From refugee to president: Kagame recounts childhood memories and quest to liberate Rwanda

By Esther Muhozi
On 3 April 2024 at 12:24

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has recounted how his aspiration to free his country took root when he was merely 11 years old, prompted by his bewilderment over his family’s refugee status.

His resolve was further cemented by the hardships he witnessed during visits to relatives in Rwanda, which motivated him to work towards improving their living standards and the nation’s political scene.

Forced to flee to Uganda at the age of four, Kagame spent his childhood in a refugee camp. By the time he was 15, he had lost his father, but questions about their refugee existence were already swirling in his mind.

In a conversation with Radio10 and Royal FM on Monday, Kagame reflected on his youth, a time when the innocence of childhood often masks the harsher realities of life.

Around the age of 11 or 12, curiosity led him to inquire about their refugee status, a question that stemmed from a deeper sense of inquiry that had not yet been satisfied.

Kagame, the youngest in his family, was particularly struck by the sight of his older siblings queuing for food rations, a stark reminder of their challenging circumstances.

He shared how, as a child, witnessing his siblings line up for rations made him question their circumstances even more deeply.

This imagery of his family’s struggle and the explanations he received about their status, albeit not fully comprehended at the time, stayed with him.

These early experiences seeded a persistent thought in Kagame’s mind about the disparity between their past security and their current state as refugees.

Kagame’s connection to Rwanda remained strong through his youth, marked by frequent visits back to the country. During these visits, he explored various locales, further familiarizing himself with the land of his heritage.

His travels included journeys to see family members and traversing roads less traveled, which painted a vivid picture of Rwanda’s landscape and its people’s resilience. These experiences were pivotal in shaping his understanding of Rwanda and its potential for transformation.

During his twenties, Kagame’s visits to the National University of Rwanda (UNR) and interactions with acquaintances studying there provided him with insights that deepened his resolve to address the challenges facing his homeland.

Kagame’s involvement in the Ugandan liberation movement provided a practical framework for his ambitions for Rwanda. He saw their participation as a stepping stone, leveraging their experiences and successes in Uganda as a foundation for initiating change back home.

Among the small group that embarked on this mission were notable figures including Maj Gen Fred Gisa Rwigema, with Kagame himself among the 27 individuals armed for the cause.

This collective effort marked the beginning of a broader movement, attracting many young Rwandans passionate about their country’s liberation.

Despite the monumental task ahead, Kagame disclosed that leadership was not a predetermined goal but rather a role that emerged organically as they navigated the complexities of liberation.

Media " is one of the tools used by the RPF Inkotanyi to explain the objectives of the journey to rebuild the country. Here, Paul Kagame addressed journalists at 'Mulindi w'Intwari'.
Major General Kagame reaches the war after studying Military Science in America.
RPA troops arriving in Quartier Matheus, City of Kigali on April 4th, 1994.