As Rwandans across the country warmed up to celebrate Liberation Day for the 24th time, I visited the National Liberation Museum Park in Mulindi Sector, Gicumbi District to gather information of historical significance and pay tribute to heroes who made our liberation possible against all odds.
The site popularly known as Mulindi w’Intwari is on a beautiful hill surrounded by equally attractive rolling elevations.
Mulindi hill was the political headquarters of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) and the command center of its military wing, the Rwandan Patriotic Army (RPA) during the liberation war. 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 who happens to be the current President of Rwanda, His Excellency Paul Kagame.
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 their former political outfit namely Rwandese Alliance for National Unity (RANU), exiled Rwandans addressed key issues such as statelessness, divisive politics and the toxic 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 new paint on the walls of Arusha House was still wet. In this house, the RPF delegation used to meet and device an approach to peace talks before their frequent trips to the northern Tanzanian city of Arusha in 1992 and 1993. After returning from Arusha, key players in the political wing would converge in the same house to 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 football pitch too. It is this field that gave birth to the reigning national champions, APR Football Club in 1993. APR has won 17 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 on this turf before departure to Kigali.
I started this story describing Mulindi w’Intwari as a beautiful hill surrounded by equally stunning ones. One beautiful hill surrounded by its lookalikes can sum up the description of the land of 1,000 hills pretty accurately. When my adventurous self set foot on Mulindi hill, I saw beauty. When Inkotanyi stepped on the same hill during the liberation struggle, they saw the gateway to the fulfillment of our dream.