What you need to know:
- Similar to Rwanda’s folkloric rendering, the epic poem, The Iliad, written by the blind Greek poet Homer, has had profound influences on contemporary Western culture and the West’s military traditions with its chronicle of the Trojan War.
“I’ve told Rwandans it’s not just what you think of yourselves, but what others think of us,” Rwandan president Paul Kagame once inflected.
As he said these words, one would be forgiven for thinking about what the German philosopher Karl Marx said when he mused: Just as our opinion of an individual is not based on what he thinks of himself, so can we not judge such a period of transformation by its own consciousness; on the contrary, this consciousness must rather be explained from the contradictions of material life.
This material life as well as Rwanda’s self-perception is given articulate value in the book, Resilience of a Nation: A History of the Military in Rwanda by Frank K. Rusagara and co-authored by Frank K. Rusagara with Gitura Mwaura and Gérard Nyirimanzi.
Rwanda, a small country by any standards with an area of 26,338 square kilometres (10,169 square miles), has an outsize history.
According to lore, the country sprang into being around the tenth or eleventh century under King Gihanga, “the founder of the prosperous and sovereign nation”.
The authors show how, initially, “the military structures played more of a social role, with their main concern being the preservation of the means of subsistence, other than securing territorial influence. ”
The authors, having set the stage for their narrative, then sink their metaphorical fangs into how the Rwandan military has evolved over time. A historical eye thereupon views the traditional, the colonial and immediate post-independence military to the present.
The military, the authors contend, played the most central sociopolitical role by keeping slavers at bay during the days of the slave trade as well ensuring the country rose, Phoenix-like, from the ruins of the 1994 genocide.
Although a book of historical record, it often comes across as agitprop (propaganda in politico-historical literature).
Rusagara et al take great pains to analyse “the rise of the Inyenzi guerrilla movement in the 1960s, and then the Rwanda Patriotic Front and Army in the late 1980s and early 1990s, leading to the pragmatism of the current Rwanda Defense Forces (RDF).”
The Inyenzi (which translates to cockroaches) were a collection of ethnic Tutsi exiles affiliated with the Rwandan political party Union Nationale Rwandaise (UNAR), which had supported Rwanda’s deposed Tutsi monarchy. Two things struck me about this book. The first one being the role that poetry played in preserving, through folklore, the military’s customs and exploits. Not only that, Rwandan history, the authors reveal, was expressed through poems (Ibisigo).
These poems were composed by court poets largely derived from Rwanda’s Abasinga Clan. Their pioneer of this folkloric history was poetess Queen Mother Nyirarugumaga during the 16th Century in the reign of King Ruganzu II Ndoli (1510-1543), who was also known as the Restorer of the Monarchy and Ku-aanda. Incidentally, it is under his reign that Rwanda really began to assert its hegemonic ambitions.
What is fascinating here is how Rwanda’s history, which Bernardin Muzungu said is the history of the military, intersects with world history.
Akin to poetry’s impact on Rwanda’s history, Chapter 9 of “The Poetics” by Greek Philosopher Aristotle states that poetry “is more philosophical and more serious than history: in fact poetry speaks (legei) more of universals, whereas history of particulars.”
Again, similar to Rwanda’s folkloric rendering, the epic poem, The Iliad, written by the blind Greek poet Homer, has had profound influences on contemporary Western culture and the West’s military traditions with its chronicle of the Trojan War.
Not only did arguably the world’s greatest military conqueror, Alexander the Great, draw his lineage to the Iliad’s Greek hero Achilles, Napoleon Bonaparte, who needs no introduction, was similarly influenced by it. In turn, or as a consequence, West Point, an elite US military academy, uses The Iliad as part of its courses.
The second thing about this book is Chapter 1: Ku-aanda: The Formation and Growth of the Rwandan Pre-colonial State.
Here, the authors write brilliantly about the principle of Ku-aanda, which means “expansion or spreading out from the centre. The principle of Ku-aanda, which involved annexation and subsequent integration of neighbouring territories, informed the continued expansion and growth of pre-colonial Rwanda.”
Not only do the authors demonstrate how the military was pivotal in anchoring this principle in the sociopolitical life of the country, they also reveal Rwanda’s mores and belief systems in the bargain.
The reader will also enjoy Chapter 11: Inkotanyi: The Genesis and Struggle of the Rwanda Patriotic Front. The Inkotanyi (which means RPF soldier) personifies the resilience of Rwanda.
Resilience of a Nation: A History of the Military in Rwanda.
Frank K. Rusagara with Gitura Mwaura and Gérard Nyirimanzi.
Fountain Publishers Library.
The book was published in 2009