Happy 4th of July to our heroes

kwigira_04th_july‘Hey you Rwandans…’, the shout broke through the night, at the depth of terrifying pitch darkness. Children were cold, on empty stomachs, their cries only competing with frogs: ‘they don’t want you in your country’, the threatening voice continued: ‘we don’t want you here either, so ask that swamp to swallow you’. Mothers toyed with the idea for a moment, it seemed realistic indeed; trapped in no man’s land between Uganda and Rwanda, with no state, nor status; no place to turn, a bunch of nobodies, as insignificant as the mosquitoes biting them in that swamp; stuck in limbo, in the middle of the night…

Mothers looked up in the clouded, starless sky and prayed to the God of Rwanda; what have we done to deserve this? Where shall we go? Help us get through the night and protect the people we left behind. The prayer was only partly heard, for, it was written by the colonialists: the Belgians and the church: the life of one group of Rwandans shall be worthless, they shall be hated and they shall do nothing about it. They shall wonder around the world and never comeback to Rwanda.

They had planted a virus at the core of the Rwandan fabric, hatred had been born…

Then came young men and women of the Rwandan Patriotic Front!

‘Hili jeshi letu hili, ndiyo itakuwa musingi wa mabadiriko…’

  • If you are saying that you are fighting tribalism, racism, but in the end your action show tribalism, then there is no difference between you and those you are waging war against. Or if you say that those you are fighting are thieves, if you are a thief too, then what is the difference? Huh? So it would be best that you join them there and live with them. Because if you are here, and what you want is different from what you claim is leading you to take up arms and fight, that means you are in the wrong place…
  • ‘Every one of you should clearly understand, that this army of ours is the pillar; it will be the pillar for social transformation. Do you grasp the meaning of Social transformation?’
  • Yes Afande!
  • Because if you do not want social transformation, there is no need to take up arms…

This was the message of a 32-year-old rebel leader in 1990, to his troops of the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA), the military wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). While he spoke to his troops, the legitimate Rwandan government they were fighting, supported by the international community, was preparing the genocide against the Tutsi, and inciting one group of its citizens to kill the other.

In his motivational speech to his troops, he could have used a belligerent language: ‘When we get to Kigali they will disperse at the sound of our boots and our guns!’; ‘What they did to our parents will be visited upon them ten times’; ‘They will regret ever having caused harm to us for all these years…’

He could have used the minority card, like others used the majority card: ‘We are a minority, we need to fight for our survival, etc.’

No he didn’t. His was a message of unity..

The RTLM and others medias in Rwanda at the time propagated that the RPF would kill all Hutu. They did that knowing that people didn’t know Kiswahili. Which is why I thought I should translate this clip into English, and eventually make a voice-over, or subtitles to the original video.

I will do it in Kinyarwanda too, for my young siblings across the country, whom, having grown up in Rwanda, missed out on the languages of exile such as Kiswahili. I will do it for my other brethren, raised in Congo forests or in western cities, being indoctrinated by their parents and the colonial masters; namely the two groups who conspired to commit the genocide against the Tutsi and the two groups that young men and women of the RPF took arms to fight and defeat.

I do it because I want them to understand how one must behave when in a position of leadership. That is the message they should take from this speech; what leadership entails. These young people know of Kagame the President of a stable government, delivering messages of unity and probity to them today, because that’s what modern politicians do.

They inherit a profoundly transformed society that can afford their needs, basic for some, superfluous for others, but they should also be aware of the revolutionary mindset that must animate those who want social transformation.

The goals containing in that message have only been partly achieved. While most battles have been won, the war continues; Genocide ideology persists in some people’s hearts, deeds and churches, in Rwanda and especially across the globe, so does corruption.

Rwandan youth should not be asked, today, to take up arms and fight, as other forms of tyranny, namely; poverty, social inequalities, unemployment, mental alienation have emerged. The trajectory thus far indicates that this new enemy too, will ultimately be defeated. But for that, Rwandan youth need to grasp the ideals of a revolutionary struggle. That of being bothered by the suffering around us; that of aspiring for greatness, not for one, but for all.

As they can see, Kagame the rebel, Kagame the freedom fighter, Kagame the soldier and Kagame the statesman is the same man. His mindset is firm and resilient. It has not been corrupted by the gains of power. Only yesterday, his speech in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia, went like this: ‘…in every situation, strive to bring people together, never to divide them. We benefit from our diverse ideas and identities, yet within that, there is always a way to build common purpose.’

26 years later, the 58-year-old statesman, may have grown grey hair, traded his military fatigue for a suit and necktie, his title of General for that of Mr. President; his message to his troops has remained the same: Unity and probity.

Here is a man who experienced humiliations of statelessness, poverty and disease. He had every reason to despise those he was fighting against. Now he had become a general, detained power to do harm, and power to do good. He chose a message of unity.

The world was used to violent warlords where victors use excessive force upon their foes. Russians were so scared of Napoleon that they decided to burn their city to ashes and retreat northwards into ice-cold northern hemisphere. It was as if they were ready to leave planet earth, instead of meeting Napoleon’s wrath.

Just before the end of the Second World War allied forces dropped atomic bombs on two cities, coldly incinerating hundreds of thousands of civilian populations. The term ‘Carpet bombing’ was introduced by Americans and Brits, when they ‘carpet bombed’ Berlin, annihilating countless innocent Germans.

Governments in Africa, and especially here in Rwanda weren’t much different; I mean, they urged people to cut each other using machetes and clubs

When the war ended, Russians had nothing to loot from ‘carpet bombed Germany’, so they removed the rail lines steal, the only possible thing remaining and went to build rail lines in Russia. Even gods, as conceived by preachers, are good to the faithful and favored, ruthless and unjust to the pagans.

Against that backdrop, President Kagame’s way is beyond their grasp. He has redesigned the art of warfare and of power.

Today I am just rgateful that we are all finally home in our little, beautiful country Rwanda, with no group feeling either superior or inferior, all of us valued. Together, at peace, at last.

I will not wait until he is old like Mandela, has Parkinson like Muhammad Ali, when it is safe to recognize him without the risk of being called a sycophant in my circles of petit bourgeois and the intelligentsia, nor will I wait for foreigners to give me permission to pay tribute to my own heroes…

So today, I want to wish a happy 4th of July to all of you, Rwandan freedom fighters. We, the fruits of your struggle are forever grateful..

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