The amount of space allocated to me by this newspaper cannot exhaustively capture what has been on my mind in the last few days. I have spent some time trying to internalise what Rwanda’s liberation story really is and I must agree with what the president said during the celebrations to mark 20 years of liberation - “liberation is not an event but a mindset.”
The armed liberation struggle that started in October 1990 was certainly a culmination of years of planning and deliberations by those who found themselves in the disturbing situation of being unwanted in their own country and condemned to a refugee lifestyle simply because of their ethnicity.
The liberators spent more than a generation away from a place they used to call home. They thus carried the hopes of millions of people to come good on the dream of leading them back home where the government had compelled them to leave and swore that they was no way they could ever come back.
Those who had not fled had to endure a rather dehumanising life of endless discrimination and perpetual fear. The divisive leadership of the day wasted no time in setting the ground for a genocide even jokingly using the analogy of a glass full of water to imply that Rwanda had no room for other Rwandans.
The liberation struggle involved peace talks that were of little meaning to the country’s leadership who were simply going ahead with plans to exterminate the Tutsi. Local militias were trained and armed and the RPF/A soon found that they were not just fighting against the government but faced the huge challenge of stopping the genocide that was being carried out almost everywhere and simultaneously.
Most liberation struggles often pit rebels against the government troops but for Rwanda’s case the rebels (RPF/A) had to deal with the government soldiers, elements of Mobutu’s army, French soldiers as well as armed militia in form of the Interahamwe. And yet all this was happening with little support for the RPF fighters.
The civilians were largely divided into those killing and those fleeing the killing. The rest of the world not only watched but those with the means only came to pick up their people and their pets. Others like the French did more to support the killers including offering them a safe passage when the heat was too much to bear.
Once the genocide had been stopped the liberators soon realised that they had inherited a shell of a country with almost no infrastructure, no skilled labour and empty central bank coffers. Therefore despite winning the war and stopping the genocide, the liberators never had a chance to celebrate because once again they were moving from one challenge to another.
While the process of rebuilding the country was taking shape, there was also a problem of the huge numbers of refugees who had fled to DRC (then Zaire). At this point the liberators had to convince people to come back home yet a percentage of those refugees were former government soldiers and Interahamwe who would occasionally stage attacks on Rwanda.
To their credit the liberators managed to convince people to come back and also dealt quite decisively with the armed rebels who were staging attacks on Rwanda from their bases in DRC. The process of justice was swiftly addressed using a home grown solution in the form of Gacaca courts where both justice and reconciliation were handled effectively.
Rebuilding the economy has been another front the liberators had to deal with. This was done first by ensuring that Rwanda is a secure country because no investor wants to put their money in an unstable nation. Rwanda today is racing full speed ahead with high rise buildings coming up and a sense of a nation on the move.
What is even more significant in all this according to me is the fact that the liberators are still not in celebratory mood. They appreciate the fact that the work they set out to do calls for a continuous effort. The country is still faced with lots of challenges and still has bigger dreams to aim for.
The process of reconciliation continues, there is no complacency as regards to the country’s security and the economy still needs more efforts in terms of skills building. It is not every day that you come across a people who have come from so far but continue with determination to bigger journeys.