Rwanda last weekend marked the 26th Liberation Day anniversary, a celebration of an end of the brutal regime that presided over three decades of misrule which culminated in the Genocide against the Tutsi.
President Paul Kagame led a group of few officials to a remote village in Eastern Province to launch multi-billion worth of transformational projects that included everything from homes for vulnerable Rwandans, an early childhood development centre, a school with smart classrooms, and a health centre.
The projects, which were unveiled in Gikoba, Tabagwe Sector in Nyagatare District, were built by the Ministry of Defence through Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) in partnership with other government institutions.
Gikoba was home to Rwandan Patriotic Army’s (RPA) first military base from March 1991 to May 1992.
It is remembered in history of Rwanda’s liberation struggle because of the series of plans to reform the liberation struggle that took place in the area.
The National Liberation Park Museum at Mulindi in Gicumbi District is among eight unique destinations identified based on their strategic importance to the liberation struggle.
This is where RPA became an actual defence unit that is well-structured and armed to respond to any threat, according to Lt Col Innocent Munyengango, the RDF Spokesperson.
It is during the same reform in Gikoba that RPA changed the tactical approach to the struggle from a hit-and-run guerilla type of movement to a positional warfare that was defensive in nature.
Kagame who was the commander of the struggle also taught war commanders how to build and operate from bunkers, which aimed at showing the forces that returning back was no longer an option.
He also made the decision from this same area, to expand the front northwards towards the Volcanoes National Park.
Such history will now be lived and experienced through realistic recreation, thanks to the Liberation History Tourism Trail, which was launched during the same day of the 26th anniversary.
The Liberation History Tourism Trail is a joint project to be completed at a tune of Rwf4 billion and was officially launched as a new tourism heritage product that traces the routes of RPA liberation struggle from October 1990 to July 4, 1994.
This concept was initiated in 2018 in collaboration with the RDF and the Ministry of Defence, according to Belize Kariza, the Chief Tourism Officer at the Rwanda Development Board.
“The preservation of the liberation tourism heritage sites is a priority, not only for both domestic and international tourism but also to bolster the income of the communities that supported the troupes during the liberation struggle,” Kariza noted.
The ultimate goal is to increase awareness about culture and heritage, boost domestic tourism, and promote education and leisure for future generations, as well as increase tourism traffic and revenue.
During the process, eight unique destinations were identified based on their strategic and historical importance to the liberation struggle.
The locations are; Gikoba, Shonga, Mulindi, Urugano, Musanze, Kagitumba, Mukarange, and CND (currently Parliament building).
Once developed, they will respond to the demand for culture and heritage products for the domestic and international markets, and perhaps enable tourists to spend more days in the country.
The first phase of the implementation, which includes Gikoba, Shonga, and Mulindi is expected to be completed next year, according to the Rwanda Development Board.
The second phase, expected to complete in 2023, will include Urugano (in the Virunga National Park), Musanze, and CND in Kigali, while the third phase will see the development of Kagitumba, and Mukarange.
The historical significance of Musanze – formerly known as Ruhengeri - is the attack by RPA forces to liberate high ranking political prisoners under Habyarimana regime.
Many of these freed prisoners ended up joining the rebel ranks.
Kagitumba border is believed to be where the first bullet by RPA was fired on October 1, 1990, setting in motion the four-year liberation struggle.
CND, which also currently hosts the Campaign Against the Genocide Museum was home to 600 RPA fighters when the Genocide was launched by the former regime.
Completely surrounded by the enemy, these troops managed not only to survive the onslaught against them, but also played a significant role in stopping the Genocide in Kigali and its environs.
Gikoba Underground & Open Air Museum
A mobile application was launched, featuring liberation sites and liberation history content, as well as a virtual reality experience for Gikoba Underground and Open Air Museum.
President Kagame was the first to experience the virtual tour of Gikoba Underground and Open Air Museum, Rwanda’s third museum that will feature the history of the liberation struggle.
Artistic impression of the museum showcases an underground visitor information desk, underground digital and physical exhibition halls and galleries that feature the history of sites, liberation artefacts, video testimonies, and personal VR guided tours of the trail and its elements.
It will feature the open air impression of the assembly point, command post, and modernization of a bunker that was used by the then Commander in Chief of RPA, Paul Kagame.
The site will also be equipped with a visitors’ area containing a reception and ticketing area, coffee and souvenir shop.
Upon entry, visitors will be received at the reception by museum staff and will be given instruction about tour options available. It is here that visitors will purchase or validate their tickets.
Outside the entrance of the underground museum is a coffee shop, and next to the entrance is a section that pays homage to the fallen soldiers of the struggle, which will be presented in the form of names of fallen fighters inscribed on marble plaques.
To the left of the underground museum is a physical exhibition, which will feature army artefacts ranging from uniforms used by the RPA fighters, army artillery, army backpacks, and personal effects.
To the right side sits the digital exhibition hall, which will feature voice guided virtual reality tour consoles of the Gikoba trail and all its elements, and a video screening room with capacity to accommodate a maximum of 54 visitors for group screenings or video historical testimonies.
The design elements of the underground museum were inspired by the first trenches that were built in Rwanda during the liberation struggle.
Open Air Museum
The entry of the museum will feature the visual elements of the assembly point, and as you continue to the outer part the command post is seen, just before the inner guard.
The main attraction of the Gikoba Open Air Museum is the bunker of the Chairman of the High Command, now President Kagame.
Here, visitors will experience realistic recreation of the Bunker at the time of the liberation struggle and its pivotal significance.
Visitors will exit the bunker and reach at the final stop of the tour: The Journalists Meeting Area, which will bring the tour to its conclusion.Follow https://twitter.com/Julio_Bizimungu