Reflections on the day 600 RPA soldiers entered CND

By Esther Muhozi
On 29 December 2023 at 09:17

Thirty years ago, 600 RPA soldiers were deployed to CND with the initial mission of safeguarding RPF Inkotanyi politicians, who were expected to join the Rwandan Government. However, the mission evolved, and they were later tasked with preventing the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

In 1993, amid advanced negotiations for the Arusha Peace Accord, Habyarimana’s government agreed to power-sharing.

The RPF was permitted to station 600 soldiers in Kigali to protect its politicians residing in CND, now the Parliament Palace. On December 28, 1993, led by Charles Kayonga, these troops left Mulindi, the RPA headquarters, for Kigali. The battalion included notable figures like Maj Gen (Rtd) Charles Karamba, Captain Jacob Tumwine, Emmanuel Rugazora, and Kwikiriza.

Despite arriving at CND in December 1993, deciding to station them there proved challenging. Initial attempts were made in Byumba, Kinihira, and Camp Kigali, all denied due to proximity to Radio Rwanda, raising capture concerns.

The government proposed Kami Camp, but its dirt roads were rejected, fearing potential land bomb threats. Eventually, the RPF agreed to CND after representatives, including Gen (Rtd) James Kabarebe, assessed its strength, underground facilities, and equipment.

Tito Rutaremara, among the RPF politicians, recalled initial apprehension about joining CND, situated amidst military units like the camp for presidential guards. President Kagame reassured them, emphasizing the battalion’s protective role.

During the journey, Rutaremara recalled people’s mixed reactions along the way. Arriving in CND, the government directed them through an alternative route, avoiding Ministries (Kacyiru) to minimize public disturbance.

In CND, soldiers and accompanying leaders adapted to their new surroundings. Soldiers began fortifications, while politicians engaged in political work and met various Rwandans.

Soldiers had a routine of morning sports and diverse tasks, including cooking. Rutaremara highlighted the soldiers’ discipline, involving gun maintenance and following commanders’ instructions.

As the soldiers adapted to life in Kigali, they transitioned from collecting food and firewood in Mulindi to the city. In CND, soldiers engaged in exercises related to their duties and convened in the evening.

CND had a canteen offering drinks. However, on April 6, 1994, President Habyarimana’s plane was shot down, altering the soldiers’ fate. Subsequently, they faced attacks from government forces.

After the Genocide began, Maj Gen Paul Kagame redirected the soldiers to intervene. CND transformed into a refuge, with a portion serving as a makeshift hospital. The soldiers operated independently until April 11, 1994, when the Alpha Battalion, led by Sam Kaka, entered Kigali, bolstered their forces, and halted the Genocide. Since then, Rwanda has been at peace.