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East African Presidents shy away as Rwanda celebrates Liberation Day

East Africa’s heads of state, from left, Kenya’s Uhuru Kenyatta, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni, Tanzania’s John Magufuli and Ruanda’s Paul Kagame. (PHOTO/File)

KIGALI – East African heads of state on Thursday chose to keep away as Rwanda celebrated Liberation Day, which 25 years ago marked the end of genocide were over million Rwandans lost their lives.

Despite being invited, Presidents Yoweri Museveni, Uhuru Kenyatta and John Magufuli all chose to send representatives to the ceremony which took place at the Amahoro National Stadium in the capital Kigali.

Mr Museveni sent Foreign Affairs Minister Sam Kuteesa and Second Deputy Prime Minister Kirunda Kivejinja, Mr Kenyatta sent Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa while Mr Magufuli sent Prime Minister Kassim Majaliwa at the celebrations which also mark the day which Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) came to power.

Instead, leaders from other African countries attended. They are Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa, Hage Gottfried Geingob of Namibia and Faustin-Archange Touadéra of the Central African Republic. Others present were Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed of Somalia as well as Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana; Julius Maada Bio of Sierra Leone, and Faure Gnassingbé of Togo.

In his speech, President Paul Kagame hailed Rwandans for fighting for their freedom and Independence.

“We believed in our right to dignity as Rwandans. This conviction was the starting point of the liberation struggle. The aim was to build a Rwanda with equal rights for all. In other words, a republic in the real sense. For decades and decades, Rwandans were treated as objects to be used and discarded by anyone, especially the powerful. It won’t be anymore. Both the suffering of the refugees, as well as the oppression and poverty of those who remained here, had a similar origin,” he said.

“Had we ever truly been united at any point in our history? And yet our culture provides us with the tools for a successful society. Liberation was not about restoring the past, but creating something fundamentally new and better for all Rwandans. This fight was necessary and indeed unavoidable. If there will ever be a necessity for more fights, we will be there,” he added.

Mr Kagame also saluted the armed forces for sacrificing their lives.

“For three long months in 1994, our country’s survival was in doubt. One of the worst tragedies unfolded. A segment of the population was being hunted and killed. More than a million people were murdered. By July 4th, the forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Army had brought the killings to an end. And with time, it is important to recall that the Campaign against Genocide became more than a military operation in the conventional sense. It became a rescue mission. Around us today are some of the men and women who protected survivors and led them to safety. Our army and those others who supported it lived for our country, and others died. Those still alive continue to serve it with steadfast devotion. We thank you.”

The head of state also urged the Rwandese to be self-reliant.

“The vision of unity and justice attracted broad support because it resonates so strongly with the human spirit. But the proof was in actions, not words. For the last twenty-five years, we have done our best to govern according to the liberation ideals that we fought for. The conduct of our forces is one example. But we cannot take anything for granted. The force that stands before us, together with other actors in the struggle, have remained true to the cause. They are a representation of the spirit of this country. It is the responsibility of every Rwandan to extend the gains we have made. The topic of liberation is to turn bad things into good things. What Rwandans have achieved is undeniably real. But we must stay humble enough to know that our main challenge is sustainability.”

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