Rwanda’s liberation struggle that started on 1st October 1990 is, without doubt, a compelling story in the African political history. It is a story that inspires the youth on the continent in so many ways.
The story is an emotional one. 21 years down the line, the story continues to draw varied forms of heated discussions within academic circles, civil society and even amongst political analysts in Africa and beyond.
However, for some students of African history, especially post cold war politics, its moral teaches one important lesson; that, no matter one’s shortcomings or distorted backgrounds, or any other forms of discrimination, it is indeed very possible to overcome challenges, emerge victorious and stronger.
Nevertheless, one question lingers on people’s minds: How did a group of mostly young militants and activists, who were not as fully armed as their enemies, manage, over a relatively short time, to overcome very many odds to emerge victorious?
Of course, while answering such a question, one would say that the group of young militants and activists under the banner of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) were armed with a high form of conviction and belief in their course.
One can even add that such conviction is way more lethal than any other form of weapons that their enemies possessed.
It was the belief that no matter the odds, they were fighting for higher ideals than their enemies. Right from the onset, the set-backs were devastating.
On the second day of the invasion, the young militants encountered shock. It seemed as if victory was only short-lived. Rwanda Patriotic Army’s first Commander, Maj Gen Fred Rwigyema, along with other senior commanders, were dead.
The government at the time, appealed to its erstwhile friends such as France, Belgium and Zaire, who extended various forms of support, causing further set-backs to the liberation struggle.
By the time RPA’s new commander, Major Paul Kagame, arrived on the ground, it was total chaos.
There were mass desertions among the RPA ranks as cohesion that is paramount for armies, suffered. Within the rebel army ranks, it was impossible, bordering on the unimaginable, to think that their commander Fred was dead. So, morale suffered a great deal.
Meanwhile, those who were still on the frontline had to contend with a strong counter attack from the government forces backed by strong foreign support. Added to the list of challenges, diseases such as dysentery served to weaken the capability of the rebel movement.
So the question is-how did Kagame manage to change the course that had gone so wrong, right from start of the campaign?
Various authorities in political and military African history talk of Kagame’s superior strategic and tactical approaches to the struggle that served to reverse the course of the bitter contest.
The RPA repositioned to engage the enemy in war manoeuvres. Rather than engage in open single frontal attacks, RPA had to radically change tact and seek classic hit and run tactics, while keeping the enemy engaged in several fronts, all at the same time.
While the vast majority of the RPA field commanders were left in total awe and surprise at the introduction of the new battle plan by their new commander, it worked well for them and, over time, RPA gained lost ground. The rest as they say is history.
Though victory came by July 4, 1994, the war was far from over. Over one million lives were lost in just 100 days, victims of Africa’s worst blood letting, the Genocide against the Tutsi. RPF inherited one mass grave of a country, instead of a normal nation state.
The fleeing genocidaires ransacked and looted everything. Not even a single penny was left. Across the border in Zaire, the genocidal forces regrouped and without any form of remorse, they launched fresh attacks into Rwanda.
So much has happened since then. In short, 21 years down the line, while the struggle is still ongoing, it can be said, with some measure that, it was not an exercise in futility.
While many lives were lost along the way, and the political landscape of the entire great lakes region of Africa has changed, Rwanda is now emerging in a fashion that the young militants envisioned when the first shots were fired on October 1, 1990.
The author is an editor with The New Times