RWANDA: After Liberation Struggle, Women Fight for Development

Monday, July 9, 2012
Central Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Human Rights
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

Taking part in the liberation struggle did not necessarily require one to be part of the army or fighting with weapons only. Jane Muberanyana did not hold a weapon from late 1990 when she started training to be a cadre for the Rwanda Patriotic Front till the end of the struggle, yet her contribution, along with that of many others, was critical.

For Muberanyana and her colleagues, the desire to have a place they could call home in her country was very strong when she was still living as a refugee in Uganda. But unfortunately it became clear in the 1990s that they would have to fight for it. "That is when I heard of the movement that was striving for Rwandans to go back home," says Muberanyana.

She did know many people who had the same desire as her and yet did not want to participate in the struggle. Muberanyana for her part did want to get involved in the fight although she thought she might be more useful as a non-combatant. So at the age of 20, she started her training to become a cadre, which she did in January 1991.

"I was involved in different activities from 1991 till the end of 1994," Muberanyana explains adding that this included mass mobilization, raising of funds and other resources as well as human resources where at some point she was a teacher in the political school, training other cadres and recruiting more.

The hope for a successful outcome one day and the knowledge that their contribution was needed by those on the battlefront gave them a purpose and strengthened their commitment each day that passed. And sure enough, victory was gained and they were able to come home.

After that battle was won, another one had to be fought: rebuilding the country and bringing the people together again. The reintegration in the society by the ex-combatants was also important. It is in this context that the Ndabaga association was founded in 2001 to bring together women who played a role in the liberation struggle, whether in the army or as cadres.

Muberanyana, who is the coordinator of the association, explains that their objective was to bring these women out of isolation, bring them together so they can find solutions to their problems and make their contribution to the development of the country through some economic activities.

The name Ndabaga was chosen from an old Rwandan story about times when only men were allowed to go fighting and a girl named Ndabaga trained and transformed herself to look like a man and went to take her father's place as a soldier for the king so he could come home. It is to describe the role as women they played in the liberation struggle.

That is how members of the association came up with certain projects such as the selling of milk and milk related products, a decorating company, selling airtime, and the association would help them to look for support and financing.

But they did not limit themselves to economic activities. In their efforts to rebuild relationships between the citizens, they reached out to women who were in the ex-FAR. "We realized that after all, we have the same history: they were also fighting for what they thought was peace and that is the common denominator: peace," Muberanyana explains.

The members of the association also help each other by finding work for those who are unemployed and supporting the vulnerable and handicapped among them through contributions of those who work.

The women in Ndabaga are also very much involved in activities that perpetuate reconciliation, peace and security wherever they are.

Besides being involved in their communities, the members of Ndabaga also contribute in helping those communities through activities that benefit the members of those communities like the giving of cows.

Having seen firsthand how the participation of everyone was critical, Muberanyana encourages everyone, especially young people, to be part of the development process that leads to a better country for all. "It's not good to sit around and wait for other people to fight your battles when you can contribute," she says, adding that after all it's the youth who will be in charge of all activities in the future and they should start being responsible today.

"There is no pride in being an opportunist, wanting to be part of a good and advanced society without the willingness to contribute to that outcome," Muberanyana continues. "The contribution of all the children of the country, regardless of gender, is highly needed for its development."