Feature Article of Thursday, 9 August 2012

Columnist: Kuseh, Jerome Wematu

The Ghanaian Mission in Rwanda

By: Jerome Wematu Kuseh

This post comes on the back of a report released by a French inquiry, clearing the Tustsi-dominated Rwandan Patriot Front (RPF), President Paul Kagame's army during the Rwandan civil war, of any culpability in the shooting down of President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane on 6 April 1994, an act that triggered the 100 days massacre of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. This report will undoubtedly be warmly welcomed by President Kagame, who is still reeling from a UN report that found his forces guilty of violent acts in DR Congo back in the 90s. The focus of this post, as suggested by the title, is on the crucial role Ghanaian troops played in saving thousands of lives in one of the world's darkest genocides.

As Force Commander of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Rwanda (UNAMIR), the Canadian, Brigadier-General Romeo Dallaire warned the UN in January 1994 of a cache of weapons that had arrived in the country on a French plane. His request for permission to seize the weapons were turned down, despite his warning that the weapons were to be used for Tutsi extirpation. Following the shooting down of President Habyarimana's plane on which President Cyprien Ntaryamira of Burundi, also a Hutu, was also a passenger, the floodgates of hate were opened and Rwanda was consumed by an ethnic conflagration.

The Rwandan Army refused to recognise the authority of Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, a moderate Hutu, and on April 7, they captured her along with her UNAMIR guards. Agathe, as well as ten Belgian troops were killed, but the Ghanaian soldiers were released. This act led to the withdrawal of the Belgian troops leaving Brigadier-General Dallaire with a handful of Pakistani, Canadian, Bangladeshi, Tunisian and Ghanaian troops to save as many Tutsis and moderate Hutus as possible from the massacre. A figure of 500,000-1,000,000 is usually given as the number of people who lost their life in a senseless ethnic genocide that can be blamed directly on the 'divide and rule' strategy of the Belgian colonists. French complicity is also not totally ruled out. By mid-July, the RPF had succeeded in defeating the last Hutu strongholds and declared victory. It has been said that the government troops put more effort into killing Tutsi civilians and raping their women than fighting the RPF.

Major General Kwami Anyidoho, the Deputy Force Commander of UNAMIR and the head of the Ghanaian contingent, in his book 'Guns over Kigali' gave a day to day account of the brave actions of the Ghanaian and other UNAMIR troops that saved about 32,000 people from a brutal death. This came at a loss of three Ghanaian heroes, not to talk of the peril of living constantly under the fear of death. Dallaire's book on the genocide: 'Shake Hands With the Devil' is full of praise for the professionalism, spirit and discipline of the Ghanaian troops.

The role of the Ghanaian troops in preserving the lives of thousands of people is something that I take great pride in. It is a strong basis for the legend of Ghanaians being peace lovers and enforcers. I believe that Ghana's peace is our greatest ASSET. Greater than all our mineral or agricultural wealth. It is therefore worrying that tensions have been raised unnecessarily high in anticipation of the 2012 general elections. Threats and counter-threats, appeal to ethnic sentiments and violence in by-elections, have cast a lingering shadow over our much touted peace and stability.

I urge all Ghanaians to take the sacrifice of these Ghanaian soldiers into consideration. Their belief and commitment to peace at the peril of their lives. If they died trying to stop a senseless slaughter, the least we can do is to choose to live. I urge all Ghanaians to embrace peace and eschew all forms of violence. As Mike Batt puts it in the classic 'Ride to Agadir', "for the ashes of our fathers and the children of our sons".

Jerome Wematu Kuseh readjerome.blogspot.com jwkuseh@gmail.com

Originally written in January, 2012.