I must say Kudos to the thousands of ordinary Rwandans who attended in large numbers the 15th commemoration of our national heroes at the Amahoro National Stadium on Sunday, February 1. And the same goes for millions of others who marked the Heroes Day in their respective areas of residence across the country.
It was yet another manifestation of just how much those who sacrificed their lives for this Nation and indeed our living heroes for all this country’s liberation are so revered by all Rwandans who are, by no means, not short of reasons to celebrate them.
As expected, the families of the national heroes who were laid to rest at the Heroes Memorial Ground in Remera laid wreaths at the tombs of their beloved ones, so did the Head of State and the First Lady, as well as the Dean of the Diplomatic Corps in Rwanda.
Though brief, the wreath-laying ceremony brought back fresh memories of the greatness that embodied the outstanding character of our heroes, from generation to generation: from King Mutara Rudahigwa III, to Maj. Gen. Fred Gisa Rwigema and Prime Minister Agathe Uwilingiyimana, to the students of Nyange.
A broader picture of the essence of this important occasion was however yet to come. And when it did, everyone was left both contented and challenged.
First, it was our traditional dances and a march-past that did not only praise the heroic actions of the fallen heroes, but also painted a brighter picture for the country’s prospects as long as we kept this heroism legacy alive.
Culture and Sports Minister Joe Habineza added yet another flavor – singling out common practices which could undermine that legacy and those that could turn heroism into a permanent Rwandan heritage.
But it was the Guest of Honour, President Paul Kagame, who brought into the picture what the real role of the ordinary Rwandan as well as leaders in the process to accomplish our heroes’ full mission.
The Head of State was spot on, mentioning one of the most lacking professions of our economy’s service industry – customer care.
Like many listeners, I personally was left challenged when he pointed out that consumers have in a way facilitated the unprofessional conduct of waiters/waitresses because they comfortably pull out their wallets in the same places over and over again.
While his message was not in any way meant to mean that consumers who were unhappy with a restaurant or bar service should not pay, it is a reminder that consumers actually wield powers that can bring about a change in a business.
Indeed in a similar example of underperformance and incompetence, the President reminded voters that they have all it takes to bring a reform in the public administration. The President was right in both cases.
If consumers could all boycott a business that is unprofessional, the next thing the owner would do is to study the reasons behind it all, and most likely he or she will get to the bottom of it if the person is serious.
A businessperson who is not making money – due to lack of clients – will primarily lay off workers (who all along did not value a client), and failure to address the real problem at hand will lead to insolvency altogether.
In the same way, the electorate need to learn how to use their voting rights to get what they are entitled to. Why should you accept cheap bribes or give in to intimidation to vote someone into office, while his or her leadership record is stained with failure to serve the people?
Rwandans, especially the rural folks, need to learn to reject the bad, for that is only when they will be able to identify the good and strive to get it.
And this brings me to the Heroes Day’s biggest question. The Head of State asked the nation: ‘What if donors turned off the tap of funding?’ He did not ask anybody to give an answer, and I don’t envisage anybody attempting to do so unless asked in person.
Yet President Kagame alerted Cabinet ministers and other top government officials to expect the same question during the next government annual retreat.
Should he go ahead and pose the question to them, I envisage each of them chickening into explaining what his or her respective ministry is doing to achieve this and that (in line with relevant sectors) under the EDPRS and Vision 2020.
And probably the Finance and Economic Planning Minister James Musoni would stand up and tell the Head of State that he would ask fellow ministers to trim their budgetary estimates.
And going by the series of protracted high-level discussions that are still going on over the 2009 budgetary allocations in some Government institutions one month into the new fiscal half-year, I imagine long and heated debates would ensue as each minister frantically attempts to defend their own budgetary projections.
The President’s question has a sound basis. This country has all the reasons to claim its rightful place among Nations that have staked everything to ensure that their people get a say in matters that concern their lives.
But while we seem to be on the right track on the political liberation front, our country remains largely economically dependent. With almost half of our national budget in the hands of other countries’ taxpayers, we can hardly claim total independence.
In some cases we are economically dependent to donors who have never been amused by our historic achievements, or have in one way or another, been part of the same problems our heroes fought against.
It is this unpopularity of our achievements over the years in some donor circles that have partially fuelled past decisions by some of them to cut funding to the Nation. By doing so, they have sent a signal.
A signal that should inject in us all a sense of urgency – to become self-reliant at whatever cost, even if it means opening our offices and shops 24/7.
In his Heroes’ Day speech, the President gave a passionate appeal to the nation to say ‘no’ to the current state of affairs, telling Rwandans that they should never get satisfied anytime poverty continues to loom large in their households.
He strategically bonded this economic liberation struggle with our past struggles for people’s basic rights to justice, education, healthcare, as well as all the freedoms for which our heroes stood up.
Our liberation would end up turning into a white elephant if our financial survival remains subject to someone else’s unpredictable moods.
However, our Government has laid out strategies for our country’s eventual self-reliance, which, if well implemented, can help provide the answer to the President’s question.
For instance, if the current education sector reforms specifically the integrated Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) policy could be well implemented with the interests of the Nation superseding everything else, then we surely will not see the same question coming our way in future. And for these strategies to succeed, every Rwandan needs to play their part.
The author is Rwanda Workforce Development Authority (WDA) Marketing and Communication Specialist.