Recollections of RPA’s attack in Byumba

On 28 July 2022 at 02:29

Every 4th July, Rwandans celebrate the Liberation Day which marked the end of a four-year struggle to liberate the country from oppressive leadership that prepared and executed the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

The struggle launched by Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA) began on 1st October 1990.

It was hard to fight the struggle as RPA soldiers were not familiar with the terrain.

Besides, fighters came from foreign countries where they had fled with different backgrounds. However, their courage, determination, discipline and other values that characterized them led to victory.

On 1st October 1990, RPA soldiers attacked Kagitumba border, marking the beginning of the Liberation Struggle which lasted for four years after failure of diplomatic processes which prompted members of RPF Inkotanyi to free the country by means of war.

Initially, RPA – the military wing of RPF Inkotanyi was commanded by Maj Gen Fred Gisa Rwigema who was killed in early days of the struggle by soldiers of the former regime of Habyarimana on the support of mercenaries.

For the first 14 days of the battle, some of top commanders of RPA were killed. This left loopholes in the leadership of RPA and lowered the morale of soldiers.

President Paul Kagame who had the rank of Major at the time took over as the commander and introduced new tactics among other reforms.

He gave them a clear guidance, introduced tactics to launch attacks from the hills of Northern Province and volcanoes, instilled the spirit of working together for a common goal and discipline among other values.

After introducing the reforms, the fight took shape. RPA soldiers captured areas of Mulindi and Gikoba in Gicumbi where they established a strong base with trenches that provided protection against rockets shelled by the then government forces (FAR) and mercenaries including French soldiers that had come to their support.

At the time, soldiers’ morale went high because they would communicate and receive orders helping them to repel back attacks by FAR soldiers.

Commenting on the battle, the Senior Presidential Advisor on security matters, Gen James Kabarebe says that attacking Byumba town on 5th June 1991 helped them to expand the area under their control and pushed the regime of Habyarimana to accept peace accords that never materialized.

Gen Kabarebe says that some of commanders initially resisted the decision to attack Byumba lest their loose captured areas providing protection against enemies. As he says, Maj Gen Kagame convinced them and went with soldiers to attack Byumba town.

FAR soldiers were reinforced by foreigners and recaptured Byumba town.

However, RPA continued to control other captured areas which exerted pressure on Habyarimana to sign Arusha Peace Accords.

On the second day of the fight, Maj Gen Kagame asked his forces to withdraw from Byumba town and dig trenches in few kilometers.

It is said that the withdrawal was a tactic that confused the then government forces who thought the attackers had been defeated yet they were still in the surroundings and standby to capture the town.

At the time, RPA soldiers had added Mukarange and Bubande to existing areas under their control including Mulindi and Gikoba.

The expansion of controlled areas motivated RPF politicians to come to Mulindi base which also served as their political headquarters.

FAR continued to shell the new base but efforts remained futile as RPA soldiers were sheltered in strong trenches.

This prompted Habyarimana to sign Arusha Peace Accords, which he considered papers that could be destroyed anytime.

Meanwhile, the then government continued preparations and execution of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi until it was stopped by RPA soldiers who liberated the country.

RPA soldiers launched the Liberation Struggle on 1st October 1990.