Inkotanyi: How a filmmaker immortalized the liberation struggle

One of Africa’s top revolutionary figures once wrote; 'A soldier without any political and ideological discipline is a potential criminal.' In his latest documentary titled Inkotanyi, French Filmmaker and director Christophe Cotteret set out to understand and share the basis of the political and ideological discipline of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA).
(L-R) The moderator Rosine Urujeni, Minister for Defence James Kabarebe, CEO of RGB Shyaka Anastase, and the director of the film Chrisophe Cotteret discuss the film and its signif....
(L-R) The moderator Rosine Urujeni, Minister for Defence James Kabarebe, CEO of RGB Shyaka Anastase, and the director of the film Chrisophe Cotteret discuss the film and its signif....

One of Africa’s top revolutionary figures once wrote; “A soldier without any political and ideological discipline is a potential criminal.”

In his latest documentary titled Inkotanyi, French Filmmaker and director Christophe Cotteret set out to understand and share the basis of the political and ideological discipline of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA).

 
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A clip from the documentary film 'Inkotanyi' which was screened to the audience.

The picture which was premiered in January this year, debuted in Rwanda on Friday evening at Century Cinema with the First Lady Mrs Jeannette Kagame and different government officials among the viewers.  

 

The documentary’s producer makes an effort to understand and explain why RPA liberators stand out from other liberation movements and what has made efforts of their struggle sustainable. 

 

Cotteret sets out to uncover what drove the young men who were untrained, unequipped, unpaid and outnumbered to stand against the then genocidal government and French forces.

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The director of the documentary film, Christophe Cotteret mingles with the audience before the screening of the film.

The documentary (which is in French with English subtitles) tells of the dreams and ambitions of what he termed as the “best trained and most disciplined rebellion on the African continent who put to an end the last genocide of the 20th century.”

The two hour picture shot over a period of over 2 years features interviews with the Rwanda Patriotic Army founders, soldiers, supporters  and firsthand  accounts by journalists who covered the liberation.

The filmmaker’s narration is facilitated by interviews with President Paul Kagame, President Yoweri Museveni, Faustin Kagame, James Kabarebe, Denis Polis, Tito Rutaremara, and Patrick Mazimhaka among others. There are also features by some of the then perpetrators and supporters of the former regime.

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Minister Kabarebe.

The picture opens in a setting of the 21st anniversary of the liberation before going back to a narration of the first acts of genocide against the Tutsi committed in 1959 probably to show the contrasts of the two periods.

Through tales of the injustices and violence that the Tutsi were subjected to in the post-colonial era, the film highlights the state of desperation and poor living conditions that deprived them of dignity.

His account does not leave out the RPA founders’ role in Uganda’s National Resistance Movement   or undertones of Rwandans being unwanted in some of the countries that hosted them as refugees.

Inkotanyi is not a hyperbole that paints the RPA founders and soldiers as godlike, the documentary also tells tales of pain, death, near defeat of the liberators especially after the demise of the then head of the movement Major General Fred Gisa Rwigyema.

Following his death, on October 2nd 1990, the liberators were soldiers without a commander which saw them driven back by the genocidal government who enjoyed the support of the French government.

It was not until the return of President Paul Kagame from the United States where he had gone for studies that soldiers had a leader, were motivated again and recaptured ground they had previously lost.

One of the interviewees in the documentary, Defense Minister James Kabarebe recounts how President Kagame introduced clever military ideas which saw the decisive factor change from guns and military fire power to ideas.

The role (or lack of it) of the international communities such as the United Nations is revealed when Patrick Mazimhaka recounts how he attempted to bring attention to the then United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali and the then Under Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

However the two paid little attention to him to make an intervention which led to the death of over a million Tutsi during the genocide.

The story of the liberators however goes beyond the battle field and guns, it covers the period following the victory which marked a new struggle of rebuilding a nation that had been declared a failed state.

How do you start over in a country that has been demoralized and weakened by war and previous bad governance with little resources to spare? An interview with President Kagame helps to paint a picture of the sacrifices, efforts, courage and strength that it took.

His features in the documentary serve to remind viewers that there is no situation too bad to get back up from or hill too steep to take on.

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Christophe Cotteret.

President Kagame also highlights why Africa has always gotten a raw deal largely due to over reliance on the west and giving them underserved supervisory powers over the continent.

A question that continues to keep historians and researchers up at night is why most African liberation movements develop infighting and splits after victory despite previously sharing a common cause, the documentary gives insights on why RPA never had such issues.

The process of reconciliation, reintegration, justice and development of home grown and unconventional solutions to rebuild the country is also featured in the film.

In the end, by his own admission Cotteret says that it’s hard if not impossible to do justice to the liberation story. Having not lived the times of pain and struggle or bled in the liberation, he says the Rwandan spirit is probably complex to document on film.

Criticism:

By the account of a number of viewers, the film however does not bring out the human face of the liberators during and after the struggle such as how they treated and took in Ex-FAR soldiers who surrendered willingly.  It falls short in telling the world of the human side of the men who would at times put their lives at risk not for their sake or for their families but for those who had previously shot at them.

The filmmaker does not bring out the role of the Rwandan culture in its various forms in building cohesion and fostering home grown solutions.

Is the documentary objective and illustrative of the true image of the liberation and the liberators? You will have to watch it to decide…

WHAT THEY THOUGHT OF INKOTANYI

James Kabarebe: Minister for Defence and Liberator

What the youth can take from this is that they have no reason to fail to build on from what has been done and sustain progress. The hard work was already done by the Inkotanyi Generation . If they fail, they will have betrayed the country, themselves and those who sacrificed their lives for the country. The youth should always remember that the biggest enemy of this country is Genocide ideology, those who promote propaganda should never have a chance to use it as an opportunity to weaken the country.

Anastse Shyaka: the Chief Executive of Rwanda Governance Board

The Inkotanyi generation set the bar quite high for the young generation. They worked and struggled through hardship to ensure that the current generation is safe and faces no hardship. The real struggle now is not one of bullets but by ideals and by the mind.
 
Christophe Cotteret: The Filmmaker

I wanted to tell a story to whoever cares to listen about Rwanda and the story behind the country. In a sense, I wanted the international community to be reminded about what happened here and understand Rwanda and its spirit.  There could be some errors and inconsistencies in the film but my aim was to put out as much facts and truth about the men behind the liberation struggle.

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