New Partnership Brings Nebraska National Guard To Africa

Maj. Scott Ingalsbe shows the newly placed Rwandan flag next to the Nebraskan and Czech flags. (Photo by Brandon McDermott, NET News)
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December 11, 2019 - 6:45am

A unique partnership between the Nebraska National Guard and the Rwanda Defence Force (RDF) is set to be formalized with a signing Thursday in Kigali, Rwanda. The Guard has been preparing for the new partnership, including learning how to speak a new language before they arrived in Rwanda.

Lillian Uwanjye, a UNL student from Rwanda, leads a class at the Nebraska Army and Air National Guard headquarters in Lincoln. On this day, she's teaching a lesson on salutations and greetings. (Photo by Brandon McDermott, NET News)

In a classroom at the Nebraska Army and Air National Guard’s headquarters in Lincoln, Lillian Uwanjye is teaching members of the Guard how to speak Kinyarwanda, the official language in Rwanda.

The reason these members are learning the language is because of a new partnership between the Nebraska National Guard and the Rwanda Defense Force. The official signing is Thursday in Kigali, the capital of Rwanda, and the 13 members of the Guard arrived earlier this week.

Uwanjye is one of nearly 200 Rwandan students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln who helped teach Guard members the new language. Air Force Maj. Gen. Daryl Bohac, Nebraska National Guard adjutant general, is making the trip to Rwanda and at the training session, he’s one of the students learning alongside the other members of the Guard. He said it only made sense to reach out to these students for help learning the language.  

"These students are really proud of their country," Bohac said. "They're bringing that pride to us and sharing their love for their country just like we're proud to be Americans. So it's a natural fit to me."

Bohac said Uwanjye and the other Rwandan students have helped give first-hand experience as to what to expect when they travel to Africa. He said this in many ways is more valuable than the intelligence reports they’ve received. The students have explained that Rwandans can be seen as overly friendly. They like to meet and talk to new people.

"They’re engaging and so you could misinterpret that if you didn't know that kind of background," Bohac said.

Members from the Nebraska Army and Air National Guard sit in class as they learn the Kinyarwanda language. (Photo by Brandon McDermott, NET News)

Bohac said the partnership will help with emergency and disaster responses, cooperation in peacekeeping operations and readiness for the battlefield.

The Nebraska National Guard has one other similar partnership with the Czech Republic which started in 1993. Bohac said that long relationship made it possible for generals in each country to pick up the phone and call one another.  

"To call me and say, 'Darryl, we're trying to understand something or what about doing something together' and to be able to move forward in a really quick manner," Bohac said.

Bohac said the Guard in Nebraska shares the Czech partnership with Texas.

The partnership has been beneficial in training exercises for soldiers who deal with dangerous chemicals – which the Czech Republic does and the U.S. does not do. The Guard has also helped train non-commissioned officers and special operations soldiers with disarming and the disposing of explosive nuclear and chemical weapons. Bohac hopes to build that same strong partnership with the Rwanda Defense Force.

"The reality is we need allies and partners to be successful around the globe and it's better to go together than to go it alone," Bohac said.

Bohac said the RDF has been trying to become a partner with the Nebraska National Guard for nearly three years. Rwanda is also trying to become a partner in NATO. He says this partnership will be a step toward that goal.


Some of the Kinyarwanda greetings translated to English. (Photo by Brandon McDermott, NET News)

Rwanda will also benefit from the exchange of aeromedical evacuations and engineering training. For the United States, it’s an opportunity to foster democracy around the globe.

Bohac said the Guard wanted to seek out an independent relationship. He said it also helps ensure America’s strength on the African continent.

"We are back into a great power competition with Russia and China. And China definitely is on the African continent; Russia is too, but I’d say China is in some more substantive ways," Bohac said.

Bohac said China has invested a lot of money into Rwanda, primarily for infrastructure.

"The Chinese are pretty adept in their strategy of going in and saying, ‘Hey, we will build something for you and then you can figure out how to pay us back," Bohac said.

Bohac said China is working to invest in infrastructure in other African nations as well.

While Rwandan students taught their language and the Rwandan culture, Guard members got a chance to reciprocate on Thanksgiving. Two Rwandan students were invited to join the family of a member of the Nebraska National Guard for dinner. The meal was held at the American Legion in Dorchester, Nebraska.

Gisele Shimwa, a UNL student from Rwanda, arrives at the American Legion in Dorchester ready for Thanksgiving dinner. (Photo by Brandon McDermott, NET News)

One of the students, Gisele Shimwa said since a genocide of the mid 1990s, the country has worked to come together as “one Rwanda” and tried to get away from the tribalism that contributed to the violence.

"They're going to be extending culture and that's part of learning," Shimwa said. "So they are bringing America to  Rwanda, and we're bringing Rwanda to them."

Shimwa said Rwanda has a holiday feast similar to Thanksgiving called “Umuganura,” which is celebrated following the seasonal harvest. As she talks about Rwanda, she shares some of her favorite dishes from the Thanksgiving dinner.  

Back at the Nebraska National Guard in Lincoln, Lillian Uwanjye teaches students how to ask for different types of drinks. Even casual exchanges will be important to the Guard in Rwanda. The partnership is already moving forward as the Guard is currently helping the RDF with an engineering mission. 

"I hear many people say it's a graceful language so it's not so hard to learn," Uwanjye said.

She said the students have come a long way since they started a month ago.

"It was just a pleasure to work with the students here. It was good for me to teach them and to learn from them and to see their progress," Uwanjye said.



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