For those who don’t know, October 1 is, and will always be an important day in the history of the Rwandan people. This is the day in 1990, when the Rwanda Patriotic Army fired the first shot at Mirama Hills on the Uganda–Rwanda nothern border, in an invasion to liberate Rwanda.

To liberate Rwanda from what? One may ask!

Decades ago, as far back as 1959, hundreds of thousands of Rwandans had fled their country and dispersed in all directions to neighbouring African states, in order to escape the persecution of the obnoxious, ethnocentric administrative ideology. Some of them had even found their way to western countries, and they were living there as political refugees. Throughout all these years of life in different countries that harboured them, these Rwandans saw and experienced hardship in all its colours.

Whereas those who remained inside the country suffered the entrenched divisive and genocidal ideology, coupled with periodic massacres of the people and the destruction of their property, those outside in various countries of asylum suffered some other forms of constant persecution and harassment: As it were, the largest exile communities of Rwandan refugees who fled the 1959 pogroms found refuge in Uganda, Burundi and Zaire now RDC. In Uganda for instance, they were denigratingly called “Nyarwanda” or simply “mpunji” a bastardized kinyarwanda–swahili word to mean refugee, in Burundi they were called “anti sol” to mean, not of the soil or simply foreigner, while in Zaire they called them “ ba kuya kuya” meaning those who have just arrived, or such other belittling attributes.

However, no matter how distressing all this was, Rwandans did not allow it to blur their vision. They recognised these hardships not only as oppression or a humiliation they should fight against, but also as a value to be transformed into a common cause. Here was a sentiment of national unity, a cause for the struggle, for the collective return of Rwandans to their motherland.

For lack of any other avenues for peaceful political change in their native country, and having lost all hopes of ever returning to their homeland by peaceful means, a group of young Rwandans, descendents of the 1959 refugees, decided to bring themselves together under a group which they called the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU).

RANU ’s objective was to mobilise all other Rwandans in the diaspora into a movement geared towards resolving their problems all by themselves.

As time went by, this alliance matured to a level where all Rwandans living outside Rwanda identified themselves with it, and, in 1987, this group metamorphosed into the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi) and eventually into its military wing, the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), which later grew into such a strong force which not only defeated the opressive regime within nearly four years, but also stopped the on-going Genocide in 1994 within a period of only three months.

And so, it came to happen that on that day, October 1, 1990, the RPF attacked Rwanda through the Kagitumba border post on their march on Rwanda, in order to realize their long time dream of going back home after decades in exile. The importance of this date is that it marks the beginning of a nearly four-year war that not only saw the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) finally take over control of the country, but also greatly change the political and social atmosphere in the region of the Great Lakes, as it is seen today.

The most important aspect of October 1 is that it was chosen by the RPF/A as the D-Day for the invasion of Rwanda, in order for all Rwandans to return home by force of arms. For this reason alone, it will remain etched in the annals of our history books.

Equally important about this day is the fact that October 1, 1990 will always be remembered as the day before Fred Rwigema died. Before the RPF attacked, they had been under no illusions that the task would be easy. So, the invasion had been meticulously planned, but even then, they suffered a serious setback. On October 2, 1990, Maj. Gen. Fred Rwigema fell, brought down by a stray enemy bullet.

These two events, one heroic and the other tragic, but so closely related in the struggle for the liberation of our motherland, will for ever be remembered throughout our history.

The 1990-1994 Liberation Struggle was fought out of necessity and a compelling instinct for the survival of our national identity.

October 1, 1990 in the history of Rwanda is very important in that it maps out the very beginning of a well determined and well-disciplined force driven by unwavering patriotism, and motivated by coherent ideas of political development, under the guidance of a visionary and clear headed, patriotic leader, and how it was able to defeat the forces of a corrupt regime that stood for nothing but its own might.

By Victor Visathan

The Express News


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