As a friend considered last 1st October a big deal, so should every single Rwandan. Every first day of October recalls the day in 1994 when a small assortment of young and not-so-young fellows launched an effort to open a new chapter in the history of this land.
To all intents and purposes, even to them it looked like an effort in futility. Indeed, they were immediately repulsed and sent into hiding in the northern fringe nooks along the border with Uganda.
Still, that first shot that punctured the calm sky over Rwanda scattered more than the birds of the air. It exploded the myth that the country was at peace with herself and her neighbours and that she was in the fast lane of development.
And the small band of fighters was still there. After reorganisation and re-launch of their effort, they took almost four years and showed the country’s government to the world for exactly what it was, when it embarked on an overt killing orgy of its own people and plunged the country into the abyss. The orgy had always been there, but hidden.
It became clear that, all along, it had been a government that had banished one section of its own citizens and whose other section was economically denied, socially fractured and politically alienated and divided along all possible lines. The government was hiding behind the smokescreen of the drip (serumu) of donor support, practically from one country, to present a face of a cohesive and progressive country.
Twenty-one years hence, the country is only beginning to find her veritable place among the civilised and progressive nations of this globe. How did she rise from the abyss?
When those few fighters grew into a formidable force and toppled the Habyarimana dictatorship, it emerged that their military wing (RPA) was only part of an otherwise strong and widespread movement (RPF) that had for log been in place and was continuously expanding at a deliberately slow pace.
The slow pace was for every member drafted into the movement to internalise its cause and raison d’être, by now comprehensively crafted and crystallised into an 8-point programme.
These eight points included: restoration of national unity and reconciliation; promotion of good governance premised on democracy; growth of the country’s economy by harnessing its natural resources; eradication of corruption, favouritism, misuse of natural resources and all fraudulent practices; improvement of citizens’ social welfare; elimination of all causes of exile and facilitation of the repatriation of refugees; and good international relations with other nations.
The above points, of course, had not anticipated the new dimension of a genocide whose proportion was truly beyond human capacity. With it, a new point was added that sought to resolve its consequences, fight it and all its related ideology so as to form an all-encompassing 9-point programme. It is this programme that greatly informs today’s constitution that was promulgated in 2003.
Therefore, while Rwandans may today proclaim their dignity as an increasingly respected community among other communities, they should never forget that day on 1st October 1990 when a few ‘youngs’ and ‘not-so-youngs’ reminded their fellow Rwandans that a community that lived in division was a community that lived in indignity.
That a community that abused its own was a community that despised itself. That a conscious community recognised its value, which value it was given by its own. One for all, and all for one.
Which should recall the one spark that started it all. The seed that thought to bring together the few heads that could be gathered to sit down and ponder their roots.
For a community that had lived as a formidable force to fend off all forces of division before the gun of a ‘red colonialist’, what had it taken to turn it into the most despised community in the world? The most despised which, unbeknownst to them, was nonetheless going to bring on itself the most humiliating shame of a genocide in a civilised 20th century.
Yes, they must be recalled. They who, thus coming together and seeing the possibility of a return to a dignified life as a united community again, went on to gather more heads so that together they could think out ways of bringing forth this noble cause. And they did and thus came the programme that was concretised into eight points, later to be burdened with a ninth.
Then the roadblock. The elephant in the room of Rwandans was a vicious government that was determined to continue fracturing their community and was protected by big powers of the Western World.
Weighed against the life of a community, young lives decided theirs had to be sacrificed so as to bring to its knees a government that shamed them in the eyes of civilisation. And thus that shot that rang out on 1st October 1994 to herald a call for a Rwanda that would be reconfigured to become the home of an accommodating community.
A call that was followed by the unimaginable blow of more lives sacrificed in a genocide perpetrated by a government so base it sought to perpetuate itself through the blood of its own citizens.
October 1st reminds us that all those sacrifices of the departed and the living should not be in vain. But, equally, that we should celebrate our triumph over the base forces that had turned us into the sick man of the world.
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