Liberation struggle

Unlike military struggles of the early years in Rwanda when our forefathers fought wars of conquest and expansion, the 1990-1994 Liberation Struggle was fought out of necessity and a compelling instinct for the survival of our national identity (Ubunyarwanda).

Unlike military struggles of the early years in Rwanda when our forefathers fought wars of conquest and expansion, the 1990-1994 Liberation Struggle was fought out of necessity and a compelling instinct for the survival of our national identity (Ubunyarwanda). 

As of 1959, thousands of Rwandans had scattered all over neighbouring countries, some had even gone as far as Europe and the Americas in order to escape the persecution of the hateful, ethnocentric administrative ideology. 

By 1979, some of them had passed away, but their descendants lived on — as refugees. 

That same year, these same descendants, cornered and driven against the wall by the chronicle problems of refugee life in their various countries of asylum, and the entrenched divisive and genocidal ideology, coupled with periodic massacres and the lack of any other avenues for peaceful political change in their native country, they formed a group they called the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU). 

This group’s objective was to mobilise other Rwandans into resolving these problems by themselves. 

As time went on, this alliance matured to a level where all Rwandans living outside Rwanda could no longer see one another as a Hutu or as a Tutsi. This was because, just like they saw everyone else who was not Rwandan as a stranger, every other stranger saw them as Rwandans and nothing but Rwandans; maybe Banyarwanda or simply Nyarwanda in a derogatory manner, but not as Hutu or Tutsi. 

They did not even know the difference between the two, and they did not care. 

So Rwandans recognised this identity not only as oppression or a humiliation they should fight against, but also as a value to be transformed into a cause. Here was a sentiment of national unity, a cause for the struggle, for the collective return of Rwandans to their motherland. 

And this is how in 1987 RANU metamorphosed from its socio-cultural name into the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) and eventually into its military wing the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), which later grew into a formidable force that stopped the Genocide in 1994, within only 100 days. 

When the RPF/A invaded Rwanda in 1990, in order to return home by the force of arms, they were under no illusions that the task would be easy. So the invasion had been very well calculated and planned. 

However, even though during the first few days of fighting the RPF made significant progress, they soon suffered a serious setback when their Commander Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigema was killed.   

The RPF who had only been prepared for a short decisive war began to fall back when it became clear that they did not have the heavy equipment needed to face the numerically superior government forces, possessing armored cars and helicopters, in a conventional conflict.  

But they were not to be deterred…Major Paul Kagame, who was then on course at the Command and General Staff College at Leavenworth, in the United States, was contacted and he quickly returned and took command of the rebel forces. 

Upon his return, he began by rearming and reorganising the forces which had been drastically reduced in number, decided to completely change the war strategy, and relocated his forces far up in the Virunga Mountains, a high altitude area in which the enemy could not easily attack or flush them out. 

The time in the Virungas was spent training and reorganising the rebels, fundraising, recruiting from the Rwandans in the Diaspora and at home and rebuilding the leadership which had suffered so much on the outset of the conflict.

Conditions were harsh in the mountains and some members of the army perished due to freezing temperatures, but those who survived knew very well that the struggle must continue. 

Their morale was sustained by Kagame’s leadership, the clear ideology and well thought-out policies, more often emphasising the fact that there is no victory without a cause. 

For quite some time the RPF forces did not engage the government forces, but they were constantly reminded about the reason why they were fighting – the unconditional return of all Rwandan refugees to their motherland, the integration into Rwanda of thousands of all Tutsi and Hutu exiles who were scattered all over the world, and to democratise the country which had been dominated by a very small elite group, for so long.  

But the Habyarimana regime would not hear of this. And so the RPF had to hammer it into him.

In January 1991, Kagame struck, restarting the war with a surprise attack on the northern town of Ruhengeri. Benefiting from the element of surprise, the RPF captured the town, seized as many weapons and equipment as they could, stormed Ruhengeri prison, freed prominent political prisoners and  then retreated back to the mountains, thereafter resorting to a protracted,  classic hit-and-run style guerrilla war. 

From the very beginning, the RPF struggle was against the politics in Rwanda, not against the Hutus. Later on, its leadership was made up of Hutu as well as Tutsi. 

It had been made clearly understood. The people had been told the truth about the dictator, about the RPF’s liberation and its unity politics. There were volunteers even inside Rwanda, crossing over to RPF lines

At the time, the invasion had been well planned, but the number of fighters was very minimal compared to the number of the troops and the equipment of the army they were to engage. 

But, just like President Kagame once said to a journalist in an interview, “The problem wasn’t the equipment; the problem is always the man behind it. Does he understand why he is fighting?” 

In his view, determined and well-disciplined fighters with a cause, and motivated by coherent ideas of political improvement, can always best the soldiers of a corrupt regime that stands for nothing but its own power.