Rwanda celebrated Liberation Day in a stylish fashion with all the pomp and majestic circumstance befitting the day.
The theme I took away was “we’ve come a long way” and when you contrast what we saw compared to where we were then you understand the enormity of the occasion.
From rusty Kalashnikovs to armoured combat helicopters; from a rag-tag guerrilla force to one of the most feared armies in Africa; from single-issue party fighting for the return of refugees to a comprehensively popular national party.
Rwanda has chosen to be defined by its future and not its past; to be defined by its hopes and dreams and not its fears.
In our current push for regional integration it was also an opportunity to honour regional friends who have helped us over the year.
Meles Zenawi gave a heartfelt speech intimating the deep ties that he feels for Rwanda; it was precise, it was unrelenting and given in his uncompromising style. With leaders like Zenawi we can point to a great change in the calibre of African leaders.
The other guest was equally distinguished and can say he had a hand in helping get the RPF started. Firstly I would like to commend those who buried their pride and honoured a man with whom they had had fundamental differences.
Yoweri Museveni, President of Uganda
He is a musician; his instrument is the crowd, he plucks the strings and strums their hearts. His opening gambit was pure theatre, typical Museveni; he likes to talk directly to the crowd. “Murakomeye? Murakomeye nka mabuye?” and the crowd was won.
However, beneath all his usual utterances I saw a sincerity I have never seen in the man in over 23 years; as much as he tried to remind us of a debt to him, he admitted his debt to Rwandans.
He admitted that he wouldn’t have succeeded if it wasn’t for the help he got from Rwandans. A quarter of his NRA army was Rwandan; they liberated a country they had no right to live in, and not even Museveni could give ordinary Rwandans equal rights in Uganda.
There is a lot we can learn from NRM and older liberation movements in general. African political parties form in two ways; as national liberation movements and reactionary protest movements.
National liberation movements have a unifying nationalist ethos: look at CCM in Tanzania, KANU in its various guises to the PNU of today, Frelimo, MPLA, SWAPO, and the dreaded ZANU-PF. These movements became highly adapted moving from socialist economics to laissez- faire capitalism.
All movements stand or fail on two issues; how the individual relates to the collective and the leadership.
In Uganda, Museveni never had a vision and programme comparable to Rwanda’s; this was partly due to the time he came to power he had a continual civil war in the north and political bickering among the tribes. Therefore he could not impose a national vision on a fragmented nation.
We should learn from Museveni; not from his lectures but from his mistakes and not make the same errors. We must also thank him for his gracious words and kind support when we needed it.