Last February 1 was Heroes Day in this land. It’s a marvel that Rwandans manage to categorise their heroes. Much as, lest we forget, of their nationally-instituted three categories (Imanzi, Imena, and Ingenzi), so far only in the first two have they managed to place a few.
Still, the exercise alone of choosing those few must be a tall order. For it’s true that this land has heroes galore…
“Hold it there, doddering oldster!” I can hear you shout. “It’s only the other day that Rwandans proved to be the most monstrous villains of the world and now here you are, talking ‘heroes’.”
Well, good people, I am indeed much seized of the fact of this land shaming the world in 1994.
I remember so vividly Pope John Paul II himself mourning because, said he, all the demons had descended from arid Hell and upon fertile Rwanda.
Which, while at it, says volumes about the Vatican’s double standards. The home of that very pontiff today plays host to a number of génocidaire-priests dripping blood on their hands. It’s no secret that churches in Rwanda were the main theatres of genocide slaughter, thanks mostly to the priests’ facilitation and participation.
However, what can today’s different pope do in an institution that he found long-established? Anyway, I digress.
For a country which was among a wee number of African countries that never lost a single national to slavery, the shame of genocide was most unlikely. It was for their organised administration and strong unity that Rwandans were given a wide berth by slavers, as their Zanzibari guides had baptised the country “Nchi ya Bwana Mkali”.
The fierce warriors of this land, led by the bravest of their brave, had made themselves a name that resounded beyond the oceans.
So, how did some among such a united force allow colonialism and Christianity to tear them from this strong bond? How did they allow succeeding inane regimes to fool them into swallowing the lie that they were better off divided than united?
To the point that, even if it was over a near-century, they were ready to exterminate their own most grotesquely.
Well, it happened and the villains shamed this land. With others wishing for an encore.
Yet, despite the long, meticulous planning and the near-total execution of this fiendish campaign, the bond that binds Rwandans together has triumphed over it all, against inestimably impossible odds.
Only, at what cost? And what did it call for?
The cost was high but for the future of the generations of this land, no price was too high. It called for a thorough understanding of, and conviction in, this cause. And to deliver the cause called for tact, strategy, resilience, readiness to sweat, sacrifice and more.
For the marginalised of this land – though unfortunately, a majority were unaware of their marginalisation – nothing was too precious. They, their minority aside, gave it all.
The advanced in age and those unequal to the rough and tumble of the thick of the struggle gave their possessions and whatever else they could. In addition, they acted as the fall-back support team, for any eventuality.
As to the young and able-bodied, they plunged headlong into the struggle, ready to sweat and sacrifice.
And sweat, they did. And sacrifice, they did. In ways that were often verily miraculous. It may have called for dialogue, diplomacy, intrigue, tact, face-off, ‘karampenge’/’kamikaze’. Say it, they did it, rain or shine, day or night and whatever else in between.
It’s thus that they survived Kagitumba and delivered Gatuna; survived the freezing bamboo forest and delivered Ruhengeri. It’s thus that they delivered the eastern, northern, southern and western (here putting to flight a humungous French Opération Turquoise) provinces.
And if they had shown true prowess wherever they passed, a small group of them besieged in the parliamentary building of Kigali showed the world how they were all out of this world.
A contingent of 600 holding off a whole national army, while at the same time rescuing those not yet consumed by the raging genocide. No, these were phantoms!
But can phantoms deliver Kigali and then the total liberation of the close-to-a-century ‘bondaged’ people of this land? And not end there, without liberating Rwandans held hostage in the D.R. Congo, which involved the out-of-this-world Opération Kitona?
Or holding a public meeting in an impenetrable Janjaweed fortress during their peacekeeping in Darfur, Sudan, to the amazement of peacekeepers of other countries? Or hacking away through enemy land to the coast for supplies to government, in the Central African Republic, during peacekeeping there, to astound French saboteurs? Etc.?
The “Bwana Mkali” behind all this? A gentle, soft-spoken, technology-savvy man of measured words whose brain shows a capacity to store everything.
From the minutest detail to the most complex of thoughts or actions, President Kagame will work it out. Be they family dispute, hygiene, poverty-eradication, military, diplomacy, business, anything (as quoted from a West African’s much more wordy musings).
All the above apart, can you imagine the heroism in how quickly Rwandans recaptured their unity to set off on swift progress?
So, in this land, villains apart, heroes are truly legion.
The views expressed in this article are of the author.