On January 28th, 2012, it was normally the 51st anniversary of the proclamation of democracy as a principle of governance in Rwanda. Unfortunately, apart from the spirit which inspired the national celebrations held on January 28th, 1961 at Gitarama, as times tell us, the country was going to fall into autocratic regimes, first under Kayibanda [president 1962 – 1973] and Habyarimana [president 1973 – 1994], and even criminal, under Kagame, each one with their own specificities. All these regimes left a narrow space if any to dissent voices, contrary to what usually prevails under democratic institutions.
But what really happened on that day of 1961 which has made the Rwandan Patriotic Front of Paul Kagame, which is today ruling Rwanda, go all the length to destroy everything, – historic references including desecrating graves of Hutus nationalists of that time, related to the first ever Democracy Day in Rwandan history ? F. Rudakemwa explains the context and significance in the following article which was published in French in Rome on 22 January 2008. Its English translation is mine.
January 28, 1961: Democracy Day
By F. Rudakemwa
“The more we know history, the more resentment will disappear” (Marc Ferro).
Late 1960 and early 1961, through terrorist attacks on Rwandan territory, lies, intrigue, appeals and petitions abroad and in particular the UN, the extremist Tutsi party UNAR (National Union of Rwanda) were on the point of succeeding in nullifying all the gains of the social revolution of November 1959. Gregoire Kayibanda and his comrades spent the day on January 25, 1961 in Gitarama reflecting on ways to avert this eventuality forever dreaded.
At 22.00 pm, an unusual time, Kayibanda was in Kigali. He knocked at the door of the house of Colonel BEM Logiest, Special Resident for Rwanda. He wanted to ask him to help Hutu nationalists achieve an incontestable political position that would sensibly weaken UNAR extremist, apologist and reactionary forces. “What would you want me to do,” asked the Special Resident. “Bringing to Gitarama all elected members from national municipal consultation of October 1960,” replied Kayibanda. He went on explaining that the agenda of such Congress of People’s Representatives would include:
- The abolition of the monarchy and the proclamation of the republic
- The removal of Karinga [totemic symbol of Tutsi rule] and replacing it with a national flag
- The discussion of a constitution and establishment of republican institutions: Presidency, government and parliament [Logiest Guy, Mission in Rwanda. A white man in the fight Tutsi-Hutu, Didier Hatier Editions, Brussels, 1988, pp. 188-190].
The office of the Special Resident for Rwanda provided material support, and elected municipal members of October 1960 did the rest, that is to say everything that was expected on the agenda. It was January 28, 1961 on the market place of Gitarama. UNAR realized that it had politically misjudged by boycotting the elections of October 1960.
Speaking of the events of that day, Alexis Kagame [Rwandan historian] says:”.During that day of January 28, 1961, Rwandan authorities laid an unprecedented turning point in our history. The event exceeded in significance the immediate goal that the players had initially in mind. It does not matter that there were enlightened leaders and semi-literate peasants, passionate politicians and coldly calculating … What is important for the historian, is the event looked at its own merits and in its ultimate outcomes… As subsequent events would show, in fact, the UN would fail to reverse the political landscape thus created and the new order will prevail forever “(Alexis Kagame, A short history of Rwanda from 1853 to 1972, Ed . University of Rwanda, Butare, 1975, p. 311). Proclaimed “National Day”, January 28 had to forego this honor to July 1 (1962), when the Rwanda regained its independence.
The Second Republic (1973-1994) would commit, among other far-reaching errors, that of removing from national days, the Democracy Day [January 28]. Until today, it has not yet been restored as it should be. For the simple reason that there are many people who enter politics for personal gains or genuine desire to serve the nation and its citizens. Democracy is the only parameter to break the tie. Is it not nice to see Nicolas Sarkozy, a Jewish Christian, the son of Hungarian immigrants becoming President of the French republic? This is only possible in a democracy. Is it not nice to see Barack Obama, a mulatto, the son of a Kenyan and an American from Kansas become a senator from Illinois and get into the race for the White House with well-founded hopes of touching the goal [as we know, he became on January 8, 2009, the first Black American US president] ? This is only possible in a democracy. Democracy is an essential prerequisite for any aspect of development.
“Let those who say that democracy is impossible in our countries explain to us which type of political system is most convenient. A sacred theocratic monarchy which is not even enacted within a constitution? A platform of professional political parties? A military dictatorship? Domination and oppression of a minority by a majority or vice versa? What is the best regime to suit us, if it is not democracy? There was a time when some people thought that black people were so strong that they could endure surgery without anesthesia. There are still some to think they can be led without democracy. “Democracy properly understood, the African model, good governance, proportional electoral strata, main electors, political change …” are so many speeches and delaying tactics to postpone the advent of democracy from those benefiting from the status quo.
But these are also so many euphemisms for saying that democracy is the least bad of all systems of government. The beginnings are certainly difficult. Learning to be democratic will also be. But, will we give up on a crawling child arguing that the baby will never be able to walk tall on her both legs? From the West we import almost everything: arms and ammunition, food, art, certain values and ways of thinking, etc. Shall we say that everything that comes from the West, democracy alone does not suit us?”
(F. Rudakemwa, , À la recherche de la vérité historique pour une réconciliation nationale, Ed L’Harmattan, Paris, 2007, p. 13).
Rome, January 22, 2008