Celebrating Rwanda’s transformation

It is usual, almost mandatory, for people to celebrate an anniversary. An anniversary marks a key milestone in the life of an individual, group, or nation and as such is an important reference point from that past with an influence on the future.

Often, it is not so much the event so many years ago that matters most but the point one has reached in the present.

Next week, on July 4, Rwandans will mark the liberation of this country as they have done for the last twenty-five years. That date and the events leading up to it have become the key reference point in the subsequent history of the country and the trajectory it is on.

It is added significance in that it marks a generation.  People born then have become of age. And so this should offer a moment for reflection.

An anniversary of this sort is never complete without some element of pomp and pageantry. But don’t expect too much of that. We are rather short on this aspect of celebration; just have enough to spice the event.

We will pay tribute to the valiant fighters who earned us our freedom with their sacrifice and also recognise the role of ordinary Rwandans then and now for making liberation meaningful.

We will look back to where we have come from and where we have reached as a nation.. If we are honest, we will ask the question: what have we done with the credit given us by our heroes?

On that score, we will not be found wanting. We can proudly point out that our gratitude is not merely in words or ceremonies. It is more in what we have done. We have put to good use that credit and have made significant progress, and so there is reason to celebrate.

In many ways the Rwanda of today is unrecognisable from that of twenty five years ago. The economic indicators for this change have been well-documented. They will not detain us here. But even in a physical sense Rwanda has changed..

The famous a thousand hills remain the same. But they do not appear tired and overused, old and scarred as they once did. Life springs from them, not death and destruction.

They are more likely to have model villages of modern houses not much seen in many developing countries than the isolated huts from a different age dotted across them.

They are likely to be lit with electric lights than the little tin and smoking kerosene lamps. There is likely to be a school and health facility not very far away.

Below, the marshlands have had their role restored as the purifiers and reservoirs of our water, as well as farmland. They continue to breathe life into the life of the nation.

The cities and towns and trading centres of today would have appeared out of this world twenty five years ago. Indeed some who have not been here for that period cannot or refuse to believe that pictures of Kigali, Musanze or Muhanga they see are real and not from cities in some Asian country.

Kigali in particular, once a sleepy, dusty, unknown little town is now the destination of choice as a meeting place for global shapers of the future of our world.

The level of technology would also have appeared out of this world, probably something from science fiction.

The quality of life has changed in unrecognisable ways too. People now live longer. They no longer die in the numbers they once did from preventable diseases and other conditions.

Headlines such as: “Rwanda will soon be the first country to get rid of cervical cancer”, or “Rwanda is one of two countries in the world with the highest faith in vaccination,” tell the story of the healthcare services very well.

There is a school practically on every hill. Education as a right is no longer a slogan but reality. Nor is it a privilege granted by some distant authority. And at a higher education level, the country has become a continental centre of learning.

Twenty-five years ago, many Rwandans were timid or afraid of being identified with their country. Today they are brimming with confidence and are proud of who they are and their ability to shape their destiny.

They have rediscovered and reconstituted their Rwandanness destroyed over many decades. Where once they were shunned or ignored, today their counsel is much sought after and highly valued.

In the past few years, we have begun to see a new trend in relations with some of the players in the past history of this country. Individuals, institutions, and countries have been trying to come to terms with their roles and to change direction where necessary.

The Catholic Church has been doing a lot of soul-searching. in Rwanda was engaged in discussions to find a meaningful theology following the genocide against the Tutsi. There are signs from France of a shift in attitude towards Rwanda.

Celebrating liberation is also a reminder that it is a journey and not an event, and that there are always people intent on throwing us off-track and derailing our progress. And so it is always important to remain vigilant.

The same reasons that got us where we are: patriotism, sacrifice, vision, and staying power are still required to safeguard the gains of our liberation and to propel us forward.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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