2010 has left us with lots of fond memories. It left me truly convinced that a united and determined people will achieve whatever they set their eyes on. While last year was testing and full of twists and turns in many ways, it revealed the true character of the Rwandan people. Spread across the splendid hills of this beautiful country, the over 11 million Rwandans, yet again, showed unrivalled resilience as they jealously guarded everything they had worked so hard to achieve in the last 16 years.
In 2010, we discovered just how much power we have over our own destiny, breaking away from the widespread and unfounded assumption that, for every African country to thrive, it must have a patronizing western ‘brother’. As the events of 2010 unfolded before our very eyes, one after another, at the end of the day we always came out stronger as a nation. Every time our country appeared besieged amid what increasingly looked like an international conspiracy, spearheaded by well-known genocide deniers, arrogant and misinformed western media, as well as politically motivated NGOs, we pulled our energies together as a nation, defied all odds, and finally, each of these challenges only made us stronger, more resilient and invincible. Thanks to the events of 2010, we’re now a more self-assured, gritty and forward-looking people than we were the previous year.
For instance, not until the release of the despicable UN Mapping Report on alleged crimes against humanity, in the DR Congo, did I understand how truly the people of this country had become united – just 16 years after a section of the population killed a million of their fellow citizens in one of the worst state-sponsored genocides in human history. The response of the Rwandan people to this outrageous report, first leaked through a French newspaper before its official release on October 1, was a bolt from the blue – possibly of the year – to those behind it.
The refugees, who, according to the report, were supposed to have been exterminated by the Rwanda Patriotic Army in the Congo, came out strongly, in their various capacities – some from Rwanda’s parliament, among other leadership positions, and others happy ordinary citizens – to challenge the allegations. They, instead, hailed the RPA for rescuing them from the bondage of genocidal groups. They spoke of previously untold stories about the heroic actions of the RPA soldiers (now Rwanda Defence Forces) and how the liberators had treated, fed and repatriated millions of refugees in the Congo.
To these witnesses, the report offered an opportunity to publicly express their gratitude to their heroes – the RPA officers and men. Each of these testimonies dealt a huge blow to the architects of the report, in addition to the widespread criticism of the document– some from current and former diplomats within the UN system itself, as well as international research experts. Many questioned the motives and timing of the report as well as methodology used during the mapping exercise, since no basic research standards were observed.
The report was released shortly after Rwanda conducted one of the smoothest and most organized presidential elections anywhere. Almost every eligible voter cast their ballot in the August 9 poll amidst heightened international propaganda against the nation and its leadership.
Detractors, who had been disappointed that Nazi-like Rwandan elements had not been allowed the opportunity to reverse our hard-earned achievements, started to peddle all sorts of falsehoods, including claims that the record numbers of enthusiastic fans that characterized Kagame’s campaigns – some districts recorded as many as 200,000 supporters – had more to do with fear than genuine excitement among the people. In the end, Kagame easily cruised to a deserved landslide victory, with over 93 percent of the total votes cast. In particular, the Rwandan Diaspora hammered the last nail in the coffin of the detractors’ argument, by turning up in huge numbers on the Election Day and voting for the incumbent with over 95 percent.
Once again, Rwandans had lived true to their resolve. Some of these voters may actually never have been as enthusiastic to cast the ballot had the detractors not rallied behind the likes of Victoire Ingabire and Bernard Ntaganda – whose public statements and political agendas have sent shivers down the spins of the Rwandan people, young and old alike. And so, for these Rwandans, it was more than just casting a vote; it was about ensuring that we don’t lose this beloved country once again; it was the country at stake, not simply economic development and social harmony.
In 2010, Rwandans made big decisions. This year is even a more significant one. It’s time to fly higher, and to ensure that every decision we took in the past year bears fruits. Let’s keep the spirit burning as we continue to construct more schools, roads, modern housing for the poor, fight against HIV/Aids, deliver better service and expand our exports. Happy New Year!
The author is a training editor with The New Times and 1st VP of Rwanda Journalists Association