KIGALI – Two Presidents, with fond memories of the struggle. That briefly sums up what President Paul Kagame and President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda highlighted in the epic tale of a struggle that led the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) to power in Rwanda 15 years ago.
At the colourful and memorable ceremony to mark the 15th anniversary of Rwanda’s liberation, President Paul Kagame and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni could not hide many of their historical attachments as they both struggled to liberate their respective countries from years of dictatorship and conflict.
President Kagame described the day as an opportunity of remembering and congratulating the fighters of the RPF struggle, for their continued priceless sacrifices.
“Equally important, this occasion has given us great opportunity to express our most sincere gratitude to our special guests here with us today, for your invaluable support and that of your fellow countrymen and women towards our liberation struggle,” he said.
But when time came to talk about Museveni himself and his countrymen for the particular role played in Rwanda’s liberation, Kagame could not contain his heartfelt gratitude.
“You related with our struggle and stood by us even during the most trying times. Indeed some of us benefited significantly from participating in the struggle you successfully led in your own country. Mr President, we thank you, the NRM government and the people of Uganda for your invaluable contribution to our liberation efforts,” he told Museveni.
Kagame highlighted the achievements for the last 15 years including the success of Gacaca, a new constitution and economic strategies embodied in the long term Vision 2020 that is expected to transform the country to a self sustainable economy.
Speaking amidst much applause of thousands gathered at Amahoro stadium, Museveni passionately went through all the steps of his struggle and how he met Rwandans who had fled to his country and later participated in the National Resistance Army (NRA) struggle, from Ntare School to life in the bush.
“Towards the end of 1976, we had recruited a fresh batch of 27 fighters from within Uganda, that included one Rwandan youth, Fred Rwigema,” he narrated, explaining that the UNLA government of 1979 was not conducive at all, that some of the victims of that shaky group were the Rwandan youth whom he had recruited into FRONASA and how the rest, including Kagame this time, could not be easily allowed in the new army.
“I had to keep the late Fred Rwigema on my small bodyguard group, although he had been refused an army number at Kabamba by UNLA leaders of that time.”
Cheered on from time to time by the enthusiastic audience, Museveni revealed how after his rise to power, the Rwandan officers in his army kept telling him about their homeland, and how he advised them on doing political work of uniting Rwandans.
He further related how he was in New York when he learnt of the Rwandan attack by the ‘boys’ in NRA, and how he rang former president Habyarimana who was also in New York but could not reach him because “he was asleep and would not be woken up.”
Museveni talked about the animosity and hostility of neighbouring countries, with the exception of Tanzania, that were much against the RPA’s attack on Rwanda. He also mentioned that the International community later came out strongly to criticise the attack and how he kept on neutralising the attacks and tried to justify the cause of the struggle.
He further recalled the challenges the struggle encountered with bigger forces like France, Belgium and Zaire (now DR Congo) coming up to directly back President Juvenal Habyarimana but with resilience and radical decisions, the RPA continued with the struggle until they captured Kigali.
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, the many challenges that you have gone through notwithstanding, I congratulate you on your victory,” he underscored.
“I congratulate you on stopping the genocide. I congratulate you on defeating the counter-attacks of the genocidal forces which have been trying to come back. I congratulate you on stabilising the country.
And I congratulate you on successfully beginning the long journey of developing your country, as the country for all Banyarwanda not just for some.”
The Ugandan leader also commended Rwanda for its full participation and support of the integration process of the East African Community as well as the economic progress the country has registered 15 years after the Genocide.
Museveni, along with Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Mama Nyerere of Tanzania, were in the country to be awarded with medals for their support towards Rwanda’s liberation struggle and campaign against genocide.
Mama Nyerere was there to receive both awards on behalf of her departed husband, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, who was described by President Kagame as “the respected African statesman.”