I spent this year’s Liberation Day in a farm known as Ikiraro k’Inyambo located in Kaniga Sector, Gicumbi District. This farm is on a beautiful hill surrounded by equally attractive elevations. One beautiful hill surrounded by its lookalikes can sum up the description of the entire land of 1,000 hills pretty accurately.
On one side of the hill, I saw Gatuna border post. On the other side, the view of the National Liberation Museum Park in Mulindi Sector was clear. Down the valley, hectares and hectares of sprawling tea fields took my breath away.
My host, Maître Rutinywa Kageyo, is the co-author of a book titled Rwanda: Pastoral Evolution and the Place of Inyambo. Maître Kageyo owns many cows, including a good number of inyambo, the long-horned cows featured prominently in his book. The book, boasting an enticing foreword written by President Paul Kagame, sheds light on the evolution of cattle rearing and the nobility of cows in the Rwandan culture.
My conversation with Maître Kageyo revolved around different topics, including karate, patriotism, the liberation struggle and cattle. He is a former karate coach and a retired soldier who fought the liberation war in the 1990s. His first name has something to do with his karate background. Maître is a French word that means master. Addressing trainers as masters is common in karate.
The hill on which Ikiraro k’Inyambo is found used to be the site of radio Muhabura, the voice of inkotanyi. Plans are underway to recreate the studio and preserve this location of historical significance. In the meantime, Maître Kageyo’s farm is a sanctuary designed to showcase the Rwandan culture. It is a tourist attraction enabling visitors to revisit the past and get acquainted with key elements of Rwagasabo’s rich cultural heritage.
Next month, I will return to the hill with a group of young people eager to learn their history and preserve their culture. The youngsters will learn how to milk cows and brew banana wine. They will learn how to churn milk and grind sorghum. They will learn how to perform the legendary intore dance and recite traditional poems. After dinner, we will gather around the elders and revive our oral tradition. Then, we will stage a memorable igitaramo. If you are reading this from Malaysia, igitaramo is a party/show. Ours will be a culturally flavored one. Hopefully, the trajectory of the coronavirus won’t kill our plans. Fingers crossed.
Seven kilometers from Ikiraro k’Inyambo stands the popular Mulindi hill, also known as Umulindi w’Itwari. During the liberation struggle, the hill served as the political headquarters of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and the command center of its military wing, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA). The locale encompasses several houses that sheltered prominent names in the RPF/A, their canteen, sickbay, sports facilities and the famed bunker used by the Chairman of High Command.
I visited Mulindi Hill for the first time two years ago. Upon arrival, I was given a brief account of circumstances leading to the formation of the RPF in 1987 and the ensuing invasion of Rwanda three years later. When RPF rebels conquered parts of north-eastern Rwanda, they set up their headquarters in the premises of an abandoned tea factory. From this base, they steered their military operation and drove their political agenda.
Military invasion was a measure of last resort. Even before the RPF was founded, Rwandan refugees had made futile efforts to engage President Juvénal Habyarimana’s regime in peaceful negotiations regarding the possibility of returning home. Through the Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU), exiled Rwandans addressed key issues such as statelessness, divisive politics and the genocide ideology but the government back home wasn’t willing to open doors and institute reforms.
During the war, the RPF demonstrated its commitment to a peaceful resolution by observing a ceasefire despite having gained an upper hand in the battlefield. In addition, the guerrilla group voluntarily surrendered a significant chunk of conquered land in order to give dialogue another chance.
When I showed up, the museum was under renovations. The fresh paint on the walls of Arusha House was still wet. In this house, key players in the political wing used to meet and devise an approach to the negotiations before their frequent trips to the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha in 1992 and 1993. After returning from Arusha, they would converge in the same house and charter the way forward.
Walking down the staircase leading to the door of the chairman’s bunker sent chills down my spine. The L-shaped dugout is smaller than I expected. I looked at his humble table and pondered all those sleepless nights he spent down there masterminding the seemingly insurmountable battle.
The rebels spared some time to play sports too. I saw basketball, volleyball and tennis courts in the camp. There is a swimming pool and a football pitch too. It is this field that gave birth to the reigning national champions, APR Football Club in 1993. APR has won eighteen national championships since its admission into Rwanda’s top tier league. There is more history attached to this ground than simply football. Late 1993, six hundred soldiers tasked to protect RPF’s diplomats stationed at the Conseil National de Développement (CND) were assembled and briefed there before departure.
When my adventurous self set foot on Mulindi hill, I saw beauty. When inkotanyi stepped on the same hill in the early 90s, they saw the gateway to the fulfillment of our dream.