Why Rwanda’s true independence could have began 20 years ago

On Tuesday July 1, this week, Rwanda celebrated her 52nd independence anniversary. Today, July 4, Rwanda is celebrating her 20th Liberation anniversary. The two events, while important in the nation’s history, were attained under circumstances that were trying and at a great cost.
Oscar Kimanuka
Oscar Kimanuka

On Tuesday July 1, this week, Rwanda celebrated her 52nd independence anniversary. Today, July 4, Rwanda is celebrating her 20th Liberation anniversary. The two events, while important in the nation’s history, were attained under circumstances that were trying and at a great cost.

Using tactics of divide and rule, Rwanda’s colonial masters, the harbingers of the nation’s misfortunes, introduced the infamous “quota system”, in which leadership, as though by divine providence, was allocated to a section of the population, who were so chosen on grounds of their ‘features’, and the number of cattle they owned, thanks to colonial anthropologists and other academics. 

 

Being in place of leadership, they were the majority who rose to demand for independence, following the experience Africans had in the Second World War. It will be remembered that Africa’s contribution to the Second World War, while not given prominence by our colonial masters, did expose the Africans to the fact that Europeans were not after all invincible, as they had wanted our forefathers to believe.

 

The leaders of Rwanda in the early 1950s began demanding for independence. The Belgians were not amused: There was danger in the horizons; independence meant their exit on terms they were not comfortable with. 

 

The new leaders of Rwanda after independence did little to emphasize what united their people. It is not news that they preached and practiced divisive politics. They fell in the trap of their colonial masters and mentors who chose to see the people of Rwanda as different. Yet, historically, culturally and in many other aspects, the people of this nation have been and will continue to be one and the same. They have shared the same hills, intermarried and lived side by side in good and difficult days. The consequences of the divisive politics of post-independence Rwanda affected all Rwandans and brought this country to the horrendous genocide of 1994.

The Rwandan story after 1994 is a story of transition, resilience and hope. The perpetrators of the genocide caused an indelible mark on the psyche of the Rwandan people, and for generations to come, Rwandans will live with the trauma and experience of a dark chapter in their tumultuous history.

As it is now known, putting back this nation of a thousand hills back on its feet required lots of courage and stamina and Rwandans have managed to surpass ‘differences’ they may have had and have risen to the occasion to rebuild their shattered lives and nation.

The last twenty years, therefore, have been to a great extent a tale of determination and a testimony of a nation that has risen from the ashes of history.

It is not uncommon, for instance, to find in Rwanda victims of genocide living side by side with their former tormentors in an atmosphere of relative quiet and peace. Some people have rightly called this a miracle. I have no reason to doubt this observation either.

Impunity that had successfully been fine tuned into a culture in the past has been dealt with. There is rule of law and reforms that touch on nearly all aspects of public life ranging from education, health, and justice, to social affairs, and other areas of human endeavour, have been introduced. The success of Rwanda’s peacekeepers has put Rwanda on the global map of international peacekeeping efforts. Rwandan Peacekeepers enjoy good reputation from behaviour and bravery when deployed. They demonstrate Rwanda’s good example and lessons from her painful experience during the Genocide against the Tutsi twenty years ago. 

It is important to recognise the role of education in the country’s transformation. Usually lack of educational opportunities has created problems in many countries in Africa. In Rwanda, many uneducated youth believed that killing would solve their problems of poverty and unemployment.

Lack of access to secondary education in pre-genocide Rwanda may have accounted for the hostility of the perpetrators to educated people.

Prior to 1994, Rwanda had no system of national examinations. There was no examination body to regulate exams. By 1994, less than 3,000 University graduates had come out of the sole national University of Rwanda in Butare from the time of independence in early 1960s. Education was a privilege to a few who were well connected.

Today, more Rwandans have graduated from the various institutions of higher learning over the last twenty years than in the previous 50 odd years before 1994.

Researchers could undertake to establish the extent to which lack of access to education may account for hostility towards educated groups.

1962 was the year of Rwanda’s flag independence. However, the euphoria of independence did not come along with tangible results for the benefit of the people. The tragedy of 1994, whose consequences Rwandans are still grappling with, did ironically sow seeds of a promising future. 

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