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Liberation Day: What July 4 Means To Rwanda


On this Independence Day here in the U.S., let's take note that in Rwanda it's also a national holiday, Liberation Day, commemorating the day back in 1994 that rebel leader Paul Kagame marched into the capital and seized control, ending the genocide that killed 800,000 people. Today, Rwanda is one of the most prosperous countries in Africa, and Paul Kagame is still in power. NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Shyria in northwest Rwanda. Hey, there. Tell me exactly where you are, what you can see.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise. So I am in Shyria, which is a really remote village in Rwanda. And I'm being very quiet right now because this is a celebration, absolutely. There was music earlier. There was dancing. I mean, they've brought, like, stages to this small village out here. And they brought some of the biggest stars in Rwanda. But this is also a somber occasion. It marks the end of the genocide. And right now, as we speak, there's a woman giving a testimony. And this is the way they remember the genocide. They tell the stories of how they suffered and what this means to them.

I spoke to a young woman named Clemets Amulisa (ph). She's 19. And she said, this means a lot to me because my parents would have been killed had this genocide not ended. If this had not happened, I probably would not be here. And so this is very real for people here.

KELLY: As we listen to these voices behind you, worth noting that Rwanda 23 years later is doing well. It's prosperous, it's stable, particularly in comparison to a lot of the other countries around it.

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, you know, the first thing you notice when you land in Kigali is that there are perfect streets and there are paved roads. There are, you know, street lights. And corruption has been curbed by this government. So it's making huge strides. There is accountability here in the way that there isn't, you know, especially in Congo and in Uganda. So it's immediately evident that this country is doing something right.

KELLY: As we listen there to Liberation Day commemorations, worth noting that there is also a big election coming up which Paul Kagame is running in again and I gather is heavily favored to win yet again.

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, you know, he - there is usually a two-term limit. There was a change to the constitution to allow him to run again. And it was done through a vote, and he won overwhelmingly. But I think, you know, this also points to the big challenge here in Rwanda, which is that his opponents are saying that, you know, he's been in power for too long. And so the question is, will there be a democratic transition here in Rwanda in the future? I think, you know, it's very evident that Paul Kagame will win this election. The European monitors aren't even sending monitors over here because they feel it's that set, that settled.

KELLY: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in Rwanda letting us eavesdrop in there on the Liberation Day celebration and commemoration underway. Thanks so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Mary Louise. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.