“Karongi road hero” has message for us all: Ask not what Rwanda can do for you, but…

The headline of the week got to be that of 23-year old Emmanuel Nizigiyimana who has been celebrated countrywide as a hero, for single-handedly digging a 4 km road connecting two villages of Murambi and Gashari, Karongi district in Rwanda’s western province.

First, TV1 should be commended for discovering young Emma’s story, one of dozens of human interest news features from the country-side that the local channel has consistently covered over the years, despite challenges they face in sustaining up-country news-gathering operations.

At least three aspects made young Emmanuel’s story newsworthy. First, the story scored highly on the ‘human interest’ news value because here is a young man who didn’t join others to lament about the absence of a road but chose to improvise by building one with his own hands.

When I watched the news clip, it immediately invoked a message from the inauguration speech of John F. Kennedy as the 35th President of the United States, themed around deeds of Patriotism.

“And so, my fellow Americans; ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man,” said Kennedy.

I strongly doubt young Emmanuel is aware of the message in JF Kennedy’s evergreen inauguration speech delivered 58 years ago, today, yet with his deed, he commendably brought to life the definition of a truly responsible and patriotic citizen.

While it was nice reading all the warm congratulatory messages of appreciation and encouragement aimed at young Emmanuel, it is important not to miss young Emmanuel’s own message to all of us, Rwandans and Africans in general.

“And so, my fellow Rwandans {Africans}, ask not what your country {continent} can do for you — ask what you can do for your country {continent}.”

The other two elements that made young Emmanuel’s story newsworthy are ‘conflict’ and ‘unusualness.’ By their own confession, young Emmanuel’s village mates told the press that they thought the ‘boy was mad.’ His deed was so unusual that people thought him cracked.

But there was a method in young Emmanuel’s madness; the kind of madness to be encouraged. It is possible sometimes that the only sane person in the village is the one that everybody thinks is mad. Deeds of selfless civic service are so rare that those who offer them are dubbed foolish.

The conflict in young Emmanuel’s story is the fact that his civic deed exposed the absence or incompetence of local leadership;otherwise how is it possible that for more than two years, Emmanuel’s community service went unnoticed, unsupported, unchecked or unquestioned?

Someone asked a clever question; how did the owners of the land in which he was digging the road, react? They certainly knew the boy was up to something good hence left him to his scheme.

The Ministry of Infrastructure, which was urged by many Rwandans on Twitter, to recognize the local hero’s efforts, has since visited the young man’s village and pledged to join him to complete the work he begun.

While the Ministry’s response to the story is commendable, it should not shield from scrutiny, the wanting quality of leadership in the two cells of Murambi and Gashari in Karongi district.

“For two years, I have worked on this road, single-handedly. No one ever came out to help me. Instead, many ignored me as a mad man,” the young man told the press.

Ironically, everyone was happy to use the “mad man’s road.” Also, note that no one attempted to stop him, because they knew he was doing something mutually beneficial. It goes without saying that if ‘mad Emmanuel’ was engaged in criminal venture, he certainly would have been stopped.

Elsewhere, I have seen villages clearing village roads and other community utilities, during Umuganda; why didn’t people in Emmanuel’s village find it necessary to do the same?

At this point, one can only paraphrase a line from Francis Imbuga’s political play, Betrayal in the City and say; “when the madness of an entire community (Murambi) disturbs a solitary mind, it is not enough to say the man (Emmanuel) is mad.”

I am just curious to hear what the leadership of those two cells have to give as reasons, why, first, they ignored the fact that a road was needed in the first place, and secondly, why they didn’t support the young man’s initiative, yet they saw him toil away, for two and half years.

On that note, here is my prayer to the powers that be; install young Emmanuel Nizigiyimana as leader of his community and have the incumbent relieved of their ‘duties.’

Support the young man through school and groom him into an even more productive citizen of his beloved country.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.

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