KIGALI - In a rare ceremony meant to celebrate Rwanda’s rise like a phoenix from the ashes of 1994 slaughter, today, the country will share its pride by honouring three Heads of State and government.
Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Ethiopia’s Meles Zinawe and former Tanzanian President Julius Kambarage Nyerere (RIP) will be awarded Rwanda’s highest accolades for their contribution to the liberation struggle.
The three leaders, all historically known for their liberation struggles, will also receive recognition for their powerful voice in condemning the act of Genocide.
For their contribution in Rwanda’s struggle, the three dignitaries will be decorated with the country’s highest honour, the “National Liberation Medal,” or “Uruti” which symbolises the values of wisdom, leadership, cadreship and bravery.
For their unequivocal stand in condemning the act of Genocide, the three dignitaries will be awarded the “Campaign against Genocide Medal or “Umurinzi” which embodies the values of wisdom and humanism.
Though little information has been availed as to why these three leaders were chosen, historical facts point to a common cause, one that rotates around liberation movements and how they assisted one another.
In this article, we trace the contributions and relationship between these three leaders and the Kigali government.
Uganda’s Yoweri Kaguta Museveni
Born in 1944 in Rwampara South Western Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni’s struggle for a liberated Uganda dates far back to 1970’s.
Throughout the early 1970s till mid 1980s, Museveni was pre-occupied with war-fronts, fighting to oust different autocratic regimes that governed his country.
But during these years of struggle Museveni received immense support from Rwandan refugees living in Uganda.
For example when he formed the Front for National Salvation in Mozambique, the late Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigyema (RIP) was part of his group.
When he led 27 armed fighters to start a protracted people’s struggle that brought him to power, President Paul Kagame and Fred Rwigyema were part of the original group.
Months later, many more Rwandan youth escaped from different refugee camps to join the Ugandan struggle.
In a biography about President Paul Kagame, Stephen Kinzer, author of “A Thousand Hills, Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed it,” says much about Museveni and his connection to the RPF cause.
Kinzer writes that most Rwandan refugees in Uganda saw Museveni as ‘a combination of hero, protector, and role model.’
“Museveni had already helped overthrow one Ugandan leader, Idi Amin. Pushed out of the new region and ablaze with ambition and revolutionary zeal, he was comvinced he would overthrow another,” Kinzer wrote.
Kagame and his childhood friend Rwigyema and many more Rwandan youth that joined Museveni’s struggle shared the same goal; “to replace a detested regime with one of their own.”
Therefore, Museveni being one of the first foreign dignitaries to receive the highest national honour should not come as a surprise to many.
Rwandans who participated in his struggle gained experience that was later used to successfully wage their own struggle and Museveni provided support that partly saw the struggle succeed.
Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi
Little is known about Zenawi and his relations with the RPF struggle.
But just like Museveni and Kagame, Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi is a veteran fighter. In 1974, Meles dropped out of medical school at Addis Ababa University to join Tigryan rebels in the bush.
The young Meles fought in northern Ethiopia and rose quickly through the ranks of the Tigryan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), holding a number of positions including Head of Information and Propaganda. He took over the leadership in 1989.
When the TPLF along with a number of other rebel groups finally overthrew the communist regime in 1991 and Zenawi became Ethiopia,s leader, he was hailed as part of a new generation of democratic African statesmen.
In 1994, as genocide ravaged Rwanda, Ethiopia sent in troops under a UN mandate to stop the killings.
In 1998, through the UN, Zenawi strongly supported the establishment of the OAU panel of Eminent Persons that investigated and documented the Genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda. He is also believed to have been a strong ally of the RPF cause.
Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere
Founding President of the United Republic of Tanzania, the late Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere is a pan-Africanist whose struggle for independences helped open doors for Africa’s liberation.
Nyerere is particularly hailed for being a good host for Rwandan refugees. His philosophy was that no African should be a refugee in another African state.
His country hosted the Arusha peace talks between the RPF and government of Rwanda, in which he actively participated.
When the killings erupted in 1994, Nyerere denounced the killers publically and called the massacre by its name.