Rwanda is blessed to have a great and visionary leader in President Paul Kagame. This piece is not blind praise; it is a recollection of a rare person whose character from childhood to date, has informed and shaped the current new image of Rwanda.
He has turned around a country that was on the brink of becoming a failed state after it turned against its own twenty one years ago.
I learnt that when he was young, he never stopped questioning the refugee status of Rwandans and its root cause. He was not content by the responses he got and never understood why nothing was being done for Rwandans to go back home.
It is recalled that President Kagame and the Late Major General Fred Rwigema, used to play, mimicking military maneuvers and tactics with a distant dream of returning to their homeland one day.
Those close to him then have never forgotten the daring risk he took by sneaking into the “forbidden” land - Rwanda, just to see for himself the prevailing situation.
Had he been caught, he would have been killed.
It is vividly remembered that when he was in high school in Ntare, he was humble and thoughtful, but also unsettled by his refugee status. His character stunned not only his age-mates and elders but it also instilled in them a sense of urgency and a need to rethink the future and new strategies to change the status quo.
Even at that tender age, his unequivocal patriotic stance was well recognized. He could not stand any one talking ill of any Rwandan. Still remembered by most of his schoolmates is an incident in the Geography room during ‘prep’ time when the hunter became the hunted.
This personal battle in defence of dignity for the Rwandan community sent a loud and clear message: “Don’t mess with Rwandans”. This brave act provided breathing space for his younger brothers at Ntare School years after he had left.
I remember when we were serving in the NRA, he was an exemplary officer and in recognition of this the authorities assigned him many responsibilities which he dutifully carried out.
His scrupulous attention to facts and detail; his strict adherence to right and truth as well as his sense of fairness to all regardless of rank were legendary qualities.
I can never forget what a friend of mine once told me, Col. Lumumba (late) that he dreaded being tried by him (PK) for any misdeeds, for he was sure that his rightful decisions couldn’t be influenced.
He added that the only way he could survive his meticulous judgment was to accept his mistakes and hope for forgiveness. All his friends and associates were always stunned by his short, sharp and intelligent questions and answers in face of challenging circumstances. In Rwanda today, we still benefit from this attribute.
I recollect that as we planned the comeback to a country from which we had been excluded for over 30 years, he always insisted on remaking a nation without discrimination.
All the pre-struggle stages were helped by his informed, insightful and well calculated interventions and methods of work. His strategic thinking and envisioning an all inclusive Rwanda was to earn every Rwandan the current worldwide respect we all enjoy today.
I remember when tragedy befell us in the first days of our invasion of Rwanda; he made the decision to leave his military training in the US and join his comrades at the battle.
He put his life on line to save the struggle from total collapse. Not many would have taken this dangerous course. In fact I recall the incalculable risk he took on his way back from America through Ethiopia, where conspirators who did not wish him to connect with a seemingly defeated RPA lay in wait.
Were it not for his strategic maneuvers, I am sure our movement would have collapsed with unimaginable repercussions.
On his arrival, he found the troops demoralized, disorganized and in total disarray. He quickly reorganized us and soon, the tide turned in our favour. He instilled morale and confidence into the troops. He taught us to be resilient.
He rekindled our Rwandan spirit that “never melted in the scotching sun and never dissolved in the heaviest rain”. He quickly surveyed the terrain and changed tactics to the detriment of the enemy. It did not take long for the enemy, including the “doubting Thomases” to recognize his unparalleled command and organizational abilities.
He gave RPF/RPA the respect it enjoys to date. The disinformation and poisonous indoctrination of hate that had ravaged the country of a thousand hills are now in the dungeons of history.
His political acumen and foresight, was demonstrated when he refused to take over our party chairmanship when he returned from the military college in America.
It was only later that I realized the impact of his choice to concentrate on military command, of which he proved a formidable strategist as demonstrated by subsequent repeated successes.
When we decisively defeated the enemy in Mutara, he quickly realized that our numbers were a limiting factor and he came up with a solution to repatriate refugees from Nakivale , Nshungerezi, and other places to occupy the area we had liberated in order to ensure our rear was safe.
Under his command and leadership, we defeated the enemy forces way up to the gates of Kigali, but he surprised the whole world, when he agreed to pull back the RPA forces for the sake of finding lasting peace. He strategically negotiated the creation of the demilitarized zone (DMZ) to give peace a chance.
The RPF agreed to send six hundred officers and men of RPA to CND (parliament buildings) to protect RPF political leaders in preparation for the implementation of the Arusha Peace Accord.
The Accord was to be betrayed by blood-thirsty militia that unleashed the genocide against defenseless Tutsi civilians and massacres against Hutu who did not share their genocide ideology.
I recollect with gratitude, when in 1993 his sixth sense saved the entire RPF leadership from annihilation in a very extensive ambush set around Gatsata area by the Habyarimana regime.
We were moving from Mulindi to Kigali, but at the last minute he told us not to go. The troops that had come to escort us indeed fell in the ambush but fought and defeated the enemy.
When it became obvious that the evil forces who had unleashed the genocide could not be stopped by the UN forces, he ordered our forces to stop it themselves. It did not take long before a big chunk of our country was under the control of the RPA.
I remember him ordering all field commanders not to harm unarmed civilians. His message was both strong and clear: “Do not harm unarmed civilians. These are your brothers and sisters whom we are fighting to liberate”.
As we struggled to take over the whole country, he directed us to treat and feed the hungry civilians despite our limited recourses. These services, did not only avert a humanitarian catastrophe, but also created a bond with a people who had been indoctrinated to hate us.
When we finally liberated the whole country, many of us wanted him to be the President of the Republic, but he refused and told the RPF cadres to propose another person.
He only accepted to be the minister of defense and vice president of the republic because of the insistence of cadres. I later on understood his reasons.
The insurgency and insecurity that followed indeed needed a man of his caliber to handle. Needless to say security was and still is a precondition for socio-economic development. That was an important foresight.
He demonstrated his democratic stance by insisting on power sharing with other parties that had not committed genocide, despite the fact that RPF had defeated the genocidal regime single handedly.
As a result, a fundamental law was crafted to guide the principal of the power sharing. This gave birth to a broad based transition government and broad based transition parliament.
In 1996 Rwandans in their millions were being held hostage by remnants of genocidal forces and dying from dysentery and other diseases in the jungles of eastern DRC.
He said, “We cannot talk of having liberated Rwanda when our brothers and sisters are being held hostage by the murderous genocidal forces. We must repatriate them”. And so it was done and millions of our compatriots returned to their homeland.
When he became the head of state, President Kagame embarked on a reconstruction programme. There were many priorities at hand including catering for survivors of genocide who were not only destitute but also severely physically and mentally traumatized.
He did a lot to do away with hunger and starvation that had characterized our beloved country at the same time trying to turn the Rwandan human resource into human capital.
He also rebuilt the socio-economic base of the country against empty coffers. His great strategy to turn the country into a middle income economy is yet to be realized but on the right track.
While Rwanda has registered remarkable success, there are still looming threats and vulnerabilities.
So is it time for H.E Paul Kagame to leave office come 2017? The answer is no. It is important to remember that Rwanda has had unique problems, including decades of misrule, destruction and division that ended in the Genocide against Tutsi.
We cannot afford to mess around with achievements we have made under Kagame’s leadership. If we have to overcome the threats and vulnerabilities and strongly position our country in the current globalized environment, we need the continued visionary leadership of President Kagame.