On July 4th, 1994, Kigali fell to the forces of the Rwandese Patriotic Army (RPA), the armed wing of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF). Also on July 19th, 1994, the RPF established the Government of National Unity with four other political parties.
July 4, Rwanda’s Liberation Day has been a special date in the history of Rwanda for the last 17 years. It is the day when the genocidal regime breathed its last.
That date marked the end of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, and the birth of a new government. This year, the nation will be celebrating its 17th year of peace, stability and growing prosperity—thanks to the liberation struggle.
Against a backdrop of entrenched divisive and genocide ideology, repeated massacres, the persistent problems of refugees in the Diaspora, and the lack of avenues for peaceful political change, the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU) was formed in 1979 by some Rwandans in the Diaspora with the objective of mobilizing Rwandan people to resolve these problems.
Almost a decade later, in 1987, RANU became the RPF, with the objectives of promoting national unity and reconciliation and establishing democracy.
The armed struggle
Most of the world had never heard of the RPF until October 1, 1990 when the war of liberation began against the genocidal dictatorship in Kigali. Taking up arms was the last option considering all efforts for peaceful and democratic change that had so far proved futile.
By October 1, 1990, it had become apparent that by taking up arms, anyone wishing to put an end to the dictatorship and the violation of fundamental rights hoped to succeed.
The genocidal regime had amassed a huge coercive state machinery and using violence to oppress the people. The taking up of arms against that regime was therefore considered not just a right, but also a patriotic and national obligation.
When the war began, Rwandan peasants, workers, students and intellectuals, men and women from every region and social group, responded to the call of the RPF to get rid of the genocidaires.
Hunt for peace
As the war for liberation escalated, RPF still attempted to seek peaceful ways of resolving the conflict. As the regime became more desperate, massacres of Tutsi in various parts of the country became widespread in a deliberate effort of ethnic cleansing.
The former regime used violence to harass and silence the emerging internal political opposition. Violence was also used to derail the peace process. After a long period of negotiation that took place in Arusha, Tanzania, the Arusha Peace Agreement was signed on 4th August 1993.
The Arusha Peace Agreement was preceded by the signing of the agreement on a new ceasefire, as well as parties agreeing on the certain principles which, among others, include the establishment of the rule of law; power-sharing; repatriation and resettlement of refugees and internally displaced people; the integration of armed forces; and other miscellaneous provisions.
The Arusha Peace Agreement was supposed to have been implemented, beginning with the establishment of the institutions of the presidency, cabinet and the National Assembly.
A United Nations force was supposed to oversee this process. RPF honoured all its commitments in December 1993 and sent 600 of its troops to Kigali, as well as members of the Executive designated to be members of the transitional government.
The regime on the other hand focused on the preparation for Genocide.
The first massacres in Rwanda took place in 1959. Thereafter, killings of the Tutsi became a common practice. In the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s massacres of Tutsis were common. Between April and July 1994, over 1 million Rwandans were killed at the hands of the genocidal regime.
Preparation to carry out Genocide involved the training of the militia, the arming of both the militia and other ordinary people, the establishment and widespread use of a hate radio called Radio Television Libre de Mille Collines (RTLM).
Repeatedly, these groups prevented the completion and implementation of the Arusha Peace Accords. When the Genocide began, the United Nations had a peacekeeping force - the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda in Rwanda (UNAMIR) of about 2500 troops.
The first reaction of the United Nations, and indeed of other nations that had their nationals in Rwanda, was to withdraw their troops and to evacuate their nationals.
The RPF restarted their offensive. The international response was limited, with major powers reluctant to strengthen the already overstretched UN peacekeeping force.
The RPF took control of Kigali on 4th July.
There were plenty of reasons to celebrate as it marked the end of barbarism and Genocide, and begun rebuilding of the nation.