Yesterday was July first, Rwanda’s Independence Day.
Saturday, July fourth is Liberation Day.
The beginning of July, perhaps symbolizes the triumph and victory over the Genocidal forces, which went on a 100-day carnage, to ensure a whole ethnic group, the Tutsi, were wiped from the face of the earth. A million people lost their lives.
The 1994 pogroms went on with very little intervention from the international community, until the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) had to intervene, seizing Kigali.
Rwanda gained independence many decades ago, but as was the case with most African countries; this did not come with liberation.
Independence simply symbolized the end of direct Belgian colonial rule, but the suffering for the marginalized oppressed continued, under the black elite, with millions being driven into exile.
Those who remained went through untold suffering, under the watchful eye of the world.
The RPF took over with the insurmountable task of liberating the country from the past wicked politics of divisionism.
When recently asked to comment on the significance of the 15 years after liberation, during his traditional monthly press conference, at Urugwiro Village, President Paul Kagame, took us back to where it all started – the main challenge of rebuilding a country from scratch.
However, while rebuilding Rwanda, posed a big challenge, as all institutions had collapsed, the bigger challenge was to ensure the country did not plunge any further.
“You can look back and feel happy that we did not end up with a failed state, which we could easily have turned into, as we have seen in some parts of the world,” Kagame told journalists.
When one looks at the state of Somalia today, a country that has not had a proper government, in place for decades; poverty and human suffering - being the order of the day.
When you reflect on the situation in Sudan, where millions have lost their lives in senseless fighting, then you know what a failed state is.
Then you understand what it means when leaders fail their people. Then you come face-to-face with the real tragedy of a leadership without a vision.
Not so for Rwanda, as she refused to be dragged down by one of the world’s worst human calamities. Every reason to celebrate the first week of July, as it is not just Rwandans making a difference in their lives, but also about impacting African politics.
The liberation theme this year is aptly; “Our dignity, our strength.”
That is why the leadership here stands tall, knowing that it has overcome the most insurmountable challenge, of turning the fortunes of a country many had written off and neglected as a failure, into a success story.
The last engagement between President Kagame and members of the press which lasted almost four hours, was incisive in understanding the man himself and the great strides he has made so far.
It was a moment of both reflection and introspection, looking back at challenges overcome and figuring ways of maintaining the gains attained so far.
However, each question asked and answered, had the intriguing connection in that, it was as much about Rwanda and the progress she has made so far as a country, as much as it was about the man at the helm over the years, Paul Kagame.
Kagame, who has steered the ship, from the turbulent waters to present day glory pointed out that at this historical juncture, the main challenge was mainly to do with how to sustain the gains so far achieved.
“The journey is on, we can continue making headway,” he told the press. A mission as he put it that originally involved: “Reconciling a society that had been destroyed to the extent ours has witnessed.”
Indeed exactly 15 years ago, Rwanda was a deeply polarized society, littered with dead bodies, with no standing institution, the treasury looted – but for many what mattered at the time was just staying alive.
“Overcoming such a challenge as ours is not a small magnitude really.” “15 years of liberation explains this story of survival and overcoming incredible challenges, on our own, then being where we are today, and being challenged by how we move on in the future, it is then an issue of sustainability.”
Presently, Kagame, is one of Africa’s statesmen, who stands tall on the global arena.
The engagement and leadership status that Kagame, has been honoured with on the African continent and the global stage, is perhaps the tacit recognition of the role he has played in overcoming the challenges Rwanda was hamstrung with for decades.
He has captured the world’s imagination, in more ways than one, but certainly not as a leader with a victim mentality over past calamities, but a man who has stood the challenge and has taken charge, with his mind well set into the future.
The man who speaks boldly against corruption, even amongst his own, also speaks against a culture of mediocrity, but instead implores, fellow citizens, to: “work towards prosperity.”
Rwanda has one of the fastest growing economies in the world, at 11 percent, slowly becoming an Information Communication Technology (ICT) hub on the continent, among other achievements.
A global leader, Kagame, has over the past months hit world headlines, as a recipient of several prestigious awards.
He has also been engaged on the global platform as an opinion leader proffering solutions, to socio-economic problems affecting the world today. He has made his input on the global financial crisis, including other issues to do with aid dependency.
For Africans faced with difficult situations, Kagame does not go further than his own personal experience.
Among some of his most recent engagements include officiating at the 7th National Prayer Breakfast, held in Nairobi, Kenya,last May.
Kagame says, he had not gone to Nairobi wearing an ideological straightjacket of influencing Kenyans on the route they should take in dealing with their problems, but instead, he gave views centering: “on the problems of Rwanda and how we resolved them.”
Key in his message to Kenyan’s was that Rwanda had found a solution, by harnessing several components, which include – diversity, power-sharing and consensus.
On these elements and the challenges faced by some African countries in reaching a consensus on solutions to problems they are faced with, to the point of destroying their countries, Kagame asks: “If you have hippos in the Lake quarrelling among themselves and in the end as they oppose each other they drain the water out of the lake, when the water is totally dry what happens to these hippos who are quarrelling?”
“You can choose to believe me or not, I am just telling you a story I have lived. I have been there, Rwandans have been there,” he says.
That he has been there and triumphed, is all the reason why this year’s independence day and liberation day celebrations are significant for Rwandans.