In his liberation speech today, President Paul Kagame paid tribute to the liberation forces, both the living and the departed, saying that 25 years after, the country is governed according to the “liberation ideals”.
He said: ‘For the last twenty-five years, we have done our best to govern according to the liberation ideals that we fought for. The conduct of our forces is one example.”
“The force that stands before us, together with other actors in the struggle, have remained true to the cause. They are a representation of the spirit of this country”
He added: “Many other liberation fighters are here with us only in memory, because they made the ultimate sacrifice. Where did the humanity and heroism come from? The answer is simple. We believed in our right to dignity as Rwandans.”
In a conciliatory tone and with seven visiting heads of state listening, Kagame paid tribute to the military delegations from EAC, including Uganda’s UPDF which have been conducting medical outreach in Rwanda for past weeks.
“In that spirit, I salute the forces from the East African Community partners here with us today…. Thank you,” said Kagame.
Kagame maintained his long-standing, but cleverly worded campaign on Africans waiting for help from outside. He said the liberation spirit in Rwanda, was what every African espouses.
“It is worth repeating: Being Rwandan simply means being an African from a particular place,” he said.
Kagame added: “We all share the same aspirations to be free and to improve ourselves to the fullest extent. Our continent cannot remain dependent on what happens elsewhere. Our mindset should be to rely, first of all, on ourselves and on each other”
He however noted that while progress has been made, there is need to be modest because “Our main challenge is sustainability”
The head of state did not make any veiled threats or attacks on opposition groups and dissidents, nearly all of whom are outside Rwanda. He instead spared his energy to warn that the war against the genocidal regime was “indeed necessary and unavoidable”.
He added: “If there will ever be necessity for another fight, we will be there.”
Before beginning his address, Kagame asked Rwandans to allow him speak in a language that would be easily understood by the guests.
The event was expectedly choreographed, marked with elaborate traditional dance which was mixed with contemporary poetic presentations, and colorful military parade.
The visiting president present are Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, Namibia’s Hage Geingob and Botswana’s President Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Masisi, where Kagame visited two weeks ago.
Others are Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe, President of Togo, and Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone and Faustin Archange Touadera of Central African Republic (CAR), whose country was saved by Rwandan troops from collapse and is actually personally protected by Rwandan soldiers.
Nigeria’s vice president, a regular in Kigali was also at the event.
Another highlight today was the presence of Louise Mushikiwabo, the current Secretary-General of La Francophone, a grouping of former French colonies. She’s Rwanda’s most recent foreign minister. When she was introduced in the stadium, there was lengthy applause for her, to which she responded to with her hand over her chest – an indication of being humbled.
Burundi was represented by Charge d’Affaires as there is no Ambassador since 2016.
Dr Kirunda Kivejinja, Uganda’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for East African Affairs represented Uganda.
Kivejinja is no ordinary person in Uganda. He is one of President Museveni’s closest confidants, as both led a small party called UPM in the 1980 election.
After the party had performed poorly without a single parliamentarian, Museveni launched armed rebellion, which he won in 1986.
Uganda’s Foreign Minister Sam Kutesa is also on the delegation.
Inside the stadium, Kivejinya was seated on the row right behind the heads of state. After Kagame greeted the guest leaders, he moved closer to also greet Kivejinja. They know each because Kagame was one of those who went to the bush with Museveni.
DR Congo sent an aide to President Felix Tshisekedi, who recently formed an “axis” with Rwanda and Angola to fight rebels based in the DRC.
Congo’s troops are currently fighting FDLR, and FLN armed groups in north Kivu.
Fierce fighting is also reported to the west of Rwanda, in DR Congo, involving Rwandan groups. Uncertainty remains to the north and southern borders with Rwanda.
In the liberation day speech, President Kagame did not do what many had expected, considering the ongoing spat with Uganda and Burundi, and three Rwandan armed groups currently battling in Congo for space to be able to wage war against Kigali.
There is FDLR militia based in north Kivu, whose members took part in the 1994 genocide, which Kagame and his forces stopped on July 4, 1994. They have fought to return ever since.
Since 2017, a new group calling itself “P5” has been operating from south Kivu. It’s led by former army chief Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa, now exiled in South Africa. This group is part of the cause for poor relations with Uganda, and Nyamwasa is the reason South Africa has banned visas for Rwandans.
In North Kivu still, there is the FLN group, which is a splinter faction of FDLR. FLN has attacked Rwanda several times since July last year, and recently details emerged from a captured commander Maj Nsabimana Callixte aka Major Sankara, that Burundi has been giving safe passage to the FLN.
In speeches over the past weeks, Kagame has cited these threats, and warned “fire will burn” anybody who will try to step on Rwandan territory with guns blazing.
In the South, “P5” is reportedly engaged in heavy fighting with local Congolese Mai Mai militia groups, who want them away from their villages. Congolese media has continuously reported of the presence of Rwandan Special Forces in both Kivus. But that has not been officially confirmed in Kigali or Kinshasa.
Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Dr Richard Sezibera said in the stadium today that US President Donald Trump, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping had sent official Liberation Day messages to President Kagame.
Coincidentally, today July 4 is Independence Day in the United States as well, with plans of never-before-done military parade and show of ammunition expected.
Ace Magashule, the Secretary General of South Africa’s ruling African National Congress (ANC) was also at the Liberation fete. He has been in Rwanda since Monday, an indication that there could be serious behind-the-scene diplomacy taking place.