An epiphany at Gako

THERE are defining moments when a single moment gives clarity to a known concept or practice. A moment when the manner in which you understand something is sharpened in understanding and perception.For me, that something was my understanding of leadership, specifically the leadership of our country.

THERE are defining moments when a single moment gives clarity to a known concept or practice. A moment when the manner in which you understand something is sharpened in understanding and perception.

For me, that something was my understanding of leadership, specifically the leadership of our country.

I am not only privileged to be part of a generation that has witnessed the successful transformation of what was considered a failed state, destroyed to the core; I am part and parcel of this remarkable transformation.

Rwanda is one of the few African countries that firmly believe in the potential of its youth, and makes true to its word as seen through some of the men and women as young as 30 running the affairs of this country.

I once had a friend from West Africa tell me that the youngest positions of government leadership in his country were only open to individuals mostly over 50 and even then, it was usually under a system of patronage as opposed to merit.

He was positively gobsmacked after meeting our Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance; bowled over when he heard of the country’s Registrar General, and incredulous when we told him of our Director of Cabinet – all of whom are aged between their mid-twenties to their early thirties.

His reaction on learning that they were all women is another story for another day. Suffice to say, he was greatly inspired.

But, I digress.

This insight into the essential meaning of leadership was initiated by a simple occurrence. I recently had the privilege of visiting GAKO Military Academy in Bugesera for the first time.

I was awed by the spotlessness and calm quiet, and found refreshing the crisp and clear morning air. No vehicle or noise pollution, I can tell you.

As I was observing the youth who were part of the 4th Itorero Civic Education Camp, it hit me how radically different events at this camp were some three decades ago.

Situated near the border of Burundi, Gako was a military training camp for security forces under the Habyarimana regime.

Other than serving as a military training ground, the camp was also a site where numerous killings of youth took place as they attempted to flee the injustices perpetuated against them in the region.

Bugesera has a painful past, as it was one of the major killing sites of Tutsi during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and a barren destination of forced deportations in the 60s and 70s.

Life was difficult and many died of dysentery or malaria. Miraculously though, those who survived these hardships worked hard to make the area economically self-sufficient and town centres slowly developed.

Nonetheless, pogroms continued and many youth who tried to flee to neighbouring countries were captured and killed, and many died at Gako Military Camp.

It is these two contrasting scenes that are significant in our history.  A past historical chapter saw the murders of thousands of youth at Gako, in their attempts to flee persecution.

The current chapter has youth who are hosted at the Gako Military Academy, where they are empowered on the role they have in this country’s future.

Where we once had security forces butcher Rwandan youth at a military camp, for who they are and by so doing, spread fear; security forces today painstakingly take their time to ensure that Rwandan youth understand the values of citizenship, are aware of their rights and trust in the country’s security forces.

The fact that such divergent events can occur at the same location is simply, yet profoundly, a result of poor versus great leadership.

Rwandan youth must know that the leadership we’re witnessing today is vested in bringing the best out of all Rwandans, and I am grateful for that epiphany – that ‘a-ha’ moment when my understanding of the leadership of Rwanda was literally an experience.

deempyisi@yahoo.com