By Dean Karemera and James Karuhanga
Rwandans today mark the 21st anniversary of the country’s liberation, with the main celebrations taking place in Gicumbi District, the birthplace of the 1990-94 liberation struggle.
The fall of Kigali, 21 years ago today, also marked the end of 100 days of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, which left a million people dead.
This year’s anniversary is being held under the theme, “Prosperity in Dignity (which literally translates as ‘Twiteze imbere twihesha Agaciro’), keeping in line with the core values that shaped the Liberation campaign that continue to define today’s national development blueprint.
“We honour those who fought in the struggle for freedom and dignity and those who gave their lives to protect innocent civilians,” said Brig Gen Joseph Nzabamwita, the defence and military spokesperson.
“Yet we are keenly aware that the liberation struggle continues today with view to making Rwanda a self-reliant and a knowledge-driven, middle-income nation.”
President Paul Kagame is expected to preside over the main Liberation Day anniversary event at Rubaya in Gicumbi District, an area that hosted the sickbay of the then Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) rebels during the struggle.
In the lead up to the Liberation Day, the Rwanda Defence Forces moved personnel and logistics to remote areas of Gicumbi, notably in Rubaya, Rutare and Rushaki, where they constructed classrooms, health posts, among others.
“the darkest chapter in the country’s history” and ushered in an era of “unprecedented peace, security and development.”
As part of the annual ‘Army Week’ drive – under which RDF extends essential social services to underprivileged communities across the country – the army inaugurated a health post and six classrooms at Gishambashayo Primary School.
It also constructed a modern market in the area, extended piped clean water and electricity to Gishambashayo Primary School and Rubaya Health Centre; they also provided free medical services to the sick, and rehabilitated the 11-kilometre Gatuna-Rubaya road.
Through Army Week activities, the RDF has enhanced its reputation as a pro-people national army that often sends officers and men with expertise in such fields as medicine and engineering to treat the sick and improve infrastructure in the countryside.
Gen Nzabamwita said by RDF engaging in developmental programmes that directly impact people’s livelihoods, it is simply carrying on with the tenets of the liberation struggle.
“The values that informed the Liberation struggle remain relevant to Rwanda’s journey toward a self-reliant, dignified and prosperous nation,” he said.
“We are carrying out our constitutional mandate of supporting government institutions in development activities. Human security is an important component of liberation, we shall not stop until this country is totally liberated.
“A child that now has a very good primary school will later require a better secondary school, a better technical school and a better university.”
By taking this year’s Liberation anniversary fete to Gicumbi, Nzabamwita said, the RDF is showing appreciation to the people of the northern part of the country for having worked with the former RPA during the struggle to liberate the country from a genocidal regime.
“These are people that we worked with during the liberation struggle,” he said.
“The population here worked with the RPA and sacrificed a lot towards the liberation of Rwanda and there could be no better way of celebrating with them after 21 years but bringing such vital social services closer to them.”
Gicumbi District is also home to the former headquarters of the RPA during the struggle – Mulindi – where a liberation museum has since been established.
The Genocide left the country in ruins in all facets of life, and the RDF has played a major role in the recovery process, not only through guaranteeing security but also supporting socio-economic development programmes.
On the eve of the Liberation Day, youth across the country took part in ‘Liberation Walks’ as a sign of gratitude to the young people that participated in the Liberation struggle.
Patrick Mazimpaka, 26, a resident of Kamatamu Cell in Kimihurura, Kigali, hailed the liberation war heroes, saying they had brought an end to “the darkest chapter in the country’s history” and ushered in an era of “unprecedented peace, security and development.”
“They have introduced us to good leadership, they have given us the opportunity to enjoy our country without living in fear. For example, before the liberation, what I have learnt from reading our history is that people never walked at night but, today, people freely walk at night time without fear of insecurity,” a beaming Mazimpaka said.
He added: “Liberation Day is an occasion to celebrate our heroes, they continue to keep the country safe to this day… that’s why you see all these developmental projects all over the place.”
The youth were among the gallant RPF soldiers who decided to launch the liberation war against the regimes that systematically carried out genocide from 1959 through 1994, Rosemary Mbabazi, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Youth and ICT, said in a statement.
“The values that informed the Liberation struggle remain relevant to Rwanda’s journey toward a self-reliant, dignified and prosperous nation,”
Youth leaders also paid homage to the young men and women that sacrificed their lives or youth in service of their country during the liberation struggle.
“This is a great opportunity for young people to show their appreciation to fellow youth who participated in the liberation of our country,” representatives of the youth countrywide said in a statement.
As part of the preparatory activities ahead of today’s Liberation Day anniversary celebrations, the youth also visited areas with a special history of the Liberation struggle and engaged in voluntary community activities, such as creating ‘kitchen’ (backyard) gardens for vulnerable households to help enhance food security.
Liberation anniversary events are also expected to be organised in the Diaspora.