7. RWANDA LIBERATION DAY 2006
On Tuesday morning - July 4th, 2006 - we arrived by taxi at Amahoro Stadium shortly after nine o'clock and I posed at the front of the building for a picture:
The beautiful sari I'm wearing was given to me by a Rwandan friend who lives in Canada but who was visiting Rwanda at the same time we were, and who rightly thought I would be thrilled and honoured to wear a traditional Rwandan dress for the special occasion of attending Liberation Day celebrations.
When we got inside the stadium we presented our invitation which had been another wonderful surprise, dropped off at our hotel the day before by another friend I'd met through my writings about Rwanda. The usher took us to the section of the stadium that was allocated "invited guests" and we made our way up to the top row of seats where we could get a panoramic view.
Immediately to our left was the section where dignitaries, diplomats and the President himself would be sitting upon his arrival at 10am, once everyone else was in place.
I took advantage of our being early to explain to my husband a bit of the history of the Amahoro Stadium and how, although it was now filled with thousands upon thousands of happy people, it was once - not that long ago - filled with thousands upon thousands of thirsty, starving, injured, diseased and dying people.
The Amahoro Stadium, during the Genocide, was one of the few places in Kigali where Tutsis could run to escape the massacre. It was safe here because the United Nations had their headquarters in the athletes' hotel behind the stadium and so the whole area was protected. Also, Amahoro Stadium was in the section of Kigali that the Rwandese Patriotic Front (RPF) got control of early, after the resumption of the Civil War and Genocide which commenced on April 6th and ended on July 4th, 1994.
In the 2004 documentary SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL Romeo Dallaire, commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda (which kept no peace) described the Amahoro Stadium:
"When the war started the place filled up and at one point we were up to 12,000 in here. Twelve thousand people trying to live in here. So you get this latent smoke that hangs in here. All you see is people and clothes and so the place looks absolutely, totally out of control. It became, in probably the most pejorative way, something like a concentration camp. We were out there protecting them, but while we were out there, they were inside dying. And the stench, the stench was so powerful you actually had to force yourself not to puke or anything."
But let's come back to the present (this twelve years later). Most of the capacity crowd were already seated. From a door under the stands traditional native dancers marched onto the parade ground where they set up their drums.
Then through the doors on the far right the military bands (in red and grey) came marching in, followed by an honour guard. I was curious as to why the section of seats near their entranceway was empty (and found out later why).
They all took their places in the centre of the field, and the African music that had been playing over the loudspeakers was replaced with live music from the bands.
By this time, all the seats in our section had been filled up by seemingly top brass of the military and their wives (most all of whom were wearing saris).
We were obviously recognized as probably not fluent in the Kinyarwanda language and ushers kindly handed us head phones through which we could listen to the entire program with English translation. This was timely as introductions and speeches were now being made by the dignitaries and President Kagame and his entourage had arrived to much clapping and cheering.
Now the parade started with representatives from dozens of businesses and organizations - including some schools - marching past carrying banners, preceeded by a band banging drums and blowing trumpets.
Next came hundreds and hundreds of Rwanda's heroes, the soldiers of the Rwandese Patriotic Front & Army (RPF/A) now joined with the Rwandese Defense Forces (RDF) marching past their Commander in Chief, President Paul Kagame, the mastermind and motivator behind their past and present victories to liberate and defend Rwanda. See HOW KAGAME BECAME LEADER and KAGAME'S ARMY RWANDA'S HEROES.
They marched in perfect formation with every right-left arm and leg matching every other right-left arm and leg without even one mistep and the lead soldier of each group turning to salute the President as they passed by. [I've joined photos together to make a panoramic upon which you can click two times to enlarge two times]
I thought to myself how unique in the world it is that a leader of a country is truly worthy of receiving this respect from an army. But these soldiers know that the person they are saluting and parading before - Paul Kagame - has himself been in the battle with them and has their best interests, and their country's, at heart.
Again quoting Romeo Dallaire in SHAKE HANDS WITH THE DEVIL, this time from the 2004 book:
"...An RPF column that had left Mulindi [northern border near Uganda] by foot on April 8 had arrived, singing, at the RPF garrison in the CND [building in Kigali] this morning [April 10]. Two days of walking over sixty kilometres through enemy territory, carrying heavy packs and weapons, and they got to Kigali still singing. They were kids -- young, tough and dedicated. There was no doubt in my mind that they would win this war. But could they save their people?...I thought Kagame...was possibly one of the greatest practitioners of manoeuvre warfare in modern military history..."
After the seemingly never-ending columns of soldiers had passed and exited through the far right door, the stadium floor was once again alive with action, this time from traditional native dancers, including warriors with lion-like manes:
Then, through our headphones, we heard citations being read regarding medals that were being presented to new Rwandan heroes - some of them soldiers who had excelled in bravery and some of them nurses and civilians who had excelled - including an elderly lady who had saved hundreds of people during the Genocide. As each of their names were called, they stood in front of President Kagame who solemnly pinned their medal to their chest.
Finally, after the parading and dancing and presentation of medals was over, and the crowd was starting to get restless, President Kagame stepped to the podium and spoke to the people.
He told them that their battle for liberation didn't stop at victory over tyranny and genocide but had to continue over liberation from poverty and dependence on other nations than their own. Good governance, he said, was not a favour, but a right and he and his government were only doing what the Rwandan people deserved from their government. Now the challenge for Rwandans was to work hard at what each of them can do in their work and their art to harness Rwanda's economic potential.
After President Kagame finished speaking and had left the building, the bands in the centre of the field and the honour guard broke formation and proceeded to march out of the stadium toward the door through which they'd come.
The stands on the left of the exit doors, that had previously been empty, had subsequently been filled by the hundreds of soldiers after their march passed the President, and they too were now standing and preparing to leave the stadium.
We stood up to proceed down the stairs and into the lobby and then out onto the street to join the happy throngs leaving Liberation Day at the Amahoro.
go next to 8. RECEPTION FOR H.E. KAGAME or back to index at DESTINY DESTINATION RWANDA
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