Eyder Peralta

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Updated at 7:15 a.m. ET Saturday

Some people walked hours to get to Shyira. They trekked down the steep hills that surround the small town in northern Rwanda last month not only to celebrate Liberation Day, but to get a close view of the country's president, Paul Kagame.

Out here, in West Pokot County, Kenya, the landscape looks like Mars — red clay, rocks, and in the distance, a mountain so bare it looks like a giant boulder.

Stephen Long'uriareng, 80, has walked two hours to bring her two cows and goats to this watering hole. It's really just a dam carved out the earth, where the rain water mixes with mud and turns into a dark brown color.

This is not the place Long'uriareng remembers from her youth.

"This whole place used to be green with a lot of pasture. There was nothing being experienced like drought," she said.

Shyira is a picture-perfect Rwandan village, surrounded by luscious green mountains. No matter where you look, even at the tip of some of the highest mountains and along the precipice of the most dangerous slopes, there are houses.

On July 4, while Americans celebrate their independence, Rwandans are celebrating Liberation Day — commemorating the day in 1994 when rebel troops marched into the capital Kigali and ended a genocide against the country's Tutsi minority.

There is a certain peace that comes with being surrounded by a bunch of men with big guns.

As much as you want to run or fight or scream, there's not much you can do — except whatever they say.

On a Friday afternoon in April, I was sitting in a restaurant in Juba, South Sudan's capital, trying to persuade two government officials to issue me press credentials so I could report there. I had tried and failed to do this over the phone from my home base in Nairobi, and so my bosses and I made the decision that an in-person appeal would be best.

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