The Nebraska National Guard’s top leader traveled to Africa this week and signed a partnership agreement to share training and knowledge with the defense forces of Rwanda.
Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, Nebraska’s adjutant general, signed the Defense Department’s State Partnership Agreement on Thursday in Kigali, the Rwandan capital, with Gen. Jean-Bosco Kazura, chief of defense staff for the Rwandan Defense Force.
“The Nebraska National Guard is honored to have a new state partnership and build an even stronger relationship between the U.S. and Rwanda,” Bohac said in a statement.
It is the 77th state partnership between U.S. National Guard commands and foreign nations, and the 15th involving an African country. The Nebraska National Guard has one other such partnership, an agreement with the military of the Czech Republic that began in 1993.
U.S. Ambassador to Rwanda Peter Vrooman and Air Force Brig. Gen. Steven deMilliano, a deputy director at the Germany-based U.S. Africa Command, attended the ceremony, along with a group of 13 Nebraska National Guard members.
DeMilliano said the Nebraska-Rwanda partnership will focus on engineering, logistics, medical readiness and aviation.
“Rwanda is a strong partner with shared values for human rights equality, protection of civilians and commitment to peacekeeping operations,” he said in a statement.
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Rwanda is in east-central Africa and is one of the continent’s smallest countries, with more than 11 million people living in an area about the size of Maryland. It was colonized by Germany in the 1880s and was transferred to Belgium during World War I. The country became independent in 1962. It is where the late conservationist Dian Fossey studied mountain gorillas, as detailed in the book and film “Gorillas in the Mist.”
In 1994, Rwanda was the site of the genocidal slaughter of between 500,000 and 1 million members of the Tutsi and other minority tribes by the Hutu majority after an airplane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and neighboring Burundi was shot down. Western nations, including Belgium, France and the United States, did little to intervene, and United Nations forces in the country stood aside.
The current president, Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, led a rebel army and political movement called the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which marched through the country and ended the genocide. The Rwanda Defense Force evolved from the military arm of that movement.
In the years since the genocide, Rwanda has slowly healed and modernized. The Rwanda Defense Force is one of the continent’s most active armies in United Nations peacekeeping operations.
Before they left, some of the Nebraska Guard members took classes in Kinyarwanda, the primary official language of Rwanda. Lillian Uwanjye, a junior attending the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, was one of several Rwandan students who taught Guard members — including Bohac — some basic words and phrases in their native tongue. She also taught them about Rwandan culture.
“I have a lot of good times when I come here. I laugh a lot,” Uwanjye said in a video posted on the Nebraska National Guard’s Facebook page. “I get to see the progress the people who are learning Kinyarwanda are making.”
During their visit to Rwanda, the Nebraska Guard members took part in cultural activities and meetings, and they began planning future exchanges.
“This is an enduring, long-term strategy, not a one-and-done,” Bohac said in a Facebook video. “We’ll be at this a long time.”