Exactly 17 years ago, today, the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) took Kigali and brought to an end 100 days of Genocide against the Tutsi, a killing spree that claimed over a million lives.
In the immediate aftermath of the liberation victory, July 4 represented the defeat of a divisive and murderous regime and the resultant halting of the Genocide. Indeed, the day was initially viewed by some as just another change of guard in another African country, whose real meaning was yet to be differentiated from similar armed movements elsewhere.
Others were simply skeptical, and regarded the day as a chest-thumping opportunity for the triumphant political and military leaders and their supporters.
Nonetheless, the strategic decisions that were taken by the immediate post-Genocide leaders have, over the years, diversified and entrenched the significance of the liberation struggle, increasingly bringing on board sections of the population that had counted themselves as losers in the wake of the RPF/A victory in 1994. Far from political antics, the majority of the leaders who served the past regimes and have since been integrated in the new political dispensation, as well as the supporters of the pre-1994 governments, genuinely uphold the very principles of the liberation struggle and, like all Rwandans, always look forward to July 4.
It’s clear that over the years, Rwanda’s Liberation Day has dramatically come to symbolize the country’s political and socio-economic identity, achievements and aspirations. Most importantly, thanks to the progressive ideals and inclusive policies espoused by the post-Genocide administration, July 4 now evokes a sense of patriotism and determination across the nation, as well as collective and individual responsibility to the country’s future among the young and the old alike.
The underlying causes behind the liberation struggle may have been crystal-clear, right from the onset, but never before had those objectives been best articulated than over the last 17 years. The Government’s excellent performances, especially since around 2000 when real strategic development agenda was first laid, has meant that millions of citizens have come to appreciate and revere the evident difference between the post-Genocide Rwanda and the one before. For the first time, ordinary Rwandans became active players in their country’s socio-economic and political affairs, as a fundamental right, not as a privilege. Under the genocidal regimes, human rights were considered immaterial, only used by the regime to justify atrocious behavior/activities, such as Habyarimana’s defence of the sectarian messages of the hate media – in the run up to the Genocide – as media freedom!
Today, all sections of the Rwandan society, including women, children and the disabled, are not only enjoying their basic rights unimpeded, but are also taking advantage of the prevailing equitable policies and programmes to realize their full potential. Today, Rwandans are not only active players in their country’s affairs; they have, by far, surpassed their own expectations of their potential to determine their country’s future.
Across Rwanda, the spirit and significance of the national liberation have spread like wild fire, and ever instilling a stronger sense of urgency to march on as a nation and to take on anything that would seem to undermine their legitimate aspirations. And, it is precisely the genuine commitment of the post-Genocide leadership to improve people’s livelihoods that has earned the Rwandan leaders more public support and confidence over the recent years, as recently established by a Gallup poll (95 percent of Rwandans said, in a 2010 survey, they had confidence in their government).
Most significantly, Rwandans, today, understand that the liberation process is far from over; they have heeded their leaders’ counsel that they need to worker harder to wean themselves off foreign aid – in the near future – to make liberation a reality.
And, for a people who were practically blindfolded and handcuffed under the previous regimes that were content with an impoverished and bleeding country, Rwandans deserve a pat on the back, for having quickly turned themselves around, to equal the go-getter vision of the current government. Take a moment and follow the lively public debates that are a common occurrence on local broadcast media, and you will appreciate how much the ordinary people are deeply involved in the running of the country, right from the village to the national level. They have demonstrated their ability and willingness by taking, with both hands, every opportunity that will give them a bigger say, from elections, the annual National Dialogue, to women and youth’s incentives to participate in national political and economic processes.
Obviously, every political strategy has its own cost, and this applies to the RPF’s broad-based and progressive philosophy. It’s an approach that has produced consistent results, and rightly earned the RPF and its chairman, President Paul Kagame, overwhelming popularity among Rwandans. But it has also brought him and the party some enemies, especially from a tiny selfish clique that sought to use the liberation as an opportunity to enrich themselves to the detriment of the very people they initially claimed to stand for. These individuals have lately launched a smear campaign against Kagame and his government, hoping to dupe an unsuspecting world by trying to sell themselves as champions of freedom and democracy in Rwanda!
Yet Rwandans are increasingly rallying behind their government, as long as they continue to get milk for their children (from government-donated cows), access loans through grassroots-based credit institutions, benefit from universal healthcare, drink safe water, and have their children in school.
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