Why RPA choose October 1 as the start of Liberation Struggle

By Zaninka Umutesi
On 5 October 2022 at 10:17

In the morning of October 1, 1990, the first gunshot was heard in Kagitumba in Byumba Prefecture (now in Nyagatare District), leading to the repatriation of thousands of Rwandans who had spent more than 30 years abroad over oppression.

The day was a major breakthrough in the history of Rwanda and a major setback for the government of the then President Juvenal Habyarimana who had been stubborn, saying that the country is so full that it cannot find a place to settle its people who are in exile.

This date had been eagerly awaited by the young men and women, members of RPA Inkotanyi who had already observed that the process of negotiations was no longer possible where the remaining alternative was to wage a war.

In the history of RPA and Rwanda in general, the date of October 1 had no special meaning before 1990, although the RPF Inkotanyi and its forces did not accidentally choose it.

A journalist identified as Stephen Kinzer wrote a book titled ’A Thousand Hills: Rwanda’s Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It’ in which he shows what choosing that date meant a lot at that time.

From Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th September 1990, a World Summit for Children was underway at the headquarters of the United Nations (UN) in New York in the United States of America.

President Habyarimana and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda were among the 71 heads of state and government who attended the conference.

The RPF Inkotanyi knew very well that both leaders would still be in YSA on October 1, 1990.

Kinzer says that it was difficult on the Rwandan side for the army to get enough instructions to fight the attackers, as it would happen when the President is in the country.

Most of the RPA troops who started the fight, were already enrolled in the Ugandan Army led by Major General Gisa Fred Rwigema. They were deployed in different parts of Uganda but had to come together to be able to plot an attack to Rwanda.

Rwigema, who was the Deputy Commander of the Ugandan Army, could not find any other way to move soldiers from one base to another, without taking advantage of Museveni’s foreign visit.

This was facilitated by the fact that Uganda celebrates Independence Day on October 9. This means, some soldiers had to be withdrawn from some of the camps early, to prepare for the Independence Day parade.

During those dates, it was easy for the commanders of the RPA forces to move with the forces hailing from Rwanda, who were able to gather together without being discovered by other commander in the Ugandan forces as it was done under the guise of Independence Day preparations.

Kinzer said that Maj Gen Fred Rwigema informed Museveni about the transfer of troops.

Since Museveni was in New York, Kinzer explained that no other soldier would dare to ask him how he brought together two thousand soldiers from Rwanda in one place.

Following the organization, Rwigema sent soldiers to areas near the border of Rwanda to prepare for battle.

Starting from September 30, trucks full of soldiers began moving to Ankole District in Southern Uganda, close to the border with Rwanda.

The soldiers came with a lot of weapons mainly those they had looted from the Ugandan weapons’ store.

At around 4:00 a.m. in on October 1, after making possible arrangements, the soldiers were ordered to cross Kagitumba border.

It didn’t take long to capture the area that was guarded by a few state soldiers.

This date was the beginning of a four-year struggle, which stopped the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi on July 4, 1994. At this time, the genocidaire government was defeated and the process of building a new Rwanda began.

Patriotism and high morale were among values that defined RPA soldiers during the Liberation Struggle.
Maj Gen Gisa Fred Rwigema led the Liberation Struggle in its early days.
Habyarimana and Museveni are among leaders that attended the World Children Summit in 1990.