Rwanda’s 30th Liberation Anniversary: Between Celebration and Controversy

On Thursday, July 4, 2024, Rwanda celebrated the 30th anniversary of “liberation” during a ceremony held at Amahoro Stadium in Kigali, which was recently renovated after two years of work. The festivities began with a military parade, reflecting the symbolic importance of this day for the Rwandan regime.

The celebrations mainly attracted residents of the capital, Kigali, who came from all neighborhoods. Among them, some expressed to Voice of America their perception of this day as a rebirth, while others highlighted the ongoing challenges in improving the quality of life for Rwandans.

In his speech, President Paul Kagame affirmed that Rwanda is at peace and will remain so regardless of the circumstances. He reminded that peace is a choice made by the Rwandans themselves, emphasizing the importance of living in harmony. This speech comes in the context of ongoing tensions with neighboring countries, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burundi.

Kagame also highlighted the progress in infrastructure, citing the renovated Amahoro Stadium as a symbol of progress, and stressed the improvement in citizens’ living conditions. He insisted that the government works for all, without discrimination, and that politics should not be used as a tool for division or violence.

However, political opponents accuse Paul Kagame and his ruling party of not tolerating dissent, excluding those who do not share their vision, and mistreating them. In his speech, Kagame also addressed foreign detractors who, according to him, try to disrupt Rwanda’s efforts, but he stated that these negative forces would not succeed.

Kagame, who is running for a fourth term, urged the youth, whom he calls the “generation of liberation,” to continue the efforts begun 30 years ago. He declared, “The young people, especially those born in the last 30 years, this country is yours. Protect it and make it prosper. We started this work 30 years ago, and we rely on you to continue.”

He encouraged the youth to speak up, participate, and appreciate the efforts made, values that he considers essential for future generations of Rwandans. He concluded by stating that true liberation begins when the sounds of guns are silenced.

On this day, Voice of America gathered testimonies outside the official celebrations. A resident of Nyamirambo, a neighborhood in Kigali, expressed his ignorance of historical events, illustrating the gap between official commemorations and the reality experienced by some citizens. Others, gathered around a cobbler repairing worn-out shoes, shared their limited knowledge of this historic day while highlighting the persistent economic difficulties.

Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, an opposition politician and leader of the unrecognized party DALFA-Umulinzi, did not attend the ceremony, citing difficult schedules for citizens invited to Amahoro Stadium. She followed the events on television and social media. Although she acknowledges the historical importance of this day, she criticizes Kagame for addressing his speech more to foreigners than to Rwandans.

Ingabire agrees with the president on the need for peace without resorting to violence but points out that some liberation goals set by the FPR Inkotanyi have not yet been achieved. Ingabire accuses Kagame of failing to address the issue of people conducting politics outside the country and failing to allow those within the country, like her DALFA-Umulinzi party, to operate politically within Rwanda. According to Ingabire, no political solution has been found as long as the issue of refugees outside the country remains unresolved. Ingabire calls on the Rwandan government to take the initiative to engage with Rwandans who have fled abroad and to have discussions so that, after 62 years of independence, no Rwandan should be labeled an enemy of the country. She believes President Kagame should encourage the youth to seek peace rather than urging them to fight.