THE Liberation Day, which at the national level is celebrated on July 4, represents a very central pillar in the turn-around of Rwanda’s history. Indeed the theme for this year’s Liberation Day: “Together we prosper”, speaks volumes on how much Rwanda has since the 1994 genocide against Tutsi prioritised reconciliation and building of unity of purpose among Rwandans.
For Rwandans, liberation or kwibohora marks the day when the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) effectively stopped the 1994 genocide against Tutsis; a genocide planned and effected within 100 days by the government of the day.
This apocalypse, which began on April 7 and killed over a million innocent lives, was effectively ended on July 4, 1994 by the heroic and indispensable intervention of the RPF.
As Rwandans, we remain indebted and salute the bravery and selfless acts of valour that have characterised the gallant sons and daughters that risked their all to save their motherland from complete collapse. We, on this day, also proudly celebrate the complete turn-round of Rwanda’s fortune registered in the last 23 years under the very able stewardship of President Paul Kagame.
Indeed, this day reminds Rwandans and all global citizenry that the human race has the power to destroy by working for disunity.
Yet we also have the ability, wisdom and sense of choice to build and prosper by working for unity and harnessing diversity.
In 1994, Rwanda was at the verge of becoming a failed state. This unenviable status had been preceded by 35 years of divisive leadership which oppressed a part of the populace and drove hundreds of thousands into exile.
This horrible leadership that planned and executed the genocide had roots in Rwanda’s colonial past where divide and rule was the policy of choice for conquering Rwandans.
Seeds of what later matured into the 1994 genocide against Tutsi were sowed during this colonial era and escalated by the pre-1994 governments. This produced cyclic ethnic massacres as well as mass movement of Rwandan refugees into the immediate neighbourhood, dating as far back as 1959.
With Rwanda in complete anarchy, its people disenfranchised and others made stateless, a liberation struggle was waged by the RPF from October 1990 until the successful end of the genocide in 1994.
Liberation is achieved through great sacrifice that is guided by a vision for building a better society. Liberation, as we know it, is not a single event or an end point. Indeed, as President Paul Kagame on the 22nd Liberation Day said:
“The next stage of our liberation is to liberate ourselves from any obstacles that stand in the way of our development. True liberation means dignity, it means no one should ever decide for us who we should be. As Rwandans and as Africans, we must be the ones to own and shape our future. Dignity is not cheap. You have to earn it, stand up and fight for it.”
The President’s words resonate well with the fact that liberation or the struggle towards a better Rwanda did not end with the stopping of the genocide. It is an ongoing battle that among others aims at ensuring human freedoms and a holistic economic emancipation.
Twenty-three years after the genocide, Rwanda now boasts of a visible momentum for an all-inclusive rebirth, a reconciled people and an all-encompassing nation-building. At the forefront for Rwanda’s leadership agenda is development, general welfare of the citizenry, reconciliation, as well as unity in diversity and a struggle for peace and dignity.
As we reflect on the sacrifices and efforts invested thus far, we as Rwandans continue to preserve a collective focus on what is right for our country.
Rwandans are reconciled and over three million that had been forced into exile and held hostage by the genocidal forces after their defeat in 1994 were successfully repatriated and re-integrated in society. The few thousands among the post-1994 former refugees that remain outside the country are mobilised to observe national laws of the host countries. They are also sensitised on their civic rights as Rwandans, and either regularise their stay in the host countries of stay or repatriate back home as and when they so choose.
We continue to empower our youth as guarantors for the future we want and deserve. We jealously guard and are committed to sustaining our country’s good governance and development momentum into the future.
Through its economic blueprint, Vision 2020, Rwanda is on a positive trajectory to become self-reliant and a middle-income country.
With the focused implementation of the economic development plan, impressive milestones continue to positively impact lives.
Between 2006 and 2011, more than a million people overcame poverty with poverty levels falling by 12 percent from 56.7 percent in 2006 to 44.9 percent in 2011.
Government’s poverty reduction strategy led to further reduction of poverty levels from 44.9 percent in 2011 to 39.1 percent in 2014 (UNDP).
There is very commendable progress across all sectors, not least in: governance, doing business, foreign direct investment, tourism, universal health care, education for all, access to clean water, roads and energy infrastructure, information and communications technology, financial inclusion and security for all Rwandans, including to contributing to global peace through peacekeeping.
Rwanda has initiated many home-grown solutions, most of which have targeted and benefited the most vulnerable in society.
Examples of such solutions include: Girinka or (One-Cow-per- Family); Ubudehe programme; universal free primary and secondary education; as well as universal health care (mutuelle de sante), which currently covers more than 90 percent of the population.
Indeed, with falling poverty levels and an effective universal medical insurance scheme results speak for themselves. Life expectancy has proportionately risen from 51 to 64 years in the last decade.
Ensuring best governance policies has led to unity through deliberate reconciliation efforts among Rwandans albeit the 1994 genocide. By enacting progressive laws that ensure equal rights to all Rwandans irrespective of their gender, Rwandan women now enjoy identical rights across the board as their male colleagues.
Rwandans are now a united and motivated people whose resilience and vision for success is bolstered by its hard-working and results-oriented leadership. It is the different initiatives and home-grown solutions that explain the falling poverty levels as well as rising life expectancy as already highlighted.
The invitation by President Edgar Lungu and President Kagame’s consequent State visit to Zambia from June 19 to 20, is an affirmation of the strong bond of relations between the two countries.
Both countries are increasing cooperation and sharing of best practices across many sectors, not least in: parliamentary diplomacy, health, education, defence and security, aviation, and exploring ways of increasing trade and investment flows.
In concretising the growing bilateral relations, the following three agreements were signed by the two countries during the mentioned State visit: bilateral air services agreement; MoU on defence and security cooperation; and extradition treaty.
With RwandAir linking the two airspaces and a commitment of respective governments to build strong bilateral relations, there is growing people-to-people interactions and high-profile exchange of visits. This is mutually beneficial and for the good of the two peoples.
Despite the difficulties of the past, Rwanda has steadily marched forward with an impressive trajectory and Rwandans are not only beneficiaries but witnesses, too.
As Rwandans, we have witnessed the worst in our past history. We are also witnesses of what good governance and focused leadership can deliver by, among others, causing and harnessing unity of purpose for general progression of the nation.
As Rwandans prepare to exercise their civic right of choosing their next President on August 4, they are cognisant of the myriad achievements registered against many odds.
For most Rwandans, the urge to build requisite moment and ensure continuity on the current trajectory will undoubtedly shape their electoral decisions.
I have no doubt Rwandans will continue working hard to sustain and build momentum for achieving more in the years to come.
President Kagame once said: “We still have a long road to travel, but Rwanda has been able to come this far because we owned up and took the lead in addressing our challenges. If we maintain this approach, we have no reason to fear the future.”
The author is Rwandan High Commissioner to Zambia.