December 2017 was a month like no other at the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF-Inkotanyi).
It was no ordinary month because the party was celebrating 30 years of its existence.
Normally, 30 years is a big deal for a political organization, especially in this part of the world, where political organisations tend to sprout up during every electoral cycle and are dead before even the ones elected are sworn in.
For RPF Inkotanyi however, there was simply no time to celebrate, or as the party Chairman, President Paul Kagame would put it, there was not much to celebrate given the aspirations of country.
So these turned out not like the usual celebrations – ones we are used to of a toast, then a cake then merrymaking until dawn. At least this was not the highlight of the celebrations.
Rather, there was a marathon of activities from across the country that started with community outreach activities by grassroots members of RPF Inkotanyi across the country that aimed at uplifting community livelihoods.
These activities included construction of classrooms for Early Childhood Development Centres from different sectors in the country which were followed by communal discussions on what the party was created and what it represents today.
Without going much in detail of every activity organised in line with this, the common denominator for was looking to the future – be it the focus on university students through discussion series at different higher learning institutions in the country, or the decision within the same period to allocate the youth more seats on the National Executive Committee (NEC).
During the three-day congress that was chaired by President Kagame in his capacity as Chairman, members adopted a raft of resolutions among which was one increasing the number of youth representatives on NEC from five to ten commissioners. Now that was phenomenal.
As if to demonstrate that they meant business, they went ahead and elected NEC members – Chairman, Vice Chairman, Secretary General and Commissioners – with the full representation of the youth in accordance with the new composition.
“We are empowering our youth by charging them with more responsibilities. Their contribution should define the history of our country for more decades to come,” President Kagame said while closing the RPF National Congress, which was the last of the meetings organised as part of the celebrations.
He added: “We've had time to reflect on the last 30 years, and plan for the next 30 years and more. Let's pledge to work hard towards ensuring that those who will be visiting our country after every 10-year period will find a more developed.”
Now the focus on the younger generation by the RPF leadership is not something new, or rather unfounded. It is premised on the fact that from the very beginning, the core founders – or at least a vast majority – of the party were actually youth.
These same youth, majority of whom refugees in neighbouring countries at the time, would later launch the liberation struggle as members of the armed wing of the RPF Inkotanyi, the RPA.
The RPA was rank and file composed by youth at the rate of over 99 per cent, as said by Gen James Kabarebe, the Minister of Defence, who was among the officers when the liberation war was launched in October 1990.
Addressing nearly 2000 members of the RPF Youth League in their congress that was also organised as part of the 30th anniversary celebrations, Kabarebe said: “At least 99 per cent of those who liberated the country were youth, including our highest commanders. Despite being young, they were thinking big, and that's how we got where we are today.”
Indeed the same question about how against all odds, the RPF have continued to forge on even in the face of some of the most complex conditions, kept on coming back during the different meetings that were part of the celebrations.
The simple answer to this was ideological orientation that has shaped members of the party from inception.
Kabarebe had this to say at the youth congress: There were a lot of setbacks that could have distracted us from the cause in the earliest stages of the liberation, including death of our senior commanders but we remained focused because of proper ideological orientation.”
He said that the pinnacle of this orientation that has been a guiding principle for 30 years is one of drawing strength from challenges of the day.
At the International Conference on African Liberation, which was also part of the anniversary activities, seasoned Ugandan journalist-cum-businessman Andrew Mwenda attributed RPF Inkotanyi’s resilience to four principles;
“The RPF Inkotanyi is where it is today because of the culture of self-reliance, a penchant for fiscal discipline, suspicion and mistrust of intentions of the international community and high level of internal cohesion.”
How it’s not to say that that cohesion has always remained intact for a solid thirty years of the party’s existence. Far from the truth.
There have been setbacks here and there especially where some cadres who have gotten drunk on power or influence which has at times led them to assume they were above not just the party, but also the people of Rwanda, for whom it was created.
This was best put by President Kagame.
“Those who strayed, put personal interests above the core values of the RPF allowed themselves to be used by external forces who never wanted us to move forward and be who we deserve to be. Knowing their weaknesses, external forces used praises.
“They told them they were better than the ones they fought with, better than their fellow Rwandans and they went from being leaders to being tools of external forces.”
However it has not been difficult to overcome such threats to the party cohesion. Again the answer to this has been sought from the very guiding principle; the success-against-all-odds attitude, so the errant cadres have been simply ignored and focus kept on the ultimate goal.