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Breaking colonial military myths in Rwanda

By May 3, 2024No Comments

The newly commissioned officer cadets during a parade at Rwanda Military Academy in Gako on Monday, April 15. Photo by Dan Gatsinzi

The newly commissioned officer cadets during a parade at Rwanda Military Academy in Gako on Monday, April 15. Photo by Dan Gatsinzi

May 3, 2024

Who would’ve guessed? If you’ve been pumping out your chest in the belief that you are no longer captive to remnants of colonial legacy military myths, perish the thought!

Only the other day, April 15, 2024, the last of these myths was exploded at a Cadet Commissioning ceremony, at the Rwanda Military Academy, Gako. Was it the last? Let’s hope.

It was a little thing, really. Still, it took everyone who attended, or otherwise followed, the Cadet Commissioning ceremony by surprise. Drill commands at the parade were in Kinyarwanda! All along, where in the RDF parades has our language been?

What I know is that before this, Kinyarwanda in military commands had last been heard with the spear-arrow-bow-bearing Rwandan royal warriors of the years before 1899. That is, before the arrival of German colonialists. They silenced the Kinyarwanda language to use German or Kiswahili, picked up in Zanzibar, to communicate with Rwandans.

However, for parades, it was strictly German. Gibberish to Rwandans but they parroted it all the same because, as warriors, they were absorbed into the colonial military ranks or simply used as carrier corps. And indeed, carrier corps were also so common that in many ex-colonies, you’ll hear the corrupted Kariakor (for “carrier corps”) named after city estates to this day.

From about 1899, then, when Germany colonised this country, the military command language was gibberish German. Rwandans didn’t suffer the burden for long, however, as in 1919 they were ‘offered’ to Belgians as a ‘protectorate’ by the League of Nations.

Protectorate, my foot! It turned out to be a societal cord destruction campaign. Belgians didn’t like Rwandans one little bit – even if the feeling was mutual. The Belgians, since there was no love lost between them and Rwandans, therefore, decided to outsource security from outside.

And outside, guess from where! In being offered to the Belgians, Rwanda had the misfortune of being grafted onto the next-door outsized colony known as Belgian Congo (D.R Congo today).

Alas, Rwanda was not alone. She had another misfortune of being bundled onto Belgian Congo with Burundi, in a Belgian Congo and Rwanda-Urundi trio. The combination perhaps being the source of their silliness that gnaws at this country to-date – but that’s a story for another day!

Anyway, the outsourced security for the two former German colonies, Rwanda and Burundi, was brought complete with its messiness in the form of La Force Publique (the then Congolese national army). La Force Publique answered to French as the military command language but did they understand it? Ask me another! It was gibberish to them, too, no doubt.

Anyhow, rather than military, their work seemed to be that of keeping law and order (in truth, lawlessness and disorder!), with colonialists drafting a local defence group to assist them keep the peace.

At independence, Rwanda got a replica of La Force Publique in the names of Garde National, during the first republic. Following the 1973 coup d’état, the second republic drafted a cum-military force cum-police force called Gendarmerie for civil order, both of which formed Force Armée Rwandaise (FAR, later to roam the forests of D.R. Congo as ex-FAR).

The military command language remained French. But in command language, conduct, work method, what-have-you, all these national armies could as well have been terrorists.

The way the drill commands at parade were barked at them is the way the soldiers barked at innocent citizens, while brutalising them. With the result that up to the 1994 Rwandan liberation, the word “soldier” sent every Rwandan scampering for cover.

Interestingly, wherever we have been, all national armies seem to be the same. People are at peace only when soldiers are inside their barracks.

Meeting them outside is like meeting assassins! It seems to have been instilled into them that they have to be fierce all the time; to take everybody for an enemy; to appear and be menacing to all, friend and foe.

And the drill commands were supposed to reinforce that fear, like: “Pahhrehhd! Hahheyes, hahight!”If the proper high-pitched sound that came out at parade were to be transmitted to you in its raw form, either your seat would be wet as we speak or you’d have bolted straight out of your chair! Yet what you hear is in English and it means a harmless: “Parade! Eyes, right!

So, all along, we’ve been hearing gibberish that’s either barked in English, Kiswahili or French. Which is why at Gako on April 15, everybody was pleasantly surprised that they could understand the drill command words, in their own mother tongue. “Akarasisi! Amaso, iburyo!” Shouted in the same manner, alright, but easily intelligible. “Akarasisi! Iburyo, gorora! Ongera!…… Oroha!

Another little myth example. Remember when army patrols in Kigali neighbourhoods were considered taboo? Today, nationals and foreigners, all raise hell to the government when they don’t see them!

All small things, but they fill Rwandans with pride. Pride born of the fact that they continue to own their systems, processes and activities. You understand this when you recall that all these were seen as myths beyond their control. And when you see that today Rwandan forces (Army and Police) are at the beck and call of the citizens and treat them with utmost humility.

Today, Rwandans have exploded all the myths and claimed ownership of their systems.

Thus the calm and harmony among all institutions.

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