Last weekend, I had the rare opportunity to attend a special demonstration exercise of some Senior RDF commanders completing what they call in the military language ‘intermediate’ course.
The course is designed for middle level combat commanders specializing in war planning as well as taking on bigger command responsibilities.
With many of my close family members being soldiers and having actively interacted with the military during my previous work as a journalist, especially in the Congo, I somehow considered myself a non-stranger to military issues.
However, after spending a day at the Gabiro Military training school and seeing the training and other activities RDF is engaged in, I now confess my ignorance of knowing the character and ideology of the men and women of the RDF.
In fact, from this experience I now clearly understand why the uniformed men and women will point out the “civilian” in you in any discussion or debate.
The level of training these soldiers undertake is simply outstanding in both content and execution. Whereas we, in the civilian world, might think of war as a mere exchange of fire—running around with Kalashnikovs, war is more about planning and strategic thinking.
Planning for war is not as simple as planning a structure of a building or planning the macro-economic roadmap of a nation. It’s more scientific in approach and complicated in execution than we might think.
For example, the planning process takes into account a clear study on the topography of an area, defines the roles of each military entity (whether specialized, artillery or infantry), lays strategies for handling any emergencies, sets specific time for which a task must start and end and draws measures of protecting the ‘civilians. ’ And these are only a handful of the steps.
To an ordinary person attending such an event, you are completely lost. Not because of the complicated planning matrix but even the language used. Everything is coded and one is likely to leave having picked only 30 percent of what has been said.
This brings me to something that I think our government; especially the Ministry of Education should seriously take into consideration.
Many men and women of RDF are fruits of the RPA/RPF struggle. Quite a big number of them abandoned school following a call of liberating this country. But, as RDF accelerates the process of transforming itself into a professional force, many of them have undertaken military courses, that meet the standards of any learned fellow.
Therefore, there should be a mechanism of converting these military courses into a qualification that is recognized within our classical education system. Such that whoever retires from the Army can easily be absorbed into the mainstream workforce supported by their military papers.
It is unfair to say that a sergeant who joined the army after completing primary education and is now undertaking courses on International humanitarian law, map-reading and interpretation, command and leadership strategies remains at the same level of education.
The other interesting tale of RDF training and for which the mainstream education system needs to recognize, is the enthusiasm with which our soldiers are eager to undertake professional military courses.
Surprisingly, some within the region view with suspicion any senior military officer sent for training. They regard him as ‘fallen’ or simply ‘put aside’ or what the Ugandans call ‘katebe.’ On the contrary, in RDF a senior officer today who has not attended these courses is simply cursing and counting his days.
Building professionalism through training is one aspect of the great RDF story.
The other, is the production arm of the Army. In fact the ministry of Agriculture could soon be merged with that of Defence, because RDF seems to understand, in depth, the question of food security than the ordinary farmer.
To them, the enemy is no longer FDLR and its cohorts. The enemy is a hungry Rwandan. And they are providing the solution with thousands of hectares of maize, hundreds of hectares of Pineapple, cassava, pyrethrum---- all done within large farmlands in their garrisons.
The other striking impression is the family-setting within which the RDF operates. They combine hard work with a lively environment of open debate, occasionally intercepted with jokes as well as constructive criticism. It’s from here that you clearly understand how hurt the RDF becomes when one of their very own defects only to surface throwing mud at the institution.
My visit to Gabiro was an eye-opener. Much as the rank and file of the RDF is part of Rwanda, these men and women seem to be living in a world apart and are clearly the drivers of our vision.
On twitter @aasiimwe