Rwandans have a saying that even a common mongrel once attacked and cornered with no other means of escape, it will turn back and bare its fangs, ready to fight.
In 1959, thousands of Rwandans were scattered all over neighbouring countries in the region, some even went as far as Europe and the Americas, in order to escape the persecution of a hateful, ethnocentric administrative ideology.
By 1979, some of them had passed away, but their descendants lived on.
That same year, cornered and driven against the wall by the persistent problems of refugees in their various countries of asylum and the entrenched divisive and genocidal ideology, coupled with periodic massacres and the lack of any other avenues for peaceful political change in their native country, these descendants formed a group they called the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU).
This group’s objective was to mobilise other Rwandans into resolving these problems by themselves. As time went on, this alliance matured to a level where all Rwandans living outside Rwanda could no longer see one another as a Hutu or as a Tutsi.
This was because, just like they saw everyone else who was not Rwandan as a stranger, everyone else saw them as Rwandans and nothing but Rwandans; maybe Banyarwanda or simply Nyarwanda in a derogatory manner, but not as Hutu or Tutsi.
They did not even know the difference between the two, and they didn’t care. So, Rwandans recognized this identity not only as oppression or a humiliation to be fought against, but also as a value to be transformed into a cause. Here was a sentiment of national unity, a cause for the struggle.
This is how in 1987, RANU changed its socio-cultural name to the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi), a politico-military movement that the then Rwandan government would later have to contend with, at its own peril.
A year or so earlier, Juvenal Habyarimana, the then president, had publicly declared that there were no more questions of Rwandan refugees returning home.
This prompted the RPF to launch its first offensive operations in 1990, as a last resort: taking up arms against the fascist regime in Kigali, and assert the Rwandans’ right to return to their motherland.
The RPF was under no illusions that the task would be simple, so it had carefully planned a protracted war. It had a clear ideology and well thought-out policies. Both political and military cadres had been mobilized for an all drawn-out war.
However, Habyarimana’s reaction, typical to his regime and extremism, his government started taking it on innocent Tutsi civilians who had remained in Rwanda, killing, raping, looting to such a level that even the international community was scandalized.
It initiated a Peace Agreement in Arusha, Tanzania, which also came to be known as Arusha Peace Accords, to negotiate peace between the government and the RPF.
The agreement on peace, based on the return of refugees and resettlement of the people who had been internally displaced was eventually signed in June 1993, but its implementation was something else altogether.
The Rwandan Government kept on playing delaying tactics waiting for nobody knew what at the time.
And things went on like this until the night of April 6, 1994, when the plane carrying Habyarimana from Arusha was shot down, a signal long awaited for the genocide planners to begin.
When the plane went crashing, almost simultaneously, the genocide slaughter started in Kigali.
One senior RPF senior officer was quoted as saying, “In this case, we were directly concerned, and we had to take action with all the means we had, within whatever capacity we had. We could not sit there and watch the situation unfold the way it was unfolding without anybody doing anything about it.”
From the start, the RPF leadership was made up of Hutus as well as Tutsis, including defectors from Habyarimana’s inner circles. The struggle was against the politics in Rwanda, not against the Hutus.
It had been made clearly understood. The people had been told the truth about the dictator, about the RPF’s liberation and its unity politics. There were volunteers even inside Rwanda, crossing over to RPF lines.
So, on April 8, 1994, as the RPF launched a major offensive to end the genocide and rescue 600 of its troops surrounded in Kigali who had come under attack immediately after the shooting down of the president’s plane (The troops had been stationed in the city under the Arusha Accords), more fighters continued to join the struggle from within Rwanda itself and the wider Diaspora, and the battalion fought its way out of Kigali and joined up with RPF units in the north.
The resulting civil war raged concurrently with the genocide for two months.
Indeed the military success of the struggle to liberate Rwanda and stop the Genocide was ensured by the resilience and determination of the Rwandese Patriotic Front/Army (RPF/A), under the strategic leadership of its patriotic commanders.
It must be understood that there were two wars the RPF was fighting: There was a shooting war against the government and a war against the genocidal militia.
In the genocide war the conventional army had the help from the Interahamwe civilian militia involved in mass killings.
While in the shooting war, the RPF was up against the same conventional army which had the support of the international community, morally and physically (in the sense that it could easily and legally obtain or buy arms and ammunitions).
But, as President Paul Kagame once said to a journalist in an interview, “The problem isn’t the equipment; the problem is always the man behind it. Does he understand why he is fighting?” In his view, determined and well-disciplined fighters with a cause, and motivated by coherent ideas of political improvement, can always best the soldiers of a corrupt regime that stands for nothing but its own power.
The victory of the RPF ended the genocide and overthrew the regime of Genociders in July 1994.