“When the Presidential plane was shot down on April 6, 1994, and these Belgians were killed and it was obvious that Belgium as a nation was campaigning for this country to close down then I started taking a look at myself as an African and then the Ghanaian contingent as the only African contingent serving in that area. What would be our position then? If everyone was leaving should we also leave? The answer was no.”
When the dallies advertised an opening for young men to join the force, 21-year-old Henry Kuami Anyidoho decided to apply and to his excitement, he was picked to undergo training to become a soldier.
The training was tedious, but soon the discipline caught up with him and stuck with him. He went through the mill and rose to various positions, witnessing and engaging with comrades on the ground all the while acquiring a sense of what conflicts turned out to be. Sierra Leone, Lebanon, Liberia, one way or another he pocketed nuggets out of them which eventually became useful when fate sat on his shoulders.
When the United Nations came out with the Sustainable Development Goal ‘leaving no one behind’, they thought that they initiated something new. Little did they know that many decades ago, one man took charge and decided that if the world was leaving his fellow African men behind he would not.
When the Rwandan genocide began in 1994, the world was shocked. Hate speech had spiraled to the extent that countrymen were killing themselves. The Rwandan military, it became apparent, could not handle the situation on its own. One too many people were dying.
The UN deployed its peacekeeping force with countries from Belgium, Bangladesh and Ghana. Soon, the UN peacekeeping force was losing men too and the UN decided to pull out its force.
However, seeing a brother (Rwanda) in need, it did not sit right with Major General Henry Kuami Anyidoho, who was the Deputy Commanding officer to also leave his fellow African men in their time of need. He could not possibly leave them behind to die therefore he made the brave call to stay and keep them safe as best as he could together with his teams.
In July 2022, he was honored by the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, for his bravery during the Rwandan Genocide. Face2Face Africa caught up with him and this is what the living legend had to say about himself, wars, Rwanda and the military.
Where were you first deployed for peacekeeping and under which unit? What was the experience like?
Well, I was attracted to the peacekeeping in the Congo, but I never had the opportunity to serve there. Officially, I was deployed to United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon in 1982,
You were in Liberia and Sierra Leonne, tell us about that.
I was not deployed to those missions for a very long time. I was part on the staff when we were deployed to Liberia. I was in charge of logistics so it was my responsibility to ensure that we prepared the contingent well before they left for Liberia. Subsequently I had the responsibility to visit them while they were there. It was not a deployment per say, but I was well informed on what was going on. The same thing happened for Sierra Leonne except I was there one or two times.
How did those two civil wars shape your perception of peacekeeping in war-torn countries?
Yes, they shaped my perception. I discovered that if a country does not have disciplined and responsible army they are likely to fail in their duties when called upon to protect their own country and once a stronger force is able to overcome them or indiscipline sits in deep, then there will be a total confusion, law and order will break down. It starts from the civil administration, then the police cannot handle it, the armed forces cannot the three will be complete disorderliness. That’s why these institutions must live up to their own vows and make sure they perform their duties well.
Millennials when they hear of you now quickly remember the Rwandan genocide. What was the experience there?
I must say that in the beginning, for those of us on the ground and when I speak I speak for the officers and men who went with me. I’ve always said that I didn’t do anything in Rwanda all by myself. What we did there was team work. We were taken by surprise that the people, who spoke the same language, had inter-; they could suddenly start killing each other especially the minority group and killing them in such a gory manner. We were taken by surprise, seeing it happen with our own eyes.
When the UN pulled its forces, you decided to make the call for the Ghanaian contingent to stay back and help. What was the thought behind that decision?
The United Nations was contemplating closing the mission because we lost Belgian soldiers, about 10 of them very early when the shootings started and of course Belgium is an European country and when it started went around campaigning that the UN missions should be closed down and Ghana was the only country that provided contingent alongside Bangladesh and Belgium. When the Presidential plane was shot down on April 6 1994 and these Belgians were killed and it was obvious that Belgium as a nation was campaigning for this country to closed down then I started taking a critical look at myself as an African and then the Ghanaian contingent as the only African contingent serving in that area. What would be our position then? If everyone was leaving should we also leave? The answer was no because if we had also left there would have been no one to let the world what was happening and things would have been worse than what the world got to know.”
Did experience from previous deployment to civil war countries help in making decisions in Rwanda?
Very much so because I knew what happened in Lebanon, if there had been a strong army there perhaps what happened there would have taken a different form. Same for Sierra Leonne, when they started killing and amputating their own people if there had been a strong army there to oppose; as a matter of fact when I learnt recently that there was violence in Freetown I was worried and I told myself I hope these people weren’t heading towards another conflict again, but they were able to stop it and arrested some people and when order is in place and everyone conforms then administration ca go ahead and do what they are supposed to do.
You were recently honored by the Rwandan president, Paul Kagame for your bravery. 28 years after how did it feel then remembering the reason for your honor?
Well, let me tell you this when we entered the reception hall, before we were taken to the President’s office where the ceremony took place, I was almost overcome by emotions because I was meeting the President for the second time. The first time was when he visited Ghana and I was his military escort to the then President Jerry John Rawlings’ office. So while we were waiting the events of 1994 were going through my mind and I just prayed very hard that I wouldn’t be overcome by emotions, but it was with absolute humility that we were remembered and were going to be honored for whatever we did at that time.
What’s the one thing you would never forget about the Rwandan genocide?
The mass killing of human beings by human beings in their own country and the abandonment. What I saw there was abandonment. I was there as the Deputy Force Commander for the UN mission and in our moment of need, I’m sure all of us felt that the United Nations had forgotten us and the OAU headquarters in Addis Abba had also forgotten us because we were not too far from them. Why didn’t somebody come to our aid?
There are still wars torn countries on the African continent, what is your advice to soldiers who are deployed to such countries for peacekeeping?
My advice to them would be to just listen to their call and profession. If they do their job well as a neutral force and committed to the reason they were sent to the mission, there shouldn’t be any problem, but often some have their attention diverted. So they should just stick to their job.
There’s a perception among young people that being a soldier makes one powerful and above the law so to speak. Is that to be believed?
Hahaha… I think that’s a complete misunderstanding of the profession. A soldier should understand that he is a servant of the nation just like anyone who works for the government. You are to serve your people so it’s leadership. Nobody should live above the law.
Finally, you remain a living legend, one who would never be forgotten in African history. What would you like people to remember or think of when Major General (Rtd) Henry Anyidoho is mentioned?
A simple soldier who responded to his professional calling in time of need. I did not do anything all by myself. I did it with my officers and men and God was on our side so we were able to do what we did; our humble contribution which was very scary. Just remember me as a shoulder that served in the armed forces of his country and did whatever that was possible during the time that I was in service.