Last Sunday, November 1, was All Saints’ Day. Every year, 11/1 is a day when many Roman Catholics and some other Christians honour and celebrate all saints. Those canonised (recognised as saints by the Church, with their feast days) and those who’ve otherwise attained heaven. It’s a Holy Day of Obligation honoured by the churches’ faithful. Sixty-one years last Sunday, in this country where literally the entire population staunchly professed to Roman Catholicism and always observed the day and totally devoted it to prayer, no such thing happened. It was turned into Martyrs’ Day. Uti how? On that day, November 1, 1959, part of the population abandoned the prayer and set out to slaughter a section of their compatriots, inadvertently making them martyrs. All Saints’ Day, that Sunday 1959, became Devils’ Day. A devilish leadership set on a 35-year campaign to martyr its innocent citizens. It was Devils’ Day, as it was Martyrs’ Day. As I remember, early in the morning as a family we hadn’t noticed anything until our old man, accompanied by strong neighbours, came rushing home and pointing at the hills frantically. Everywhere on the ridges around, smoke bellowed from homes. And, on listening, we heard screams renting the air. Clearly, the hell predicted by colonialist-priests in churches had been loosed on us. With everybody picking up whatever possession was portable, the men led the way and we made a beeline for the border, resting only after we had crossed into a neighbouring country. Unbeknown to us young ones, that was the touch-off to the pogroms that would leave no family of the targeted unaffected. Those of us who managed to flee were lucky, so to say. But, of course, we may’ve faced different forms of persecution in or outside this country but none knew peace from then. Colonialism’s enterprise to create a near-permanent rift in the strong social fibre that’d bound together the state of Rwanda had succeeded beyond colonialists’ wildest imaginations. Only by the grace of collective African action did the colonialists grant independence, which otherwise the new killer-leaders didn’t wish to have! Even then, colonialists knew they had puppets behind who’d serve their every whim. Yet, except for the puppet leaders and their few cronies who alone creamed the fat of the land – fat which was not actually of the land but offerings from the politicians’ puppeteers – the rest of the so-called privileged-class citizens languished in backwardness, abject poverty, ignorance, ill-health, acrimony and divisions along all possible lines. This evil combination of tyrannies that culminated in the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994 supervised by criminal leaderships counted in excess of one million martyrs. Consider martyrs of the liberation struggle by the patriots who put their lives on the line to rescue this country and you’ll see that, indeed, we’ve probably been the worst victims of colonialism. All due to a bunch of misguided self-seekers who never understood the supremacy of this society’s dignity. The paramountcy of this dignity only came out when patriotic liberators joined up with the whole populace and together they interrogated themselves on how their land had been turned into the sick man of the world. The unanimous resolution out of all this was to furiously work on cultivating a culture of re-inventing themselves as a dignified society of one people, one mission. It’s thus that this land has regained the respect of the world, as being of a society equal to world-respected societies. Where Rwandan bankrupt leaders had turned the country into a cocoon in which its impoverished, so-called higher-castes never ceased to fight over donated crumbs, while their cursed castes were murdered off or ignored, the country has opened out to the world. In countries big and small, where this land’s people’s voice is heard, he is respected. Twenty-six years of this voice have shown that for being faithful to the people’s aspirations, his word is his bond. For that, he never utters a word for the sake of its sound. Because that voice is from the deep chest that’s home. Where if the country is said to be clean, that cleanliness is not simply skin-deep. It pervades the whole body-politick of the country so that the smallest detail is given its due attention. The smallest embezzlement or misuse of funds; the smallest job done shoddily; a burning forest that’s not noticed; soil piled on a clean street; tent built maladroitly; everything down to the tiniest. Rwandans must internalise auto-criticism and all work together with integrity. And so, the Vatican itself has taken notice that the Martyrs of this land were not in vain and they’ve spoken. And the leader of the Catholic world has heard their voice loud and clear. For the first time in history, a Rwandan has been elevated to the rank of a Cardinal. The lay world saw this even before: the UN, where that voice heads/has headed many organs. Just as for other Rwandans: la Francophonie (for Chair); the ADB (for ex-Chair); the WTO (for ex-DP); and multiple others. In this land, all time is martyrs’ time. They were not sacrificed in vain.