Of Rwanda’s 25th Liberation Anniversary, all one can say is, joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain; July 4, for the last quarter a century has been the perfect climax in Rwanda’s remembrance of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, capping the 100 days of anguish with a celebration of victory and freedom.
The price was high. The pain unimaginable. The heartache for lost family and friends, unforgettable.
But the prize for the total sum of all that was a genocide halted, a people relieved to know they were safe at last, a country finally liberated from misleaders, providing an opportunity to rebuild ‘a nation of equal opportunities’ as President Paul Kagame, put it, in his Thursday address.
“Liberation was not about restoring the past but creating something fundamentally new and better for all of Rwandans,” Kagame remarked.
While Rwanda’s liberation is a story written and directed by Rwandans and, initially for Rwandans, it, 25 years later, has gradually become one that all Africans cherish, celebrate and learn from; one lesson for me is that liberation cannot be donated; it must be fought for and won or earned.
July 4 comes after July 1, a date when Rwanda attained independence from its former colonial masters. Yet that independence didn’t feel like it was meant for all Rwandans; instead, it appears to have simply been a mere change of guard, from white masters to black successors and the same template of mis-leadership.
That explains why, July 1 doesn’t arouse the same excitement and emotional connection as July 4, for the latter is a story that holds personal meaning to every Rwandan.
But that is the reality in most African countries that have been independent for many decades. Most Africans still feel chained and oppressed and therefore find it hard to identify with the independence stories of their respective countries where corruption and ethnic based politics have denied citizens the right to equal opportunities; where one group is superior to the others yet all claim one nationality.
“This fight was necessary and indeed, unavoidable. And if there will ever be necessity for more fights (of that kind), we will be there,” President Kagame added.
In context, the fight to end genocide anywhere in the world, the fight for equal rights and freedoms, the fight for unity, the fight for dignity, the fight for national identity, the fight for genuine self-determination, the fight for anti-divisive politics, the fight to defend all the good has been gained.
While one can’t take anything for granted, the chances are that the solid gains by Rwandans over the last 25 years have formed a strong and durable foundation on which to build and march forward and any threat likely to lead to a relapse would be decisively defeated or nipped in the bud.
At home, the duty for any Rwandan today, is to safeguard and help consolidate the gains of the nation achieved over the last twenty-five years;staying patriotic, shunning agents of divisive politics and resisting dangerous ideologies such as genocide, are responsibilities of every responsible citizen.
But these are also cross-border responsibilities. Rwanda’s liberation story and the gains that have come with it, is a daily inspiration to many countries of Africa and Africans and those countries need a hand to attain those aspects that they admire about the nation of Rwanda, today.
Rwandan forces are already doing so, by dedicating a substantial portion of its armed resources to serving peaceful campaigns under the United Nations Peace Keeping operations, across Africa where ‘there is a fight to be fought.’ This contribution has been steadily growing since 2004.
Ten years after ending the Genocide against the Tutsi, Rwanda deployed its first peacekeepers, some 155 soldiers, in August 2004 to contain the then humanitarian catastrophe that was boiling in the western part of the Sudan – in Darfur.
Since then, the Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF) and Rwanda National Police (RNP) together have over 7000 troopsdeployed in peacekeeping missions in Sudan, South Sudan, Central African Republic and Haiti.
“The central purpose of peace operations is the protection of civilians. This cannot be said often enough. The mission is to protect the ordinary people who, in most cases, are at most risk.
It is not the protection of peace agreements or UN mandates, even peacekeepers for that matter, much less the protection of politicians,” President Kagame told a Peacekeeping conference in 2015.
‘The 600’ biopic premiered on the eve of 25th Liberation is a testimony of how the protection of civilians was at the core of Rwanda’s liberation war agenda; soldiers created human defense walls around nationals who were the target of genocidal forces during the 100 days of hell on earth.
“A segment of the population was being hunted and killed. Over a million people murdered. By July 4, the forces of Rwanda Patriotic Army had brought the killings to an end…it is important to recall that the campaign against genocide became more than a military operation…It became a rescue mission…”
In many parts of Africa, people are in dire need of rescue from various situations; but rescue can only come from within Africans as the story of Rwanda’s liberation ably demonstrates.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.