Mulindi: the starting point of Rwanda’s rebirth
Mulindi in Gicumbi district, Northern Province, is a place that evokes memories, not only for its impressive surroundings of huge plantations of tea, but also because of its historical importance.
Located a stone-throw away from the border with Uganda, the historical green hill is surrounded by various hills such as Kaniga in the north, covered with tea plantations that supply the local tea factory.
Yet hidden underneath this idyllic beauty is an underground wooden bunker. A visitor’s book lies on a small wooden table placed next to a chair. A big framed photo of President Kagame completes the set of objects inside the bunker that measures about 1.5m x 3m.
This is the bunker where Kagame, in his mid thirties at the time, sat and planned the liberation struggle he was leading between 1990 and 1994.
Commonly referred to as Mulindi w’Intwari (Mulindi of heroes), the place evokes memories of the bloodshed, sacrifice, hard work and strategic planning of youthful Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) revolutionaries, now turned into Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF), that led to takeover of power in 1994 after halting the 100-day Genocide against the Tutsis.
According to Col Dr Joseph Karemera, one of the fighters who used the base, Mulindi headquartered the RPF and the High Command of the RPA since 1991 since it was the most convenient area for the fighters.
“It was chosen for strategic reasons,” explains Karemera, a former senator, ambassador to South Africa, as well as Minister of health and education. “During the war you have to choose headquarters that you are able to defend. For example, we had occupied that high hill of Kaniga and all those surrounding hills to ensure that our headquarters were safe and secure.”
After that, part of the force went to attack Kiyove and then another went to Gahinga and Muhabura volcanoes, Dr Karemera continues. This was to be able to attack the whole country through Byumba, Ruhengeri and Umutara simultaneously.
During the struggle and hardship, the colonel recalls, everyone had his own trench and all fighters used to be inside during the night to avoid possible enemy bombardments. “Our bunkers were well-constructed and could withstand bombardments,” he says.
“It’s very critical to turn it into a museum because this is where most of our activities and planning of what came to be policies of RPF, were done.”
Despite the hardship, Karemera affirms that they were performing well with no coordination problems. “Our struggle was marked by advanced communication which was even better than the one of the then ruling regime of [Juvenal] Habyarimana,” he testifies.
The landmark in the history of Rwanda has played a key role during the four-year struggle, according to combatants who were on the ground. “This is where we used to hold our meetings, take decisions and coordinate our fundraising,” Karemera points out.
It was even on the historic place that members of the RPF, accompanied by the RPA 3rd battalion to protect them, that were to be part of the transitional government following Arusha agreements in 1993, were approved.
It was not only military operations that were hatched on the hill. The soldiers also took time off to play football, basketball, volleyball thus the presence of pitches next to the bunker.
Since the current government owes part of its history to the hill, it was decided that a museum be built in the area.
“It’s very critical to turn it into a museum because this is where most of our activities and planning of what came to be policies of RPF, were done,” Karemera observes.
President Kagame is also convinced that the history should be preserved so that even future generations should learn about the happenings. “The importance of preserving history is that it helps us get rich information about the past to shape the present and future generations,” the Head of State said last week while laying the foundation stone for the Liberation Museum to be built there.
According to Alphonse Umulisa, the director general of the Institute of the National Museums of Rwanda (INMR), the museum will have three different main buildings: one being the ‘high command’ and the second being ‘the chairman of RPF’ and the third one named ‘Arusha’ to signify where the peace agreements were signed.
Though the story begins at Mulindi, there are also events that took place in other parts of the country during the struggle such as parliament. According to Protais Mitali, the Minister of Culture and Sports, at those sites branches of the Liberation Museum will be erected.
“This museum will teach all of us about the liberation struggle and ensure it is never forgotten,” he points out, adding that they will use audio-video recordings, written materials and individual testimonies to tell the story.