Among the now customary acts performed on 4th July, is recognising individuals, who distinguished themselves, in some way or other, during the struggle for national liberation. These occasions, are almost always poignant, given the nature of the events they recall. As it reunited three men, who in their respective ways, were tested, as few people ever are, this year’s awards ceremony, was no different.
Before a select audience, in the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) Officers’ Mess, which included the families of the recipients, President Kagame, decorated Major-General Henry Kwame Anyidoho, and Major-General Joseph Narh Adinkra, of the Ghanaian armed forces, both retired, with Rwanda’s National Order of Bravery-Indengabaganizi medal.
The medal, is awarded to an individual, or group of individuals, who demonstrate exemplary supreme acts of self sacrifice, to save the life of another individual, or group of individuals.
During the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi, both men served in the ill fated United Nations Mission Assistance for Rwanda (UNAMIR).
According to the citation, read out by RDF spokesperson Colonel Ronald Rwivanga, Major-General Henry Kwame Anyidoho, then deputy Commander of UNAMIR, and Commander of the Ghanaian contingent, “demonstrated exemplary leadership and sacrifice. Under resourced and outnumbered, Major-General Anyidoho made the brave decision for the Ghanaian contingent to stay in Rwanda, hold their positions, and protect civilians, who sought refuge at the UN facilities, thereby saving thousands of lives.”
Then Lieutenant-Colonel, Joseph Narh Adinkra, a battalion commander, was cited for “resolute leadership, sacrifice, and efficient command” which assured protection to the thousands of civilians, seeking refuge at UN facilities.
To both men, read Colonel Rwivanga, “on behalf of a grateful nation, His Excellency the President of the Republic of Rwanda bestows the Indengabaganizi (National Medal for Bravery).
First strode forward Major-General Anyidoho. Almost thirty years older, walking a little gingerly now, but still upright, with a sphinx like gravity. The six foot plus, Kagame, bent slightly, to pin the middle on the shorter man’s jacket, won as part of a civilian dark suit.
Next, the strain of the near thirty years, also showing in his gait, approached the tall, imposing figure, of Major-General Narh Adinkra. As President Kagame pinned the medal on him, one could not fail to note that both men, now sported grey beards, where thirty years ago, the chins were smooth, thick manes of hair on top of youthful faces, protruding from under their military caps.
Here they now were, reunited, in a peaceful, liberated land, once a battleground, where they confronted, and triumphed over the forces of darkness.
In a slip of the tongue, Major-General Anyidoho began to thank His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Ghana, quickly correcting himself, with the self chastisement that really, as someone who felt Rwandan, as much as he felt Ghanaian, he really “should know better.”
Thanking the soldiers under his command, the Ghanaian High Command, and the government of Ghana at the time, General Anyidoho, recalled that although the decision he made was a difficult one, he had no difficulty in making it.
“I am extremely honoured to receive such an important medal, on the occasion of the 29th commemoration of the liberation of Rwanda. More than the role I played personally, the Ghana contingent succeeded, because of the exceptional rules that each member of the contingent played.”
Rarely is a soldier in a position to exercise free choice. Perhaps the only time being when he or she decides to sign up, and when they ask to be discharged. At all other times, theirs is to obey, or suffer the consequences, should they fail to do so.
Indeed, when they are called upon to exercise their own free choice, it is often an indication that things are not as they should be.
Such was the moment that confronted the officers of UNAMIR. The order from the UN to pull out of Rwanda, leaving the civilian population they had supposedly come to protect, to certain, agonising death, was, in the words of then force commander, Canadian Lieutenant-General Romeo Dallaire, a legal, but immoral order.
It was clearly a sentiment to which his Ghanaian deputy commander, fully subscribed. Anyidoho recalls his feelings, when the order to close the mission, duly came from the UN Security.
“I said to myself that as an African, we cannot turn our back on Rwanda, when they need us most…” He then asked his then government, for permission to stay, and put the decision to his officers, who unequivocally supported him.
It is a sacrifice he feels Rwanda has more than honoured.
“Today, I stand in this beautiful country, in admiration of the great transformation that has taken place, in spite of the history… I salute the resilience of the people of Rwanda… your experiences have not only taught you, but the whole world I believe the importance of maintaining and cherishing the peace of the nation which is also a springboard for development as we join you to celebrate 29 years of the liberation of Rwanda.”
In his remarks, President Kagame noted that the recognition was long overdue, but was always “in our hearts” intended to be made.
The citations that were just read he said, were a fitting tribute to the recipients’ bravery.
“I congratulate you, and I thank you for your dedication and commitment. Where others fled or were withdrawn by their governments, leaving Rwandans to their fate, these officers remained, and continued to lead their men and women and did what was right….through you general, General Peprah (Ghanaian Chief of the General Staff), I convey our deep appreciation to the government and people of Ghana, for this decision.”
“The Ghanaian battalion saved countless lives under the most difficult circumstances. And there is no soldier involved, who does not carry invisible wounds in his heart to this day. A genocide produces no heroes. Simply doing one’s duty required exceptional courage. Like these generals did. Where most failed the test, these officers did not…we are therefore greatly honoured by your return visit to our country, and by the witness you continue to bear, about the terrible events you witnessed here in our country. Once again, I want to congratulate you, and wish you a happy liberation day with us.”