Rwandan peacekeeper woman talks about protection duties of VIPs in CAR and life in the army | New times
When you first see Lieutenant Scovia Gwizimpundu wearing her favorite jeans or high waisted pants, you can easily mistake her for any stylish professional but a soldier.
Her neat, neat and professional appearance doesn’t reveal much.
When this journalist first met her, it was a brief encounter at a Rwandan peacekeeper base in a small town called Ouango, on the outskirts of Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic (CAR).
It is part of the Rwandan contingent serving as part of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in CAR (MINUSCA).
Out of service, Gwizimpundu easily passed for a visiting civilian member of the United Nations.
A few days later, she sat down with New times for an interview. The interview was set for noon. This time, the platoon commander was on duty in the leafy Boy-Rabe neighborhood in the 4th arrondissement of Bangui.
A platoon – commanded by a lieutenant – is a military unit usually made up of two or more squads or sections. Platoon organization varies by country and branch, but typically ranges from 20 to 50 soldiers, although specific platoons can range from nine to 100 people.
After giving some quick instructions to a group of soldiers under her command, she approached, the pistol in a tactical holster and an additional 15-round magazine strapped to her right thigh. The extra weight didn’t seem to bother her.
She stepped forward confidently and offered a firm handshake, only stopping long enough to signal that two chairs needed to be “quickly” placed under a giant mango tree behind a military tent. A little red light kept flashing on his Motorola military communications radio.
In its military element, Gwizimpundu exudes respect, honor and professionalism. It was then that his neat, military appearance took hold.
“I was afraid that my family would not support my choice of career”
Women who served in the military before her paved the way for her, she noted, referring to women who fought in Rwanda’s war for liberation in 1990-1994.
Five years ago, this computer enthusiast made a decision that made her the only woman in her family to join the military so far.
âI didn’t tell them I was enlisting until I applied to a district military office in our area. I was afraid that they would not support my choice of career and try to dissuade me from enlisting, but luckily everyone including my parents approved, âGwizimpundu said.
But what inspired her in the first place?
“Inkotanyi,” she said, referring to the Rwandan Patriotic Army (APR), the armed wing of the Rwandan Patriotic Front (APR), the political organization that liberated Rwanda in 1994.
âEspecially the liberators,â she recalls. “I have always been in awe of them.”
Fast forward, today the army lieutenant serves thousands of miles from home as part of a UN mission. She is the chief escort of the First Lady of the Central African Republic.
The Rwandan women of the United Nations Mission are artillerymen, escorts, doctors, mechanics, communication and combat experts. Like their male counterparts, they also patrol the streets of Bangui and other localities on a daily basis.
Every job these women do is daunting and requires rigorous training. But for soldiers like Gwizimpundu, who protect top leaders, the job is even more demanding.
Senior VIP protection officers must be prepared to do what is expected in normal situations, in stressful situations, and in extreme risk situations.
When asked what her typical working day looked like, she replied that “it all depends on the First Lady’s schedule”.
âWhen the First Lady plans to go somewhere, we plan, deploy and move accordingly. Its safety is in our hands. I deploy along the routes she takes to make sure she is safe everywhere. After her day’s work is over, we go home with her.
‘Danger can lurk in any corner
Gwizimpundu only goes to his base to rest after making sure his night shift is in place and all is well.
Her job is difficult because when it comes to protecting a VIP like the First Lady, “danger can lurk in any corner”.
But Gwizimpundu is trained to take the kind of stress her job entails. In his kind of work, there is no room for mistakes. Her disarming smile makes it seem like she’s harmless. But she is alert and prepared for the unexpected.
His is a testing role that requires staff to repeatedly put themselves in danger.
âWe are foreigners here and although we can communicate in French and English, communicating with the locals can sometimes be difficult due to the differences in culture,â said Gwizimpundu.
âThe weather or the climate here is also sometimes a challenge. We adapt and deal with situations as they arise, but it can be a challenge. “
In the footsteps of Ndabaga …
Today, more women serve in the Rwandan army, the Rwandan Defense Forces, than at any time in the country’s history. Their service was heroic and their sacrifices profound. And each has a story of perseverance and bravery.
Gwizimpundu relates to the legend of Ndabaga – an 18th century heroine whose story continues to inspire women.
âNdabaga replaced his father and it was a great thing in the history of Rwanda,â she said. In ancient Rwanda, young men temporarily replaced their fathers on the front line so that the latter could return home and recover from the toll of war, but men who had no sons would not have this luxury. . However, in an act of bravery and courage, Ndabaga would become the first woman to go to the battlefield to replace her father.
“Women today are doing just as well in the military,” Gwizimpundu said. “I’m sure there are areas where we excel more than our brethren.”
She believes that any girl can pursue any career she wants.
Gwizimpundu feels comfortable in the male dominated military environment, especially since women are not excluded from any type of combat mission.
âI can’t say it’s a difficult life just because I’m a woman. It is a life that I fit in very well and I do it well, because I am a qualified professional. I’m comfortable, âshe said.
She says she hopes for a successful military career, but also wants to start a family of her own.
âMy dream is to grow in my career and have my own family too; my husband and my children. I want to see my children grow up to be successful, patriotic adults.
As for individual accomplishments, “there are so many so far,” she said, but “being a platoon commander is my greatest achievement to date.”