“Today’s struggle for liberation is about sending our children to school, feeding ourselves and building our country. We do not need to be shown the meaning of dignity, we know it because we fought and died for it.” – President Paul Kagame
Often the question is asked about what differentiates the Rwanda Liberation from the rest. There are many things that have been done exceptionally well and, naturally, some shortcomings. However, the most decisive factor has been the ability of the leadership to remain focused on ensuring that the liberation is meaningfully felt in the lives of the ordinary Rwandan. It has rejected the idea that pervades elsewhere that liberation is about that single say day when soldiers march at stadia, elite feast on slaughtered cows, goats, and chickens, and drink themselves silly. On the contrary, Rwanda’s liberation has been about underscoring the sense of urgency needed to improve the lives of Rwandans – to transform society in wellbeing and mindset.
To contextualize the meaning of liberation, one has to take a look at Rwanda’s past. Pre-genocide Rwanda was dogged with leadership that used ethnicity and regionalism to shirk from the responsibility of establishing a state that is undergirded by the principles of accountability. Given that the majority of leaders in pre-genocide Rwanda were from the north, they deceived the ordinary people from that region into believing that they (i.e., the leaders and ordinary people alike) were in power. However, this was a ruse to give a psychological boost and blindfold the latter into helping the elites to retain power. The elites did this manipulating at the expense of improving the lives of the people on whose behalf they claimed to rule.
Consequently, when the new government came to power in 1994 the entire country – including the northern region that was deceived that it was in power – was economically impoverished and psychologically devastated. Uplifting people from conditions that robbed them of dignity became a key component of the liberation. Since that time, a holistic programme addressing people’s basic needs in the areas of health, education, water, electricity, and other essential needs has been implemented, in the northern province and elsewhere in the country, as a means of substantiating the liberation struggle, so that it is felt in people’s lives.
For instance, Integrated Model Villages (IMVs) have been built in this very spirit and are often symbolically unveiled each year during the celebrations. IMVs have become home to hundreds of families. In 2016 this programme catered for the housing needs of 104 families in Rweru, Bugesera district, the year after 108 families in Shyira Nyabihu district were beneficiaries; 100 families in Horezo, Muhanga district in 2018; 240 families in Karama, Nyarugege district in 2019; 64 families in Kaborogota, Nyagatare district in 2020; and 144 families in Kinigi, Musanze district this year.
The model village is a “model” in the sense that it offers an insight into Rwanda’s dreamed, ideal, future society in which all Rwandans would live in similar or better but certainly dignified settlements. Accordingly, IMVs are made up of eleven development pillars split into twenty-four components, namely community leadership development, agriculture development, agro-processing and marketing, cooperative development, access to finance, settlement and sanitation, ecosystem rehabilitation, social development, infrastructure development, ICT and employment, and productivity.
As noted above, liberation celebration activities have been used as an opportunity to improve the livelihoods of households, as families come to live together in organised settlement patterns that make it easy for the government to provide critical services to the citizens. For example, in the social sector, the setting up of early childhood development centres has helped to reduce school dropouts as well as child stunting and malnutrition. In these centres, parents and guardians are taught how to prepare balanced diet meals for their children. Similarly, the provision of biogas digesters has contributed to reducing the use of firewood and smoke emissions, which, in turn, leads to reduced respiratory and other poor hygiene-related diseases.
Moreover, the Girinka programme (which gifts One Cow Per economically vulnerable family, whose calf is then regifted to a neighbour to create and nurture social bonds and mutual solidarity), as well as the poultry and the vegetable gardens that have been planted in these model villages, help to increase the likelihood of attaining economic independence for the beneficiaries who are able to sell their products to generate revenues. People are helped so that they may be economically self-sufficient but socially bound as a community – Kwigira.
The newly generated revenue is generally used for savings and nutrition purposes and to acquire medical insurance, which many of these vulnerable families critically need. It is worth noting that handicrafts centres have been established within the IMVs, where community members, especially women and the youth, are trained in various skills, provided opportunities and incentives for job creation. In addition, in these IMVs, cell and village offices that provide decentralised services close to the local communities are constructed.
This, in turn, eases community mobilisation, as people are able to meet, discuss and plan for future collective endeavours, mainly during Umuganda. In brief, the ambition of IMVs is to ensure that all basic needs are catered for. Remarkably, similar programmes are implemented all over the country, all geared towards making liberation meaningful and felt in people’s lives.
I am of the view that in all parts of Africa, and elsewhere, this is what was in the minds of the liberators when they urged for the support of the people. The disillusionment that comes in the aftermath of liberation struggles often has to do with the leadership losing focus of this imperative of ensuring that the impact of the liberation is positively felt in the people’s lives.
This article was extracted from the African liberation special issue magazine that’s currently on the stands.
* Dr. Mushaija Godfrey is the Executive Secretary of Rwanda’s Northern Province.