Amahoro National Stadium, Kigali, 1 July 2012
It is my pleasure to welcome you all to this occasion when we celebrate fifty years of independence. And to my fellow Rwandans, congratulations on reaching this important milestone in our history and surviving the many pitfalls along the way. I extend a special welcome to many friends of our country who have come from across the world to share this moment with us.
This is a time for self-examination and reflection on our past, as well as looking forward to securing a much better future.
During this decade, many African countries will mark fifty years as independent states. Fifty years is a short time in the life of a nation, but it is long enough to have made significant changes in the lives of our citizens. In Rwanda, for instance, it is only in the last 18 years that we have regained the dignity and identity that we lost twice – first, under colonialism and then, ironically, at the time of independence.
This century that some have dubbed the African century offers us immense opportunities and prospects that Rwanda and the Continent should seize and build on.
For over a century, including the last 50 years of independence, Africa lost immense opportunities, largely due to unbalanced relationships within the global community that were often predatory and even abusive in nature.
These relations, built on injustice and prejudice, were possible because some among our citizens, and even leaders, accepted and accommodated such bad practices, and in so-doing, betrayed and undermined what should have been our independence.
Some of these weaknesses are within our means to correct. But we will only succeed if we are brave and honest enough to accept responsibility for our actions and reject the convenient attitude of playing the victim and blaming others. Incidentally, being brave and honest are qualities that seem to have to lost value these days.
The victim attitude prevents us from seeking our own solutions to the challenges we face. We must overcome this tendency and confront our problems directly, as the Kinyarwanda saying goes: “Ijya kurisha ihera ku rugo”.
We are also conscious that along the way, external factors have adversely interfered in Africa’s governance, often supporting lack of accountability in governance and hence promoting illegitimate interests.
For many years, our people were told and made to believe lies and myths manufactured from within and outside, distorting everything about who we were, who we should be, and what we should do for the healthy development of Africa, and specifically Rwanda.
In the end, truth always prevails because results and facts speak for themselves, just as one cannot hide the consequences that come with lies.
Even as we speak today, we continue to see problems caused by a combination of insensitive actions of interference and double standards, as well as a lack of domestic ownership to address these issues in the manner required. This form of injustice should not be tolerated if we are to learn from the experience of the last 50 years.
We, for too long, surrendered the responsibility to transform our countries to various non-state actors that have no clear lines of accountability except to themselves – which resulted in their stranglehold on our countries. This is simply unsustainable, and we should seize this moment as a true turning point. The situation calls for more collaboration, inclusiveness, and treating one another fairly.
As we look to the future, we must recognise that independence, like liberation, is a process and with it come obligations and responsibilities across the board. We must build on the lessons of our fore bearers across Africa that demonstrated the values of sacrifice, courage, and resilience during their quest for independence. Today, new ways of perpetuating the old order have emerged in a subtle manner, often disguised as defence of human rights, free speech, and international justice.
To ensure the prosperity of our people, we must overcome these detractors with increased citizen participation, cooperation at all levels – nationally and internationally – as well as greater African economic and political integration. Our countries’ liberties and prosperity are very closely linked and mutually reinforcing.
In Rwanda, as we begin the next stage of our journey, we will continue to entrench the values that have brought us this far – unity, hard work, mutual respect and shared responsibility.
As a responsible international citizen, Rwanda is committed to contributing to regional and global peace and stability. We are aware that we can travel safely, faster and farther in the company of others. And so, while our determination to build an independent country should not be compromised, we also recognise that we can guarantee our independence better with cooperation based on mutual respect and benefit. Today, Rwandans are addressing our own challenges even as we have sought and received support from others.
Looking over the next fifty years, we must acknowledge the role of our young people as the new drivers of our transformation. It is our duty to pass on to them a better Rwanda and Africa than we inherited. But our young people must also understand that they have a responsibility to take our countries to the next level.
Let me conclude by reiterating that our independence will be guaranteed by our own efforts but we will always be happy to cooperate with others, mindful that the primary responsibility lies in our hands.
I wish to thank Your Excellencies and distinguished guests for joining us today.
To my fellow Rwandans, let me say that many challenges remain, and we must be prepared to make the necessary sacrifices because there is no shortcut to success. I am confident that we will overcome them because you have already shown your capacity to do so.
I wish you a day of celebration and reflection for the road we have travelled together this far. Let us continue to join our efforts as we work for a brighter future.