, in the end, would have resulted in intra-regional, intra-clan down to intra-family self immolation, leaving an ocean of blood where once there trod a dignified, proud people.
For escaping that “stretched-to-snapping thread”, every single Rwandan, friend or foe of the RPF/A, should salute the heroes and heroines who laid their lives on the line to rescue this land.
Last October 1st may have passed sans pomp and pageantry but it’s forever etched on our mind.