Independence failed, Liberation revived Rwanda
18 YEARS OF LIBERATION – 50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE
“If former president Habyarimana were to be resurrected, he would believe downtown Kigali to be Paris, and he would not recognize Nyabugogo suburb or one of the then small towns of Rwanda.” That was the reply of one academic when asked about his thoughts on the 18th Liberation anniversary and the 50 years of Independence, both of which were exceptionally celebrated together this year on July 1.
The statement succinctly sums up the history of post-independence Rwanda, which consists of two distinct periods, separated by the black hole that was April-July 1994.
According to Senator Tito Rutaremara, the fight for independence in Rwanda saw three tendencies from political parties: UNAR was looking for immediate independence, RADER and Aprosoma wanted more time to prepare, while MDR-Parmehutu wanted first to get rid of the Tutsis and subsequently look at independence.
“And during the referendum [for independence], the colonizer took the side of Parmehutu and gave independence to a ruling party which didn’t ask for it”, Rutaremara explained.
“The first mistake Rwandans made was that they did not understand the reason why independence was given and how they could manage it to be profitable to the citizens”, argued Professor Deo Byanafashe, an expert in Rwandan history.
The consequences were dire. During the first two republics – 11 years of Gregoire Kayibanda and 21 years of Juvenal Habyarimana – the rule of law that independence was supposed to guarantee and the equal chances for all Rwandans that even the King Mutara III Rudahigwa had been initiating before his death, were completely ignored.
“Instead Mbonyumutwa, the interim ruler, decided Tutsis had to die; a work continued by both presidents Kayibanda and Habyariamana,” explained Oswald Munyaruyenzi, 94, who was a messenger at the King’s court. “We found our houses burnt and our herd of cattle decimated, which made us flee to neighboring countries; but injustice against the Tutsis continued until 1990s.”
And according to Tito Rutaremara, this kind of divisionism, which permeated all areas of life, distracted the authorities from thinking about development of the country. “Until 1994, the national budget was supported by donors at more than 80%; today, this is less than 50%. If we can do this in 18 years, the then rulers could have done so much more in 30”, the Senator observed.
Therefore there is little reason to celebrate the golden Independence jubilee, according to Professor Byanafashe. “One celebrates something good on an anniversary”, he said. “Under the two republics, the independence slogan was: we have cleared the kingdom-batutsi power and the rule is now owned by the Rubanda nyamwinshi-majority.”
That is not to say that the golden jubilee should be a lost occasion, especially given the proximity of Independence and Liberation Day. “This is a good time to reflect on the mistakes that led the country to an impasse, because independence was wrongly interpreted,” said brigadier-general Joseph Nzabamwita, the RDF spokesman. “We should be determined to continue in the spirit of liberation, both economically and in terms of the mindsets of the people.”
That liberation, according to Rutaremara, happened in three phases: first there was the realization by a few people, considering their miserable lives in refugee camps, that they should be entitled to be full and equal citizens of their home country, which was being denied to them. Then this vanguard of liberation started spreading the word, which resulted in a growing number of partisans who contributed to the movement in whichever way they could. The final phase was, of course, the liberation struggle.
“The liberation war was justified by the fact that Rwandans in refugee camps or in the country itself were persecuted, deprived and refused their rights to dignity and to the protection by their State”, explained professor Anastase Shyaka, CEO of the Rwanda Governance Board.
To him, liberation constituted a rupture between poverty, lack of self-esteem and divisionism brought by an independence wrongly interpreted, and a new era characterized by eagerness to develop, unity and reconciliation, and self-esteem through liberation.
18 years later, this new mindset has yielded tremendous results. Senator Augustin Iyamuremye pointed first of all to improvements in the social well-being of the people, such as education for all, in which today 98% of Rwandan children get access to basic education, a level the pre-1994 regimes never even came close to. “At that time, the secondary school and university laureates were announced on Radio Rwanda; it was always a very brief list,” the Senator remarked.
Iyamuremye also highlighted the huge progress made in healthcare, through the health insurance system and increased accessibility of facilities.
Others commended the improvements in the investment climate, where foreigners are welcomed with open arms. “We need them because they have more money they can invest than we do, and thus they create employment. This is very important for a country to develop,” Anastase Shyaka said.
Decentralization was also often cited, because it brings the authorities closer to the people, giving the latter a direct say in the decision-making process, and also making them feel responsible and aware of how they can contribute to development.
These are just a few examples, but they make clear how the new spirit that has animated the country after Liberation has resulted in achievements that could only be dreamt of in the 32 years between Independence and the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsis. At the golden Liberation jubilee, there will be real reasons to celebrate.