President Paul Kagame returned home from a long visit to Europe and America and brought another load of prizes. As has become usual practice Rwandans revel and share in his achievements. And with good reason.
In his address to ministers and other top public and private sector officials, the president sought to shift focus from himself and direct it to all Rwandans. This is where the prizes the president continues to collect become instructive.
The president’s achievements, in my opinion, are doing two things to the Rwandan national spirit. Firstly, the recognition he is getting is bound to do more to foster patriotism among Rwandans than a lifetime of lectures and sermons can ever do. Secondly, he is showing the value of work, commitment, vision and steadfastness as conditions for achievement. These two elements naturally feed into each other.
Patriotism is at its strongest when one of two things obtains. Either the nation is so strong that citizens feel proud to be identified with it, or it is threatened and must be defended.
These are not quite alternatives but actually two sides of the same coin. Traditionally the power and greatness of nations, and therefore patriotism, are built, among other things, on military achievement, scientific and technological advancement, a strong tradition of art and culture, and the existence of national heroes.
In the case of Rwanda, all the conventional bases of greatness are, to a great degree, present. But there is another dimension to power and greatness that President Kagame’s prizes bring to the fore.
The greatness of a nation can also be measured by the power of ideas, the ambition and aspiration of a people expressed in a clear vision and a definite path to realising those aspirations.
President Kagame scores on all these, and for this he gets recognised. And as he keeps saying every time he is given a prize, Rwanda also gets recognised as a country.
In a sense Rwandans appropriate his achievements and make them their own. All people want to identify with success.
That is the reason they bask in the sunshine of others to whom they may be connected, however remotely. By contrast, no one wants to be associated with failure or weakness.
They will do everything possible to keep a wide distance between themselves and failure. It is this form of identification that, in part, builds national pride that should in normal circumstances be the springboard for other achievements.
Recognition also builds confidence and self-esteem. Nothing does more for love of oneself than a feeling of self-belief that comes from the knowledge that what one is doing, either as an individual or a group, is worthwhile.
Nothing does more for building confidence than a feel-good attitude. That is what the president’s prizes do.
Of course for those close to him, they also bring a challenge – to live and work to the standard he has set. That is also good because it should mean that performance will rise. Whether that happens is, of course, another matter.
The impact that all these should have is to turn winning into a habit. When that happens, working so as to excel also becomes a habit.
The link between the desire to win and patriotism is already showing. During the just concluded Tusker Project Fame music contest in Nairobi, Rwandan supporters of Alpha Rwirangira excitedly waved the national flag whenever he appeared on stage. Rwandans shrieked in joy when he won. I am sure they would have groaned in agony if he had lost.
The national media and communications companies were tireless in whipping up support for him. It did not come as a surprise when his winning made front page headline news in The New Times the following day.
In another instance, a recent report by a regional organisation on cross-border trade was shot down by Rwandan officials who thought it did not merit being called a research report.
They picked so many holes in it that when they were done it could not even be patched up. It needed redoing.
The reason the Rwandan officials gave was that they could not permit their country to be associated with shoddy work.
President Kagame’s continued recognition for his achievements is obviously one of the many building blocks of that difficult structure to erect – patriotism.
It is appropriate that his latest load of awards were presented to the nation in the month that began with a day to mark patriotism in the country.