Today marks the beginning of a busy week in Rwanda during which the country marks both Independence and Liberation anniversaries. Rwanda officially became an independent country 57 years ago today even as the significance of the event was a little more than just a symbolic gesture from the Belgians as Rwandans hardly took charge of their own country’s affairs threafter.
Indeed, it is hard to argue that the Belgian colonialists favoured the idea of handing power over to Rwandans especially considering their suspected role in the mysterious death of King Mutara III Rudahigwa at a time he was pushing for Rwanda’s Independence, in July 1959.
Rudahigwa’s death was immediately followed by a period of political manipulation by the colonial administrators, and persecution and killing of many Tutsi across the country, while thousands others fled to exile. That period marked the first wave of pogroms in the country and laid the foundation for future atrocities that culminated into the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
For decades under the first and second republics, Rwanda remained a glove puppet of European powers – notably France that would later replace Belgium as the most influential western actor in matters Rwanda – until as recent as July 4, 1994 when the Rwanda Patriotic Front liberated the country.
The former regimes missed the opportunity to lead and inspire Rwandans into building a country that embraced and offered equal opportunity to all of its children, and instead entrenched the colonial legacy of ethnic-based politics, hate, and genocide ideology.
The country started taking a new direction twenty-five years ago when the people of Rwanda not only defeated the genocidal forces and their backers but also embarked on a journey to truly build a sovereign, independent and self-sustaining nation.
Today, both the Independence and Liberation anniversaries are jointly observed on July 4 (the day when the Rwanda Patriotic Front defeated agents of evil and imperialism) which the nation collectively acknowledges the failings of the past and reflects on the onerous journey toward a bright future for all.
Most importantly, it is a moment to renew and recommit to a shared vision for a stronger, more united, and thriving Rwanda.