Liberation Day, 4 July 2009, Kigali
• Your Excellency Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda, and Madame;
• Your Excellency Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister, Federal Republic of Ethiopia and Madame;
• Mama Maria Nyerere and family;
• Leaders of Rwanda’s Higher Institutions;
• Distinguished Invited Guests;
• Fellow Rwandans;
• Ladies and Gentlemen:
On this day marking the fifteenth anniversary of our liberation – we look back and assess how far we have come as a Nation.
It is also a day that reminds us to put all the things we have gone through into proper perspective and context.
Fellow Rwandans, you will agree with me that significant progress has been made – and I say this because of where we have come from together.
Today is also about remembering and congratulating the valiant fighters of our struggle for their priceless sacrifices that we continue to witness and expect of them, and all Rwandans who were associated with it.
Equally important, this occasion has given us a great opportunity to express our most sincere gratitude to our special guests here with us today for your invaluable support, and that of your fellow countrymen and women, towards our liberation struggle.
I hope the honours that have just been bestowed on you express for us what we may not have been able to say in words.
Your Excellency President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni – you related with our struggle, and stood by us even during the most trying times.
Indeed, some of us benefited significantly from participating in the struggle you successfully led in your own country.
Mr President, we thank you, the NRM Government and the people of Uganda for your valuable contribution to our liberation effort.
Your Excellency Prime Minister Meles Zenawi – even though at the time that we were just starting our struggle, you were ending one stage of yours and embarking on the difficult task of reconstruction, you personally, your political party and government nevertheless took a firm stance in support of our cause.
Not only did you actively campaign for justice for our people, Ethiopia contributed troops at the earliest to help restore peace in our country – and thereafter helped in the effort to build the requisite capacities for our stability and development.
For these contributions and many more we so much appreciate.
As a respected African statesman, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere was a tireless voice who persistently drew attention to the gravity and wider consequences of the destruction that befell Rwanda under the watch of its global family.
Tanzania graciously offered itself to facilitate a process that sought a peaceful solution to the conflict that had been raging in our country. Beyond that, after the genocide, Mwalimu Nyerere identified with us so closely that he often visited Rwanda, offering advice and wisdom for the challenges that faced us.
Our struggle would have been more difficult without the support of those we have honoured today, and others who helped us considerably, who we look forward to recognizing when we have another opportunity to do so.
It should also be understood that the horror that engulfed Rwanda fifteen years ago originated from and added to the challenges that necessitated our liberation struggle in the first place.
The liberation was about rescuing ourselves from a pre- and post-independence leadership that fostered and promoted hatred, sectarianism and genocidal ideologies – culminating in the decision to exterminate its own citizens.
This created a legacy of bad politics, poor governance, disastrous social development philosophies and practices, and an economic system that entrenched a vicious cycle of poverty and dependency.
These pre-liberation governments largely ignored the country’s most precious resource – its people – through substandard education and health policies, and sidelined productive enterprise in favour of a system of cronyism within subsistence agriculture that failed to benefit the ordinary Rwandan.
It was these circumstances that inspired us to liberate our country and begin the journey of building a nation worthy of our people. This is a most appropriate time, then, to acknowledge and appreciate all of you Rwandans for your tenacity and continuous commitment in this endeavour.
As we look around our country, it is evident that we have registered important achievements in the last decade and a half – but we cannot afford to relent because harder work is still required to confront the immense developmental adversities that remain ahead of us.
Today, we can say that our present dispensation is based on a political culture that values diversity, consensus building, and power-sharing towards a common purpose.
For the first time, Rwandans are at the centre of planning processes and are active participants in the implementation of programs that impact their lives.
Examples include the development of our Vision 2020, the design and execution of our national unity and reconciliation strategy, the delivery of the Gacaca system of justice, and the drafting of our new Constitution that encapsulates the values we have adopted.
The peace and security ushered in by the new era has made a tangible and positive difference in the lives of our people.
We now have a system of laws and institutions that guarantees justice for all and creates an environment that gives Rwandans the confidence to pursue their potential unhindered.
By investing heavily in socio-economic development we are encouraging a mindset shift away from a passive attitude of dependency to one of self-sufficiency, innovation and an entrepreneurial spirit.
Let me take this opportunity to appreciate the development partners that have played a significant role in Rwanda’s recent achievements, particularly those who embrace our approach of targeted and strategic aid to increase our productive capacities so that we can eventually sustain ourselves – as many successful countries before us have experienced.
I cannot relate Rwanda’s story of independence and liberation without noting the extraordinary internal and external circumstances surrounding it.
In a situation where historically, our people were living alongside one another, outside forces manipulated these communal ties and provoked division, hatred and conflict.
After independence, this intervention became a persistent, negative presence in our country – seeking to dictate to Rwandans how their affairs should be conducted and succeeded in making the people believe that this outside interference was justified and even desirable.
Right up until, during, and even after the genocide, we continued to see this attitude that is based on ignorance and arrogance – and its resulting injustices – from those who would argue that they know better than Rwandans what is good for them.
The lesson there for us, as Rwandans, and broadly as Africans, is that we must do what is right and genuinely own our decisions and actions, to maintain our dignity for the better future we all seek. We have to stay the course of self-determination and although we will continue to be challenged, history has shown that we can triumph against these odds.
The story of our liberation is intrinsically linked to other struggles on the continent because of the commonalities and kinship we share – no country can achieve sustainable socioeconomic transformation in isolation, and without addressing issues of shared concern.
Just as other African liberation efforts impacted our thinking and ultimately played a part in shaping the destiny of our nation, Rwanda will continue to make its contribution towards efforts that seek to improve the lives of many others on our continent.
Let me conclude by once again conveying heartfelt appreciation to my fellow Heads of State and Government, and the dignitaries that have graced this occasion in solidarity with the people of Rwanda.
To Rwandans everywhere: your sacrifice, dedication and patriotism is what has brought us to where we are today. The road ahead is long and will demand a lot more from us, not less –but I am confident we are up to the task.
I wish you happy independence and liberation celebrations for 2009 – and look forward to meeting here next time to review further progress towards a stronger and more prosperous Rwanda.