A lot has been written on the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) and the ink has run dry.
Many journalists and researchers were at hand to document the evolution of a modern-day liberation front with a tinge of skepticism.
Many were quick to equate The RPF with the pre-independence leftist movements that had dotted the African and South/Central American landscapes at the height of the Cold War in the ’60s and ’70s and professed a similar kind of demise; an ideological about-turn after capturing power or emulate a Stalinistic-style purge among its ranks and unleashing terror upon the population.
The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi spoilt RPF’s liberation party; there were no widespread jubilations in the streets, no armoured vehicles stacked with jubilant young soldiers shouting in the air in triumph. The air was somber and had the stench of death. The young RPF fighters were busy burying the dead, saving those they could and tackling small pockets of resistance.
RPF’s organizational capacity kicked off when the Genocide began; liberated areas were quickly brought to order. Food rations were distributed, field hospitals quickly set up for the sick and injured. In short, the RPF was faced with an oversized humanitarian crisis but it managed to take it all in its stride.
One needs to have witnessed July 1994 to really get the picture of what the new administration was up against.
Restoring security at a time when firearms, booby traps and Interahamwe militia were everywhere must have been every security personnel’s nightmare.
Accommodation was the biggest issue. The only option for new arrivals and those whose homes had been destroyed was to occupy abandoned property of those who had fled – which included a long list of Genocide suspects – but with the firm assurance that when the owners came back they would vacate the property.
That was easier said than done. RPF cadres who were spread through all the administrative channels had to dig deep into their bag of tricks to quell the “kubohoza” war. A person would find an abandoned house – most of whose locks were broken –lock it up only to come back and find his lock has been replaced by another and the new occupant had written above the door; “Yafashwe”, literally meaning; ‘it has an occupant”. It was nicknamed the padlock war (Intambara y’ingufuri).
Sometimes when the owners of the property returned, local leaders found their hands tied; the owners were legally entitled to their property, but how immediate should the eviction be carried out without causing undue distress to the evictee and at the same time grant justice to the owners?
Those were questions that needed sober answers from the cadres on the ground, who for the next year, worked to make the government wheels turn again – with no salary, the weekly food rations were enough to survive on.
That was an ideology that had crept into the RPF mantra that had its own lingo; Gushugulika, derived from the Kiswahili word “Kushughulika” (using one’s wits or making do with what was available).
All the courses that the government’s future leaders went through during the struggle were aimed at preparing them for uncertainties; ensuring efficiency in the midst of adversity, but above all, sacrificing for the common good.
Talking to people who were in the midst of the struggle, one thing comes out clear; that kind of mindset was what made them overcome despite their meager resources.
People contributed from all parts of the world the little they had and heeded the call to bear arms.
Farmers sold their cows to help the war effort, and when their herds began to dwindle, they contributed bushels of sorghum and everyone carried their weight. There were villages where one could not find boys of arm-bearing age.
They had all gone to the bush.
On the frontline the fighters were a cocktail of intellectuals, peasants, headsmen, students and those from the corporate world, but they spoke one language; “Tusonge mbele” (Let us advance forward).
People who wonder what the secret behind this country’s successes in so short a time have their answer. It was not superior firepower or extraordinary intellect; it was sheer willpower and determination.
It was debunking the notion that revolutionary movements usually stray from their original mission once in power. For the last 30 years, RPF has stuck to its 8-point programme that accompanied it all through the struggle. It added the ninth after the Genocide against the Tutsi.
The bar had been set high that there were genuine fears that today’s generation will not match or may find it difficult to fit in their elders’ shoes.
But to survive in today’s jungle does not need an AK-47 or trekking deep into the jungles to get to their objectives; It is getting the right equipment and mental preparation.
The writer is an editor at The New Times.