Today, 1st July, Rwanda celebrates its Independence Day. Unlike other African states in the region, one cannot feel the enthusiasm that comes with the day.
Independence Day is described as an annual celebration commemorating the anniversary of a nation’s assumption of independent statehood, usually after ceasing to be a colony or part of another state. Most countries honour their respective independence day as a national holiday.
Today, the significance of this day is not regarded highly.
It passes almost unnoticed because of the implications that come with it.
Instead of peace and freedom, Rwanda was characterised by divisionism and oppression of its citizens. Refugees increased in number as a series of massacres continued.
This does not describe Independence at all. For this reason many Rwandans today are not so enthusiastic about the day.
There is nothing much to celebrate about that day because it was not a happy day. It was a sad day that led to unrest that affected the country for years to come. The rest is history, anyone would say.
Freedom by its simplest definition is a state of feeling free. If you do not feel free, then you have no freedom.
This was the case for Rwanda 47 years ago when on July 1st 1962 they assumed ‘independence’ from its colonial rule. Unlike the true meaning of independence, this was an ‘apparent independence’ from the colonial powers that had subdued Africa.
For Rwanda, this subjection lasted from 1900 to 1962 when the Rwanda-Urundi still existed. If Rwanda-Urundi in the Berlin Conference of 1885 was not designated as a German sphere of influence, then the United Nations trusteeship in 1946 would not have given Rwanda-Urundi to the Belgians and Rwanda would not have became a Belgian Trust Territory. Rwanda becoming Belgium’s ‘trust territory’ broke athenation.
In his book ‘Dynamics of Violence in Central Africa’, Rene Lemarchand, a professor of Political Science at the University of Florida, correctly wrote against all those who saw ‘ruin’ at the end of colonial dominion in Africa.
He argued that, “despite the brevity of the colonial interlude, its impact was overwhelming. In Rwanda, it unleashed one of the most violent upheavals ever witnessed by an African state at a similar stage of its evolution…”
With the help of Belgian military at that time, the first genocidal crisis in Rwanda was sparked in November 1959 when the Tutsi Monarchy was terminated. The aftermath was bloodshed.
Thousands fled the country and moved to neighbouring countries as they were hunted down, young and old.
Rwanda post independence was not independent.
Through a sequence of leaderships with the first President Dominique Mbonyumutwa, then Gregoire Kayibanda, the first elected president of September 1961, and finally Juvenal Habyarimana who presumed power after coup and later starved his predecessor Kayibanda, Rwanda was not experiencing freedom but only divisionism.
Thus I say ‘Independence Day’ for Rwanda and Rwandans was when we experienced the first taste of real freedom. This was after Liberation Day in 1994.