As the Rwanda Patriotic Front celebrates its 30th anniversary this month, it is important that we reminisce about the role played by the military in getting Rwanda back on the world map.
Prior to 1994, the image of the Rwandan Armed Forces (FAR) was, to say the least, negative. It was characterised by brutality, ethnicity, and disregard for the rights of the people it was supposed to protect.
Come 1994, the Rwandan army then was actively involved in the planning and execution of the Genocide against the Tutsi, that left over one million dead.
During this horrific period, the army vigorously participated in acts of flagrant violations of human rights: massacre, rape, and torture.
It deviated from the prime mission of an army worthy of a name.
Rather than being the protector, it was the destroyer of the people, especially the Tutsi.
And, even after its defeat, the ex-FAR remnants fled to neighbouring countries and started mobilising and recruiting refugees in an attempt to return to Rwanda and proceed with their mayhem. The attempt, that has since turned out to be a total failure, only increased the misery of the fleeing population.
Fast forward to today, 23 years after the Genocide, the Rwandan people can be proud of a totally different national army – the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF). Here is why:
A unique event in contemporary history occurred in the aftermath of the 1994 Genocide: The victorious Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) welcomed and integrated their defeated foes – the Ex-FAR – into their ranks and jointly became part of the national army, that is now called the Rwanda Defence Forces (RDF).
Under the leadership of President Paul Kagame, the Commander-in-Chief of the RDF, the army has been transformed into a formidable force that is arguably the bedrock of socio-political and economic transformation of the country.
The President used his ingenuity to successfully defeat the enemy during Rwanda’s liberation struggle, and it is the same spirit that the men and women in uniform continue to live by.
The success of the RDF is hinged on ensuring strict discipline, fairness, and utmost professionalism, with the wellbeing of the people being at its core.
The RDF believes there can be no development without peace and security, elements that are all part of its mission.
“To contribute to the development of the country”, reads a line from its mission-list posted on the RDF website.
In addition to bringing and maintaining peace and security, the RDF has continued to play an active role in developmental activities that have transformed the lives of ordinary citizens.
One of the examples is the annual Army Week – an outreach programme where soldiers carry out voluntary service as part of activities to celebrate Liberation Day that falls on July 4.
It is fascinating that as part of the Liberation Day celebrations, it is the soldiers that are giving to the community rather than the other way round.
In the 2017 Army Week, more than 120,000 people got free medical treatment, including surgeries, and dental and eye care. Treatment the suffering people find extremely difficult to afford. The RDF runs one of the most efficient hospitals in the country – the Rwanda Military Hospital. Their expert medical personnel travel to the remotest parts of the country and help heal the sick.
Other notable activities carried out during the 2017 Army week include construction of more than 150 classrooms and three health centres as well as rooms for over 100 health counsellors.
Close to 3,000 families got new homes or their dilapidated structures were rebuilt. And, in a bid to boost health and sanitation, over 35,000 pit latrines were built for vulnerable families.
This year’s Army Week activities also saw soldiers rehabilitate 384km of feeder roads, and 400 bridges, and connected over 40km of clean water points.
These and many more activities are all geared towards uplifting the social welfare of vulnerable Rwandans.
Recently, the agriculture sector was faced with a potential crisis caused by the Fall Army Worm and the Cassava Mosaic Virus. This had to be contained to ensure food security. One of the institutions that were quick to intervene was the RDF. They deployed their officers countrywide and, as a result, over 5,000 hectares of maize plantations and 113 hectares of cassava field were rescued from the notorious pests.
Yet, all these activities do not stop the RDF from maintaining state security. From being one of the no-go-to countries, Rwanda is now among the safest countries in the world, continually improving its attractiveness to businesses and tourists.
Borrowing from its experiences, the RDF has made it a mandate to support operations worldwide that are geared towards restoring peace and security. Rwandan peacekeepers continue to be deployed in various missions in Africa and beyond, where they also carry out Army Week activities to improve the social welfare of the communities they operate in.
And, they have become a strong advocate for reforming peacekeeping across the world. The latest effort is the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians adopted in May 2015. More than 40 countries have adopted the set of practices designed to efficiently protect those at risk.
These achievements have been possible due to RDF’s leadership that has put people at the centre of all they do and ensuring that the force maintains the highest ethical standard required of a professional army.
To the Rwanda Defence Forces, Rwandans are proud of you.
The author is a senior RPF Cadre.
The views expressed in this article are of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Times.