From darkness to light: Turning points in Rwanda’s Liberation Struggle

On 4 July 2023 at 08:51

Every 4th July, Rwandans celebrate the Liberation Day reflecting on the heroism of RPA soldiers, the armed wing of RPF Inkotanyi who took arms to fight the government which prepared and executed the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The forces ended up stopping the Genocide in July 1994 and installed the Government of Rwandans’ Unity.

RPA soldiers launched the Liberation Struggle on 1st October 1990. The four-year journey ended with the capture of Kigali City where the then government which perpetrated Genocide against Tutsi fled to former Zaïre, in the current Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

As Rwanda celebrates the 29th Liberation Anniversary, we have listed below important dates that marked the journey to free the country from the regime characterized by ethnic divisionism and nepotism.

In 1990

On 1st October: On this date, RPA soldiers attacked Kagitumba border. The attack marked the beginning of the Liberation Struggle which lasted for four years after members of RPF Inkotanyi decided to free the country by means of war.

Initially, RPA soldiers were commanded by Maj Gen Fred Gisa Rwigema but attacks were foiled by soldiers of the then regime of Habyarima on the support of mercenaries.

Some of top commanders were killed in the first 14 days of the struggle which left gaps in the leadership of RPA and affected soldiers’ morale.

President Paul Kagame who was at the rank of major at the time took over the leadership and introduced new tactics during the remaining days of the struggle.

On 2nd October: The commander of RPA soldiers, Gen Maj Gisa Fred Rwigema was shot dead in Nyabwishongwezi.

On 4th October: 300 French soldiers came to protect its citizens living in Rwanda while RPA forces from the 9th battalion captured Nyagatare town.

In the night of 4th leading to 5th October, the government of Habyarimana lied that Inkotanyi raided Kigali City and arrested over 10,000 Tutsis and many politicians.

On 5th October: 535 Belgian soldiers and others from Zaire came to Rwanda to support Habyarimana.

On 6th and 7th October: The 4th Battalion of RPA soldiers captured Gabiro.

On 8th October: Following the exchange of fire with RPA soldiers; the then government forces (FAR) killed 1,000 Tutsis from Hima tribe in Mutara.

From 11th to 13th October: Nearly 400 Tutsis were killed in Commune Kibilira.

On 23rd October: Major Bunyenyezi and Major Bayingana died in an ambush laid in Ryabega.

On 13th November: Habyarimana allowed opposition parties to operate. He also declared that people’s ethnicity should no longer be mentioned on identity cards even though it never materialized.

On 6th December: Kangura journal published the 10 commandments of Hutus, including eight inciting Hutus to be violent against Tutsis.

In 1991

On 3rd January: RPA changed tactics and launched attacks in Gatuna and Kaniga to block the supply of equipment to FAR.

On 7th January: A number of Rwandans were handed death sentence accused of spying for Inkotanyi.

On 23rd January: RPA captured Ruhengeri town and released inmates from Ruhengeri Prison.

From the last days of January towards March: Between 500 and 1000 Tutsis from the Abagogwe tribe were killed.

In 1992

In March: A group of Hutu extremists (CDR) that was at the centre of planning and execution of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was created. Around 300 Tutsis were also killed in Bugesera.

In May: RPA’s attack in some communes left over 350,000 people displaced.

In August: A large number of Tutsis were killed in Kibuye.

In November: Leon Mugesera delivered a hate speech in Kabaya where he incited Hutus to exterminate Tutsis, insisting that they will be returned to ‘their place of origin’ in Ethiopia through River Nyabarongo.

In 1993

On 8th February: RPA captured the largest part of the country and withdrew to alert the international community that Tutsis were being killed of torture.

On 8th March: An international report indicated the role of the then Presidency Office in the killings of Abagogwe in Gisenyi and Ruhengeri Prefectures.

On 7th April: The then government received the report and rejected its findings.

In August: Spread of hate speeches and inciting Rwandans to kill Tutsis through Radio RTLM.

On 4th August: As RPA and the then regime were asked to implement resolutions of Arusha Peace Accords; the government continued to train Interahamwe, Impuzamigambi and other groups to kill Tutsis.

On 28th October: The 3rd Battalion of RPA soldiers arrived in CND in Kigali, aligning with efforts to establish the interim government as per Arusha Accords.

In 1994

On 6th April: A regional meeting took place in Dar-es-Salaam. The plane which carried the then President Habyarimana was shot down on the same day around 8:30 p.m. as he returned to Kigali from the meeting.

7th April: Prime Minister Uwilingiyimana Agathe and 10 Belgian soldiers protecting her were killed. Other ministers and officials opposing the regime were killed.

Genocide began in Butare, Gitarama and Murambi in Byumba.

On 8th April: RPA soldiers decided to attack Kigali and stop Genocide against Tutsi.

On 14th April: Belgium ordered its troops to withdraw from Rwanda and UN troops deployed in the country. The last soldier left Rwanda not later than 20th April.

On 18th April: RPA shot at RTLM over spreading hatred among Rwandans.

On 19th April: The interim President Sindikubwabo delivered a speech at his birthplace in Butare inciting Hutus to stand up and kill Tutsis. Since then, anyone opposing the plan was also hunted to be killed.

On 21st April: RPA captured Byumba.

On 21st and 22nd April: UN Security Council ordered the reduction of its troops in Rwanda and left only 270 soldiers.

On 30th April: RPA was controlling the Rusumo border.

On 16th May: RPA blocked the road Gitarama-Kigali.

On 22nd May: RPA captured Kigali International Airport and Kanombe Military Camp.

On 29th May: RPA captured Nyanza town.

On 2nd June: RPA liberated Kabgayi.

On 13th June: RPA captured Gitarama town where the interim government had moved. It had fled to Gisenyi on 10th June.

On 21st June: As per the 929th resolution of the UN, the first French troops arrived at borders between Rwanda and Zaire under “Operation Turquoise”.

On 28th June: UN released a report indicating that Genocide against Tutsi was happening in Rwanda.

On 4th July: RPA liberated Kigali City after Butare on the previous day. Since then, the former government fled to Zaire.

On 14th July: RPA captured Ruhengeri.

On 17th July: RPA liberated Gisenyi.

On 19th July: The Government of Rwanda’s Unity was installed, marking the stop of Genocide against Tutsi.

Soldiers of Rwanda Patriotic Army during the Liberation Struggle.