Rwandan diaspora had a pressing concern to liberate the country from genocide regimes – Mukankusi
Written by: George Kalisa
Thursday, May 31st, 2018, 7:05
Philomene Mukankusi, one of the surviving women liberators has said the longing to return home was irresistible and after all options had virtually failed they decided to launch a military struggle. Mukankusi spoke to George Kalisa ahead of the 24th liberation anniversary. She gave her account of the struggle and called on the Rwandan youth to safeguard the peace and unity the East African nation has gained against odds by being patriotic and commit themselves to building a nation that the posterity will be proud of. Below are excerpts.
Mukankusi, 48, was born and raised in neighboring Burundi where her parents Aloys Munyangwije and Cecile Nyiranshuti lived as refugees. She abandoned her studies at Burundi University and joined Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) youth wing in 1990. She is married with four children. After the genocide, she enrolled at the University of Rwanda to finish her studies before she worked at Rwanda’s broadcasting agency (ORINFOR) as journalist from 1994-2009. Currently, she is a Director in charge of Communication and Information at Rwanda National Commission for UNESCO where she has worked since 2014.
Why she decided to join RPF
You know, our parents had suffered a lot for this refugee status and we missed some right. For instance we were discriminated in the education system of the country and we could not go to schools of our choice even though we had better grades than Burundian students. We Rwandans were forced to learn at College St Albert, a school created by our compelled Rwandans in Zaire and which moved to Burundi when the Rwandans refugees were forced to move to Burundi during the Mulele war in Zaire (1965). We had been asking our parents why we were living in Burundi while we are Rwandans. So, they were forced to tell us how they left their home because of Belgians who had taught Rwandans that they were different.
So, 1980s, Rwandans around the world began to raise their conscience to come back to their motherland. The awareness and enthusiasm began during my secondary school years, following intensive clandestine sensitization among Rwandan youths in Burundi and I became one of RPF youth activists during my University days.
When the RPF struggle began on October1, 1990, I was really mature enough to know that nothing was more important than adding my efforts to the struggle and liberate my country, Rwanda. I was convinced that my fellow comrades can’t overcome that war without me. And that was the spirit of all Rwandan youth activists. So, on October15, 1990, I got a flight to Entebbe in Uganda where I was received together with many Rwandans from around the world. I was recruited and shortly after training and assigned to work in the Information Department of RPF. We were fighting on different fronts: diplomatically, politically and on the ground within elaborative structures. Some were combatants, others serves as cadres and I was into information, which was invaluable in advancing the liberation struggle.
My parents flee the country
When the first wave of Rwandan out Rwanda started in 1959, being Tutsi or Hutu didn’t matter. The war orchestrated by Belgian colonialist against one political party UNAR (Union Nationale Rwandaise) which was asking for immediate independence. Hutu, Tutsi and Twa who were incorporated in that party fled the country as well but those who were belonging to the Tutsi economic class were either killed or fled the country in fear of persecution.
UNAR was the party of King MUTARA III Rudahigwa Charles Leon Pierre, who was assassinated in Bujumbura/Burundi. We grow up knowing that we were all refugees without any distinction between Hutu and Tutsi while our compatriots who remained in Rwanda were taught divisionism and ethnicity.
Those who were categorized as Tutsi, meaning who were responding to the criteria introduced by Belgian colonialists were persecuted in schools, at work and were denied most of their fundamental human rights in the country.
Tutsi youths were joining us outside the country to search for education. So we were taught to love our motherland and developed with time the nostalgia of our families that had remained behind: uncles, aunts, and grand-parents who remained in Rwanda in 1959 and who we had never seen.
At the beginning of the struggle, the government of former Zaire and the French government of the time sent troops to help the government of Rwanda to contain the RPF soldiers. They were constantly defeated at the battle field. But later, the troops from Zaire were involved in looting activities, sex affairs and were sent back while French troops remained on the front. They were helping Inzirabwoba (Ex-FAR) in operations plans and in supporting weapons. Later on they went back France and some of them remained in military cooperation.
The French government did not want to leave the ground or facilitate the way to what they called Anglophones. As they were progressively defeated, they resorted to plan B which meant total extermination of Tutsis of Rwanda in the way that a Hutu child will not have an idea of how a Tutsi looks like. This plan was executed in 1994 and culminated in the genocide against the Tutsi which claimed more than a million Tutsis.
The impetus behind socio-economic transformation
The gift of visionary leadership and the Grace of God, I can say have helped Rwanda to develop from scratch to one of the fast growing economies in Africa. After President Paul Kagame had stopped the genocide, he asked us not to revenge but instead put our efforts together to rebuild our nation. Those who had gone astray were discouraged and punished. He put in place a government for unity and reconciliation. The Arusha peace agreement had obvious become devoid of moral authority because of the genocide.
He brought all military forces (APR-Rwanda Patriotic Front/Army (RPA) and les ex-forces Armees Rwandaises (FAR) together and formed the Rwanda Defense Force (RDF). The gacaca courts helped survivors and all Rwandans to know the facts about the preparation and execution of the genocide and this helped them even to locate the remains of the victims of the genocide.
The perpetrators were not killed but encouraged to give all the information and those who did so had their punishments reduced. The policy of building settlements and to put together former perpetrators of the genocide, survivors and others and make them live together contribute a lot to the unity and reconciliation of our people. We also encouraged and sensitized Rwandans on equality of all Rwandans. This principle is enshrined in the 2003 constitution.
President Paul Kagame and the RPF-Inkotanyi government strengthened unity and reconciliation through initiation of different programmes that promote social justice and equality of the Rwandan people. These include ‘’Girinka”, Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme(VUP), ubudehe and the government has provided social facilities like settlement (imidugudu), schools, health centers, water et cetera- accessed by all Rwandans. As a result, Rwandans proudly relate with each other as Rwandans in a new Rwandans.
As a result, Rwandans proudly relate each other as Rwandans in a new Rwanda. Ndi Umunyarwanda programme sensitizes every citizen to overcome division and ethnicity that had created a drift between Hutus and Tutsis and citizens have over the last 24 years been taught to relate with each other as Rwandans, country-mates belonging sharing similar history, culture and values, and who have equal rights and freedoms.
On this 24th liberation day, my message goes to our children: we have played our role to liberate this country, we have used and continue to use our last energy to develop Rwanda and with our visionary leadership have managed to improve the image of Rwanda in Africa and globally. You have to take over and push it as far as you can. You have to love this country to the extent of sacrificing yourself and be ready to die for it if necessary, to love and respect our culture and values and to honour them. You have to honour the memory of those who sacrificed their lives for our country, and they are so many. They are and will remain our heroes. I wish a happy liberation day to our gallant liberators, our President and to all Rwandans.