The celebrations on Saturday to mark fifteen years since the liberation of the country attracted hundreds of residents in different upcountry towns.
In Butare Cell, Huye District, the celebrations started with a moment of silence in remembrance of the fallen Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) fighters who died during the struggle.
The ceremony also featured a peaceful march that involved hundreds of students and workers from businesses, public and private institutions.Songs and recitations applauding the then RPA and its political wing; the Rwanda Patriotic Front for Liberating the country and stopping the genocide.
“This is an important milestone in our history as a people. We have gone a long way in rebuilding our country and lives but the journey is not yet over. We need to liberate ourselves economically to cut on dependency on foreign aid,” said Charles Gakinahe, the Butare Cell coordinator.
He urged residents to embrace government programmes like the monthly community work (Umuganda) and other initiatives that seek to promote improved livelihoods for the people.
Earlier on Friday, a public debate under the theme: ‘Independence or a missed opportunity’ was held at the National University of Rwanda (NUR) as part of the celebrations.
Contributing to the debate, Major Gen. Caesar Kayizari observed that Rwanda was the only country whose citizens were forced into exile upon attainment of independence.
“There were many lost opportunities during the attainment of independence ,” said Kayizari.
He noted that instead of uniting as one people on Independence Day, the perceived differences were further widened leading many Rwandans to flee into exile.
The 1994 liberation, he said, ushered in a new era that recognised all Rwandans as one people and put structures in place to strengthen this united purpose to rebuild a shattered country that was ‘politically malnourished’.
“We need to build on this success in order to build a strong united country. Liberation and independence is a continuous process. We still have a long journey to go before we achieve economic independence,” noted Gen. Kayizari.
Bernard Rutikanga, a lecturer at the NUR explained that leaders like Gregoire Kayibanda and Mobutu Sese Seko the former Zairian leader, who were left behind by Belgians to take over after independence, did nothing to unite the people.
“In essence nothing much changed. The country needed a second liberation by a committed people with a vision, ideology, and proper organisation that lacked after the end of colonialism ,” said Rutikanga.
Prof. Deo Byanafashe, who witnessed the hoisting of the Rwandan flag on Independence Day, said that Rwandans should seize the opportunity of the current regime to rebuild their country.
“Many years were lost after independence. The progress registered in the 15 years after liberation is clear to everyone. This is a path we have chosen and should continue to take,” he said.
RDF humanitarian activities hailed
At Mimuli play ground in Nyagatare District, the Mayor, Robert Kashemeza, used the occasion to hail the Rwanda Defence Forces for the humanitarian activities being undertaken during the ongoing Army Week.
Kashemeza, said that after liberating the country RDF soldiers have embarked on economic liberation.
“I call upon every body to strongly thank those who contributed in the struggle to liberate this country,” he said adding, ‘After liberating the country our national army has again decided to liberate us from poverty and poor health conditions by building houses for the needy and treating patients every where.”
Kashemeza told residents that there is no appropriate reward to someone who abandoned his or her job to join the liberation struggle.
“Many of them were elites. They didn’t join the struggle for survival but it was out of the spirit of patriotism. This could not stop them from rescuing the nation from the bloody era,” he said.
The Mayor urged residents to embark on rebuilding the nation, and desist from genocide ideology which he said retards development.
In her remarks, Mimuli Sector Executive Secretary, Rebecca Karungi said that despite reports of genocide ideology in the sector, residents have liberated themselves from poverty by involving in commercial farming.
She disclosed that more than Rwf 58m has been earmarked to support the community development fund commonly known as Umurenge Sacco.
In Muhanga District, residents joined a cultural troupe “Imbangukiramihigo” in a chorus of liberation songs, dance and drama to mark the occasion.
“The struggle we have gone through gives us more strength to pursue better life and become a model nation since we have forged a life after seeing the worst things in the world,” Dr. Pierre Mumvaneza, the chairperson of Nyamabuye Sector Council said.
During the festivities, Gifumba cell was awarded for exhibiting good leadership and rallying residents behind government development programmes.
Different speakers also hailed RPF soldiers for liberating the country.
“Fighting genocide ideology and building peace are fundamental aspects in nation building. Liberation means contributing to efforts of peace, unity, reconciliation, democratic leadership and fighting corruption,” Mbabazi said.
The occasion was attended by various local government, private sector and religious leaders and registered a remarkable good turn out unlike in the past.
Residents warned on laziness
In Rusizi District, the Mayor Fabian Sindayiheba used the occasion to caution residents against laziness.
“Since the RPF stopped the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the country has total security and peace. What I advise you as my compatriots is to fight against poverty through hard work because it’s the only war we need to defeat in order to develop our nation,” he told residents who had gathered in Gikundamvura sector.
Liberation struggle still continues
Meanwhile, in Karongi District, the Mayor Bernard Kayumba observed that despite the significant achievements made by the country, the struggle is far from over.
Kayumba congratulated Rwandans upon the tremendous steps taken in transforming the country but regretted that certain elements were still frustrating national development.
“Genocide ideology, poverty, minimum self respect and esteem, poor service delivery and the slow adoption of family planning methods still remain a challenge,” Kayumba told the crowds.
During the ceremony, students of Eto Kibuye acted a play highlighting the country’s current state and soldiers’ conduct before and after Genocide.
29-year old Pascazia Girimana, a survivor, said since the liberation, his life has transformed from an ordinary substance farmer to a commercial farmer.
BY PAUL NTAMBARA, DAN NGABONZIZA, DANIEL SABIITI, STEVENSON MUGISHA AND SAM NKURUNZIZA