By Jean Pierre MBARUBUKEYE
Photo Source: igihe.com
Rwandans have celebrated the Fourth of July since 1994. It’s not Independence Day, as that is celebrated on July 1st and honors the country’s independence from Belgian colonial rule in 1962. In Rwanda, the Fourth of July is Liberation Day.
Liberation Day is a national holiday celebrating the victory of the Rwanda Patriotic Front soldiers to liberate the people of Rwanda after 100 days of genocide massacres. Celebrations include patriotic, emotional, and educational speeches, cultural events, special ceremonies, parades, concerts, sports matches, and celebration of new infrastructure. It is a time of festival activities, but also a time to reflect on the tragic occurrences of the past. On a national level, a celebration is held by Rwandan President Kagame, who lead the liberation forces that ended the genocide. Rwandans come down from the hills and neighboring villages for a spectacular event where some of Rwanda’s biggest stars perform on stage. All generations dance and sing and everyone waves paper Rwandan flags.
Since 1959, Tutsi have been killed periodically and hundreds of thousands have become refugees in the Great Lakes region of Burundi, Uganda, DRC Congo, Tanzania, and in other places around the world. In an effort to end the persecution of the Tutsi people in Rwanda, Rwandan refugees, their children, and others from different places joined the RPA (Rwanda Patriotic Army) in Uganda, the military wing of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF- Inkotanyi). Tutsis were being killed, fleeing from their motherland, and Rwanda was losing her identity as many people consumed hatred taught by the government of that time. Many Rwandan refugees wanted to return to their homeland, but it was not possible. When Rwandan refugee children asked their parents why they could not return home, they were told that all negotiations had failed. They believed it would be impossible to return to Rwanda without the use of force. Meanwhile in Rwanda, the government was mounting their campaigns of fear and dehumanization. All of this eventually led to the Genocide against Tutsi in 1994.
Back in 1990, the Liberation war started in Kagitumba, Mutara – in Eastern region of Rwanda near the Ugandan border. Toward the beginning of the conflict, RPA leader Rwigema Fred Gisa died. Not being discouraged, the RPF called Paul Kagame, who was studying at the United States Army Command and General Staff College in Leavenworth, Kansas at the time. Kagame returned to his homeland to command the forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front.
It wasn’t an easy fight. The opposition was well armed with better weapons and support – and there were less than one thousand RPF soldiers to fight, rescue, and do everything else. But the love the liberators had for their country and the desire they had to end injustice and the Genocide against Tutsi and to take their parents and families home to their motherland, drove them to continue their battle until victory.
After the battle of bullets ended on July 4, 1994, there was a second war – a war of dignity. In previous Liberation Day speeches, now President Kagame said that the battle of self-dignity would be fought by providing good education to all Rwandan children, providing them hospitals, health centers, roads, and electricity. This battle was one of providing a good life for Rwandans where children, women, and men should not continue to die from diseases that have long been eradicated in other countries.
Since 1994, Rwanda has achieved much in the war of dignity. Rwanda is now known as a clean and bright country, even being referenced to as the Singapore of Africa by visitors. The Government of Rwanda promotes gender equality and now has the largest percentage of women government representatives in the world. Rwanda’s education programs are free and students may attend 12 years of education. The country also brought back Umuganda – a national community work day which takes place the last Saturday of the month. Rwandans now have national health insurance, providing access to decent medical treatment. With the development of technology infrastructure, most Rwandans now own mobile phones and most towns have internet access. The country also hosts Army Week, an annual week where Rwanda Defense Force (RDF) provide essential social services to underprivileged communities across the country, including the building of schools, hospitals, bridges, and medical treatment.
This year, Rwandans celebrate their 25th Liberation Day, closing the 100 days of remembrance of the Genocide against Tutsi. The focus of the day will be development, like President Kagame shared in last year’s speech, saying, “Let us continue on our path to development, build our country, protect ourselves, and protect what we have built so that it doesn’t get destroyed. Let no one destroy what we have built. Let us continue to work together in peace and unity.”
Opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily represent those of Azizi Life, but those of the author.