President Kagame turns 66: A walk down memory lane

By Esther Muhozi
On 23 October 2023 at 10:03

Today marks a momentous occasion as Rwanda’s President, Paul Kagame turns 66. His remarkable journey from his birthplace in Nyarutovu to his current position as the President of Rwanda stands as a testament to his unwavering resilience and resolute determination. Born on Tuesday, October 23, 1957, on Nyarutovu Hill in Tambwe, which is now part of Ruhango, Rwanda, during the reign of King Mutara III Rudahigwa, Kagame emerged as one of Rwanda’s prominent leaders.

Kagame was the youngest of six siblings born to Deogratias Rutagambwa and Asteria. His family’s early life in Rwanda held promise, despite the turbulent times filled with ethnic and political tensions as the nation grappled with colonial influences. King Mutara III Rudahigwa advocated for a Rwanda free from foreign intervention, and Kagame’s family had royal lineage, with extended family connections to the monarchy.

However, tranquility gave way to turmoil in 1961 when Kagame’s family was forced to flee due to escalating unrest. Attacks on Tutsis by Hutu pushed them to seek refuge in Uganda, near the Rwandan-Ugandan border. Life in exile was challenging, and the family relied on the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Kagame began his education in Uganda, attending Rwengoro Primary School and later moving on to Ntare School, one of the country’s prestigious institutions. He was described as a diligent student with a natural aptitude for leadership and a low tolerance for injustice, which resulted in him being a leader at school.

Kagame’s life took a significant turn at the age of 15 when his father passed away, influencing his behavior and outlook on life. He continued his secondary education at Old Kampala Senior Secondary School.

In 1977, Kagame visited his family in Rwanda for six weeks, gaining insights into the discriminatory politics of the time which deepened his understanding of the challenges facing Rwandans.

In 1981 he joined Yoweri Museveni’s NRA rebels, a journey that lasted until 1986 when the NRA achieved victory and liberated Uganda. A substantial number of Rwandans were part of this rebel army about 20%

This triumph inspired Rwandans within Museveni’s army to seek to liberate Rwanda and in 1987, the RPF Inkotanyi, a political group, was established, leading to the formation of the RPA military wing.

It took three years for this group to regroup and embark on the struggle to liberate Rwanda.

Almost four years into the struggle, Major General Paul Kagame assumed leadership after Major General Fred Rwigema tragically fell in combat on the second day of the battle. Kagame played a pivotal role in ending the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, through the actions of RPA Inkotanyi soldiers.

Following this triumph, Kagame assumed various leadership roles, serving as Vice President and Minister of Defense. On March 24, 2000, Kagame took the interim presidency after the resignation of Pasteur Bizimungu and later secured his first term through the presidential elections held in 2003.

Today, as President Paul Kagame marks his 66th birthday, his journey from humble beginnings to outstanding prestigious leadership spans over six decades. Kagame emphasizes the importance of personal accomplishments over his family’s prominence, reflecting a life marked by resilience, sacrifice, and dedication to the nation.

President Kagame was the youngest of six siblings born to Deogratias Rutagambwa and Asteria.
President Kagame at the inauguration of Kigali Convention Centre in 2016.